As a customer service consultant and speaker, my feeling is that, at its heart, customer service is customer service, period. It’s humans — and the systems and technology created by those humans — helping humans.
B2B customer service is different
Having said that, there’s no question that, in its particulars, B2B customer service needs to be executed differently in some ways from B2C (retail) customer service. The projects last longer, leading to a relationship between seller and buyer that’s more akin to a marriage than to a hot date, as Diane Gordon of Brainshark aptly put it to me recently. There’s less of that initial feeling of wow, perhaps, but this may be compensated for by fewer disruptive fireworks.
Secret #1 of B2B customer service: Make your customer’s customer happy
One secret of great B2B customer service and, importantly, engendering B2B customer loyalty, is to become a company that facilitates relationships between your customers and their customers, and that is always watching out for opportunities to help your customer make their customers happy.
Take 800ceoread, an outfit which, as an author of business books myself , I have reason to be particularly enamored.
8cr, as it is affectionately abbreviated, is, in simplest terms, an online bookseller specializing in bulk and customer orders of business books.
This is not a simple job. The stakes are extremely high. The potential for screwups are immense. And by taking care of their customers’ customers (the end users of the books, upon whose happiness the authors and publishers are counting), 8cr keeps a very loyal clientele.
Jon Mueller, GM: “We work with authors, publishers, and companies to help facilitate bulk shipments of business books for events, and corporate training and giveaways. Bulk orders are different than single copies, and the service surrounding those types of orders can be complex with intense deadlines. An event with no books is bad for the attendees, the host, and the author. We have a great team of service people who interact with these customers on a daily basis, making sure these complicated orders get where they need to be, when they need to be there.
“Sometimes companies or authors need 1000 books shipped to individuals around the world. Sometimes 50 copies need to get to a corporate headquarters in Iowa. Other times an event planner forgot to order the books for an event this Thursday, where every paid attendee expects a copy of a book as part of their entry fee. We make all of these scenarios happen smoothly.”
(Maybe you think Amazon.com can handle something like this? Yeahhhh…nope. The master of consumer orders is not really who you want to work with if you’re placing a bulk order. Here’s why: Order 100 copies of a business book — take mine, for example – from the Bezosian behemoth and they’ll arrive three books at a time — the number actually in stock at Amazon — with a little “good news! We were able to ship out part of your order” notice. The order will continue to arrive, a few more books each day, until your office is full of cardboard boxes, each containing 3 books.)
In addition to straight shipping of bulk books, 8cr offers services that help both the author and the ultimate customer: “We also do a lot of customization to book orders, either physically (tipped-in pages, stickers, belly bands, letters) or logistically (list of individuals around the world, warehousing for author disbursement, etc.)”
Secret of B2B customer service #2: Facilitate relationships between your customers and their customers
As much as taking care of the customer’s customer, 8cr, like any great B2B business, helps facilitate good relations between their customer and their customer’s customer.
For example, their ChangeThis site, a free service curated by 8cr based on an idea by Seth Godin. This is an opportunity for authors to showcase a specific idea in a very attractive, brief format, and get it out to an avid group of business book readers. In this way, it helps connect the authors (and the publishers who are supporting those authors) with the audience for their next book. In fact, for me, this was my first foray into business writing, leading directly to the publication of my first book, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit. What an honor this was—to have my ideas and writing included on a site that also features great short pieces from Tom Peters, Dan Pink, the inimitable Seth Godin himself…
And, nearly as exciting, when I was in Milwaukee (they’re proudly located in the “historic third ward” of Milwaukee—their newest T shirt proclaims Milwaukee: Beer, Brats, and Business Books) they videotaped me for a brief series of Q&As on customer service, then blogged to their readership. Something I wouldn’t have thought of doing on my own, but that my readership definitely appreciated.
Jon Mueller:“We do a lot of different promotion campaigns with authors and publishers, book giveaways to targeted readers, ads on the blog, various reviews, and we also work with them, as you know, to feature their authors on ChangeThis.com – the site we featured you on, Micah that publishes a handful of manifestos each month that address creating positive change. We also host an annual Business Book Awards that honors the top books in a variety of categories. We announce the winners in January and work the entire month on promoting those winners,” culminating in a high-profile event in NYC.