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This post was contributed by Rodney Laws, Editor at EcommercePlatforms.io

At its core, digital transformation is about using technology to improve everything, so it inevitably becomes mission-critical in the B2B world where even fractional boosts can prove highly consequential. B2B deals may traditionally have been built around tight-knit business relationships, but they’ve moved online all the same.

With classic pitch meetings and wine-and-dine tactics receding into the background, a modern B2B brand must turn to its online presence to keep its customers happy (and turn prospects into customers). In this piece, we’re going to look at the prospect of using B2B chatbots to keep customers engaged.

We’ll explore why customer experiences matter so much, review what makes chatbots so valuable, and run through some key tips for using B2B chatbots to improve your customer experiences. Let’s get started:

Why customer experiences are so important

By now, customer happiness has become quite prominent as a business priority. For a long time (in the online retail world, at least) it was a curiosity: something that forward-thinking brands would work into their USPs while older businesses would settle for the classic customer service. The difference, of course, is in both breadth and depth.

Instead of looking at your transaction stage alone (putting resources into converting on-the-fence prospects and fielding post-purchase complaints on topics such as product quality or shipping terms), prioritizing customer happiness involves making an effort to optimize the full range of a given customer’s interactions with your company.

Each experience should be strongly positive, helping them pursue their goals even as their actions are helping you pursue yours. In the end, it’s a simple idea: make it as enjoyable and useful as possible for someone to buy from you, and they’ll keep coming back for more. This is vitally important in the B2C world, but it’s even more significant when it comes to B2B selling.

This is because B2B deals tend to be bigger, more lucrative, and longer-term (though short-term results still matter). The more you can delight your B2B customers with the quality of your customer experience, the more willing they’ll be to continue working with you (even when your rivals attempt to poach them). So how can you manage this? How can you overhaul your customer experiences?

Why B2B chatbots are worthy of your time

You could adjust the theme of your homepage to make it more aesthetically appealing. You could smooth out your checkout process to make conversion easier. You could even work on your telephone manner. All fine options — but what if you could cut to the heart of your customer experiences and fundamentally transform how people engage with your website?

This is what well-implemented B2B chatbots can achieve. Chatbot technology has advanced massively during the last decade, and it’s now perfectly possible for a business chatbot to significantly add to your customer experiences. Notably, it’s a “set it and forget it” solution — once it’s suitably configured, you don’t need to keep adjusting it.

It’s also easier than you might think to get one running, particularly if you have a modern platform. It’s fine to use a mainstream CMS, but I strongly recommend that you invest in a purpose-built B2B platform with the architecture for granular customization.

Drift (a chatbot tech provider) has an entire page of case studies spanning B2C and B2B implementations. For example, a sales software company called SalesRabbit implemented a Drift chatbot to book meetings in place of its previous form system and saw a remarkable 40% uptick in bookings as a result.

However you implement it, a solid chatbot ultimately offers incredible ROI, and not just because the investment part tends to be minimal. It simply brings a lot to the table. With that firmly established, let’s take a look at how you can most effectively use a B2B chatbot.

Offer easy access to vital information

In large B2B dealings, there’s often good reason for a client to want an exact update on something important. Perhaps there’s a shipment scheduled and they want to confirm when exactly they can expect it, or they’re planning to place a fresh order and need to know how the product lineup hasn’t changed since they last looked at it.

How can they pursue it? They can call, but that can be a slow way to get information (and that’s if you have someone to answer). They can email a request, but even the best email support systems can run into problems when there’s heavy demand. You can even provide a custom portal to post (lor publish) updates, but that still isn’t the optimal solution.

Instead, using a chatbot granted access to the necessary data is the perfect way to deal with this. Chatbots don’t get busy in the way that people can: they scale with the provided resources, meaning that they can duplicate indefinitely on systems with uncapped cloud processing. And with up-to-date natural language processing, queries such as “When is my next shipment due?” can be parsed, contextualized, and answered accurately.

Fully introduce the functionality

Simply providing this functionality isn’t enough, of course: you need to make it clear that the capability is in place, or no one will ever use it. Following your chatbot rollout, you should inform each client of what it can do, how they can interact with it, and even what it can’t do. After all, retail bots can’t do everything, and you don’t want to give the false impression that they can.

