Poor customer support costs businesses $1.6 trillion in lost opportunities, according to an Accenture estimate. While most articles on customer support focus on companies that serve consumers directly, customer churn affects companies that serve other businesses too. Business people are also consumers. They develop expectations about customer service based on their experience as consumers, and as customer service improves on the consumer side, they expect better support as business customers.

That’s why forward-thinking business leaders who want to stand out in the business-to-business (B2B) space are focusing on delivering a customer support experience that is every bit as intuitive, consistent and free of friction as the best business-to-consumer (B2C) customer service practices. They aim to provide customer support that is personalized and available across multiple channels. But to truly “wow” B2B customers, companies must go a step further and provide omnichannel customer support.

Multichannel customer support gives customers a range of options when they have questions or need to resolve an issue. Customers can talk to an agent on the phone, send an email, access an online chat window, or answer their own questions via a self-service site. Most business people are conditioned to believe that the more choices there are for customers, the better.

However, from a support delivery standpoint, a multichannel approach can mean the support team must use many different applications to manage customer interactions. With information originating from so many sources, support operations can become fragmented. Both customers and support agents become frustrated when this occurs.

With an omnichannel customer support strategy, companies can provide business customers with the support options they demand, but the support is delivered via an integrated system that connects every channel. When customers have questions, or need to resolve an issue, they can choose the medium – phone, email, chat, etc. – and they don’t have to repeat themselves to a series of agents to find the right support tier or make multiple attempts across different channels to find an answer.

Omnichannel support is distinct from multichannel service because a resolution is available across all channels via a centralized support system. Support is also available 24/7 because the best omnichannel support includes self-service options that are also connected to the centralized support system.

The Importance Of Self Service

The human touch is important, and many business leaders equate great customer service with a customer’s ability to reach an actual person quickly. But company leaders who aspire to deliver excellent customer support should be aware that today’s customers increasingly demand the tools and resources to resolve problems themselves.

A Forrester report highlighted by SmartCustomerService found that online self-service options overtook telephone service as the most popular channel to resolve customer support issues a few years ago. B2B customer support organizations need to be aware of this shift in preferences and respond by providing robust self-service options.

When delivered in an omnichannel context, self-service resources like a knowledgebase and community forum can enable customers to find answers to their questions at any time without disrupting the consistency of support delivery. Self-service customer interactions are reported in the centralized system and are accessible to agents when the customer contacts the company via other channels.

Elements Of A Great Omnichannel Support System

Self-service is just one element of excellent omnichannel support. Since B2B customers expect support to equal or exceed the service they receive as consumers , companies that serve business customers should aim for personalization. An omnichannel support system should deliver knowledge base articles that are relevant to the customer, such as information about the products and services their company uses, so that it’s easy to find answers.

Customers should be able to create tickets online, access real-time updates, and view historical interactions.  B2B customers should also be able to see company-wide interactions since their colleagues may have already encountered and resolved the same issue. With a unified omnichannel support system, it’s possible to resolve issues quickly with ticket deflection tools like FAQs and auto-responses which reduce the number of incoming tickets to the support team.

A system that allows customers to access product notes, documentation, and updates on a single platform is ideal. For B2B customers, an online customer support community that allows customers to interact and help each other solve problems is especially important because it can accelerate problem solving. Having access to all available tools on a mobile system is also crucial, especially for B2B companies with field operations.

The Benefits Of A Unified System

Omnichannel support is better than a multichannel strategy because it takes place on a unified system. Customers don’t have to repeat their request every time they use a new channel or chat with a different support agent. Agents have access to all of the customer’s history across all channels during the interaction, regardless of how the original request came in, so they don’t have to search through multiple platforms.

Companies also benefit by saving time and money and increasing customer and agent satisfaction when issues are resolved more quickly. An omnichannel approach to customer support breaks down information silos, eliminates tiered support delivery and encourages collaborative problem solving. With a unified system, companies can stand out in the B2B space by delivering support on a single platform that allows customers to solve their own problems any time and get consistent information across channels. Companies that offer this level of support will have an unbeatable competitive advantage.