Three Areas Every B2B Service Leader Must Nail This Year

As startup founders get their companies off the ground, most are in the trenches when it comes to customer support. Out of necessity, they're picking up the phones, answering emails, and responding to tweets. But as companies scale, leaders tend to shift their focus to areas of the business linked to growth, such as hiring, product strategy, and sales. If all goes well, they bring on individual contributors and eventually teams to take over customer service functions.

While this evolution is natural, business leaders often make a mistake in the process: They start viewing customer service as a tactical operation rather than a strategic hub. They assume managers have the department handled and that it can hum along with a hands-off approach. And they neglect to think about how technology can link the service experience with the rest of the organization.

Unfortunately, that approach can come back to bite, something business leaders often realize only when a key customer is on the way out the door. I know, because this happened to me personally in my last role as founder and CEO of Hearsay Systems, a digital engagement platform company.

Without a strategic approach to customer service, support teams tend to focus on queries that are simple, severe, or widespread. Important but not necessarily urgent requests from strategic customers get lost in the shuffle. Over time, pivotal clients can start to feel ignored. Especially in business models focused on large enterprises, one unhappy customer can mean losing millions of dollars.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, customer service has only become more complex and critical. Most service professionals saw case volume rise in 2020, and three-quarters say they dealt with more complicated issues, according to Salesforce research. Customers also have heightened expectations, with 80 percent now expecting to solve their problems by speaking with just one person. Meanwhile, most customer service teams have been working remotely, making it harder to train new agents and solve problems collaboratively.

Excellent customer service today goes beyond the traditional structure of customer success, professional services, and support. It now requires that these teams work closely with other departments, including sales, marketing, engineering, design, legal, and more. That necessitates moving beyond the decentralized approach to technology common at many startups and adopting a single source of truth on customer interactions.

Enabled by technology, today's B2B service leaders should invest in the following three areas:

  1. Self-service and automation for routine queries

This past year, a growing number of B2B organizations have adopted self-service and bots, approaches traditionally associated with B2C service. In fact, Salesforce saw a 700 percent usage increase of the Service Cloud Einstein Bot in 2020. Informed by a 360-degree view of the customer, these automated channels are the most efficient way to address routine, high-volume queries (e.g. upgrading a service plan, resetting a password).

With account-based context awareness, including visibility of outstanding issues, untapped opportunities, and additional products and services in which the customer has expressed interest, self-service alerts, search results, and bots can deliver highly accurate and personalized resolutions quickly. At the same time, they free up customer success managers and support reps to address more complex, strategic issues. Your agents become proactive, trusted advisors, rather than reactive, tactical problem-solvers.

  1. Case swarming for complex issues

Typically, neither automated tools nor front-line agents can address urgent and complicated issues, like service outages or security breaches, on their own. Resolving such crises requires fast-moving collaboration across multiple teams, including support, engineering, DevOps, product management, design, legal, and finance.

A platform that provides a unified view of the customer across the organization can facilitate collaborative case swarming. The goal of this model is to enable the right team members, from engineering and sales to marketing and legal, to leverage their expertise and work together on complicated issues as soon as possible after they emerge. Front-line agents must be able to direct customers to the right resources in real time. Cross-functional teams should be able to quickly access relevant case and customer data, communicate, and make decisions in a shared virtual workspace embedded in the context of CRM workflows.

  1. Account-based support for strategic customers

Many B2B companies have embraced account-based marketing (ABM), which involves targeting high-value customers and prospects with customized touch points and campaigns. However, such efforts might only aggravate key customers whose important, but not time-sensitive, requests get lost in the traditional customer service model.

For strategic customers, I advocate for a new approach I call account-based support (ABS), which entails factoring in account-specific circumstances to personalize and prioritize across a large volume of support requests. Is this a tier-one strategic customer? Is there an active sales opportunity? How long has the case been open? Every team member with whom the customer speaks, from account representatives to product to engineering, must have the same context to provide a unified experience. An ABS view ensures that critical-but-not-urgent requests from your most important customers get the attention they deserve.

Collaborative tools like Slack are a great way for companies to achieve ABS by providing service teams with valuable customer data, key information, and cross-functional partners for faster resolutions. Rather than having to chase down contacts and answers, the service team loops in the right experts (e.g. other departments, external partners, and vendors) in a single, shared place, enabling organizations to move out of siloed conversations and creating stronger customer relationships.

Moving toward a strategic approach to customer service starts with a mindset shift, and operationalizing this transition requires having the right technology in place. While many startups launch with an ethos of decentralization, that can result in important balls being dropped once companies mature.

A strategic approach to service rests on having a single source of truth that gives everyone in the organization a comprehensive view of the customer, their issues and their opportunities. Taking a strategic view of customer service, transcending silos, creating a centralized platform and leveraging AI-powered insights, enables organizations to differentiate themselves from competitors and improve customer satisfaction, ultimately improving their bottom lines.

Clara Shih is CEO of Service Cloud at Salesforce.