Each page of your site should have a small chatbot overlay, ideally with a subtle animation to catch the eye (we’re strongly drawn to motion) — in fact, animation is important in general for communicating activity. When the chatbot is formulating a response, for instance, it can use the classic moving dots to feign typing, reassuring the user that an answer is pending.

Be careful with your presentation, though, because you don’t want to pretend that the chatbot is a real person (or have it look as though you’re supporting that pretense). Some brands don’t make it clear whether their users are talking to people or bots, and that causes frustration because those users have to figure out what’s happening from context.

Focus on rapid response

Turnaround time is of great importance in the B2B world. In a piece on this topic, HubSpot cites a study in noting that between 35% and 50% of B2B sales go to the vendors that respond first — and since it uses a chatbot on its main site (pictured below), it clearly believes that.

b2b chatbot examples

This isn’t just about popping up immediately. It’s also about getting to the point as quickly as possible. In the case of HubBot, it cuts directly to the heart of the matter in asking what the visitors goals are. If you create a chatbot script that waffles on and soaks up time, it doesn’t matter how much value it ultimately has to offer: the user is quite likely to give up and leave.

It also allows action much more easily than a more standard form of communication such as email. Per Messenger marketer Larry Kim on Marketing Speak, conversion points work “five times better in chat” simply because they’re more likely to be seen (how many emails do you have in your inbox that you might never read?). Respond quickly with actionable suggestions, and you’ll steal a march on your rivals.

Provide a reliable 24/7 presence

I mentioned the scalability of B2B chatbots, and it allows them to work at all times of the day or night. This is incredibly convenient when you don’t have a distinct support team (and thus no set support hours) and/or if you have international clients that operate in time zones far removed from yours. If someone needs assistance at 3am your time, it can be provided.

The key to this, though, is having a clear and robust chatbot escalation system. Even the most sophisticated chatbot will encounter issues it can’t resolve or even requests it doesn’t understand. When this happens, those matters need to be passed to actual humans for review and resolution, and the delay needs to be minimal.

Supposing a chatbot can’t come up with an answer, it should acknowledge the query, note that it can’t help with it, and provide a trackable case number along with a realistic expectation of when the matter will be addressed. “We’ll review the case and get back to you within 24 hours” is fine, whereas “We’ll get back to you as soon as we can” is too vague.

Feature meaningful personalization

Personalization is a powerful tool throughout the retail world, but it matters the most in the B2B realm where the stakes are generally much higher and elements like custom pricing are commonplace (usually through the aforementioned custom storefronts). When you’re dealing with high-value clients, you can put more effort into impressing them.

For your chatbot, the vital thing is that it has access to all the data it needs to provide personalized experiences. Assuming a login is detected, it should know what each user does, what they need, what they’ve purchased before, and even what they might want to do next. If there’s a delivery pending, it can default to the details. Remember to ask for permission, though, because we live in a post-GDPR world. The Marketo chatbot does this well (see below).

Marketo chatbot

Assuming you get the necessary permission, you can relate your chatbot window to the assistant screen on a smartphone, automatically populating with elements likely to be relevant. If the user acquires the information they need without having to enter any queries, they’ll consider that an exceptional experience.

How to implement B2B chatbots

Now that we’ve explored the benefits of why you should optimize customer experiences and how B2B chatbots are great for that, we should probably touch upon a very important matter: how you can actually implement one. Well, there are three plausible options, so let’s set them out:

  • Adapt a generic chatbot. There are plenty of free chatbot builders available online with NLP libraries in place. All you need to do is configure your script and add the code. The downside? Limited functionality. If you want the sophisticated options we’ve looked at, you’ll need something more advanced.
  • Create your own from scratch. If you happen to have an in-house developer, you can aim to build a new chatbot to meet your exact needs. It’s likely to be expensive and slow, though, so don’t expect a speedy turnaround.
  • Fund a custom development. This is realistically the best option. Find a chatbot developer with a B2B specialty (e.g. BotCore) and get a consultation. You’ll likely be able to use some kind of B2B chatbot builder, then pay for ongoing cloud costs. Complicated, yes, but worth the effort in the long term.

Overall, then, we’ve covered the issue of B2B chatbots quite extensively. If you’re running a B2B business and you want to take your customer experiences to the next level, this is the way to go about it.

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