According to Marketlive, 85% of all B2B organizations recognize they underutilize eCommerce as a revenue opportunity. One way to make more of your eCommerce channel is to improve your customer experience through automation. What is eCommerce automation? It’s allowing machines to do what they do best – routine tasks – and allowing humans to do what they do best – interact with other humans, be creative and inventive, and solve problems. By leveraging the power of automation, you can create an excellent customer experience and free your sales staff to personally enhance the customer relationship.
Excellent Customer Experience Matters
In 2021 and beyond, customer experience is a key differentiator. Customers no longer determine their loyalty to you based on your product or your price. Today’s buyers are focused on the experience they receive. Investments in improved customer experience pay off from continued patronage. B2B sales have always been about personal relationships, but these days buyers want that relationship extended across all channels, and that includes your eCommerce channel.
Luckily, your eCommerce platform should provide a solid foundation for business automation that creates the excellent customer experience buyers want.
And what is that excellent customer experience? It is a self-serve model that provides touchpoints for support when and if the buyer decides it is necessary. These could be in the form of online chat (human or bot assisted), click to dial, and AI-driven after-hours support via intelligent call dialogues. An excellent customer experience removes friction and allows professional buyers to get their job done quickly and with a minimum of effort. It recognizes the individuality of the buyer and conforms accordingly.
Why should the eCommerce channel be the focus of improved customer experience? Because that’s the go-to channel for B2B commerce. Over half of all B2B transactions start online.
In the last year, 61% of the B2B market has placed greater emphasis on its digital presence. These savvy marketers know that buyers will make an average of 12 online searches before making a purchase. An eCommerce website with a live shopping cart is just the beginning of automation.
If you try to reach every customer with a generic message, you’ll be disappointed in the results. Generic messages are like billboards on the side of the highway. They may imprint your brand name, but little else. Billboards aren’t high converters, and neither are generic messages.
But automation provides a means to create a highly personalized customer experience. Based on prior history and existing contracts, you can provide each customer a personalized catalog each time they visit your site.
This personalized catalog includes their preferred shipping methods and pre-negotiated and approved pricing.
Taking this personalization a step further, you can create personalized promotions and offers based on the customer’s purchase history and buying patterns.
Salesforce research finds that 58% of customers find a personalized experience very important and are willing to provide personal information to receive this level of service.
It’s cheaper to retain a customer than acquire one, so make the most of your existing customers with an automated, personalized buying experience.
Some common B2B workflows are low-hanging fruit. Take for example the Request for Quotation (RFQ) and Quote to Cash (QTC) workflows.
Many long-lasting B2B relationships begin with that simple RFQ. Unfortunately, too many companies are still relying on emails and simple form submission for this workflow. The forms or emails are forwarded to a sales rep who prices the quote, submits it to a manager for approval, then the quote goes back to the sales rep who finally contacts the customer. In the days of snail mail and early days of email, this was acceptable.
But not anymore. Buyers want an answer, and they want it right away.
Automate the RFQ workflow with a robust pricing engine able to handle complex pricing rules. Integrate the eCommerce platform with your CRM and while the customer gets their quote, and the sales force is alerted to follow-up.
Potential buyers get an almost instantaneous quote and sales reps know to follow up on the lead.
When it comes time to convert the quote to a sales order, automate the QTC workflow as well. Integrate with your ERP for seamless order processing.
Here’s another place that is ripe for automation. Allow your customers to define their own user roles, permissions, and authorities for their accounts. Then automate their workflow for them.
When buyer A needs permission from supervisor B, let the user define this relationship. Then when buyer A places an order in the cart, it is automatically forwarded to B for approval. And the sales rep gets a notification of the order pending approval. Once B approves the transaction, the cart converts to an order, and A, B, and the sales rep get order confirmation.
Not only are you smoothing the workflow for the buyer with automation, but you’re also keeping the sales rep informed.
Another way to automate the checkout workflow is with third-party credit approval and even integrated factoring. This on-boards new accounts efficiently and may improve your access to working capital as well.
New customers enter their information at checkout, request terms, and in about the same amount of time it takes to process a credit card, they can be approved for credit and their invoice sold to your factor. Even if you don’t factor your receivables, automating the credit approval process for new customers during the checkout workflow can convert shoppers to buyers.
Integrate your ERP, WMS, and 3PL with your eCommerce platform and automated the entire order process.
Customers will know from which warehouse their order is shipping, the approximate time in transit, receive any tracking information, and get a copy of their invoice automatically.
Now that’s an excellent customer experience!
By reducing data entry errors (the order is only entered once – by the customer) and automating the data transfer between systems, customers experience a unified brand message. And because they always have their order and shipping information, they don’t need to follow-up with sales or customer service to check on the status. That’s the self-service experience busy buyers want.
Order Follow Up
Automate service after the sale and further improve the customer experience. Automatic tracking emails keep customers up-to-date on transit information. Surveys after the sale identify net promoters as well as areas for improvement.
Automatic emails from sales reps follow up to determine if customer expectations were met, answer common questions about use, and open a dialogue that can reinforce the customer relationship.
Nobody likes to talk about it, but most everybody must deal with it – returns. Automate the returns process to eliminate the pain point for the customer. It’s one way of turning the negative into a positive.
Allow customers to access their account, request authorization for a return, and notify the warehouse and the sales rep of the situation – all automatically. Automated sales returns can also be a source of data for quality control, since information about a return is gathered in a structured manner, making data analysis easier.
Automated Workflows, AI, and Machine Learning
When it comes to improving the customer experience, automated workflows are the most cost-effective way to one-up your eCommerce game.
At a fraction of the cost of machine learning or other forms of artificial intelligence, workflow automation achieves many of the same results. So, when evaluating your next B2B eCommerce platform, be sure to look for a powerful workflow engine. It will allow you to automate your eCommerce business for an excellent customer experience.