Enhancing B2B ecommerce infrastructure to retain customers is a core challenge in competitive markets today. Retaining customers, from an ecommerce perspective, is about providing a customer experience which keeps them coming back. This customer experience needs to go beyond the basics of addressing security, convenience and speed.
Last week, we had the pleasure of taking part in the ecommerce expo at Olympia in London, where the latest challenges and solutions in ecommerce were discussed at length.
With so much focus on improvements in the pre-sales side of ecommerce, businesses face the law of diminishing returns when trying to compete in this space. It is the post-sales side of ecommerce where more dramatic improvements can be made, particularly in B2B markets where invoices are delivered and payments are not immediately taken.
The challenge of retaining customers
We live in customer-centric times, where individuals are empowered to search for and select their purchases more easily than ever before. Through the advent of the internet and layers on top of this, such as search engines, marketplaces and forums, customers can quickly find alternative suppliers and loyalty is harder than ever to foster.
The challenge of retaining customers is most apparent in the fast-paced world of B2C ecommerce, but B2B businesses operate in increasingly competitive markets, where changing supplier is becoming easier all the time.
Losing a customer to a competitor may be the result of superior products or services, or lower prices, elsewhere. But when a business strives for excellence, it is customer experience which makes the biggest difference to whether customers can be tempted away. Making sure your customer experience, throughout the whole purchase process, including payment and any post-sales engagement, is market-leading will protect against attribution and even build customer advocacy.
The old adage of it being (typically) at least 5 times more expensive to recruit new business than retain existing business still rings true, so businesses are wise to invest time and money in addressing the concerns customers may have with their service.
So, what are these concerns, and how can they be addressed through your ecommerce infrastructure?
Security in B2B eCommerce
Security is crucially important in the makeup of any ecommerce process. The absolute basics, such as HTTPS and appropriate password requirements for account access are taken for granted these days.
Where large regular transactions are taking place, in a B2B context, your customers may want to know more about how their transaction histories are stored, what DDoS or other attack vector protection is in place, and even whether your ecommerce processes are ISO 27001:2013 compliant.
Providing clear information about security throughout your ecommerce process will reassure customers and reduce risk of loss through security concerns.
Convenience in B2B eCommerce
An upshot of living in more empowered, customer-centric, times is that we have higher expectation around service and ease of use. Gone are they days when customers would battle with convoluted payment processes, or fiddly authentication. Thankfully, through the paradigm of user experience (UX), the front-end aspects of the ecommerce experience can be analysed and optimised with ease.
Convenience is about more than just front-end ease of use. Convenience for purchasers in B2B is just as, if not more, likely to centre on whether the purchase process can connect with their accounts payable systems. The order-to-cash process needs to be unobstructive and ideally integrate with payment systems via EDI.
Where ecommerce systems don’t integrate with payment systems, it may fall to the purchaser to manually key in details in to their accounts payable systems – far from convenient. Or, in some cases, this task is pushed back to the vendor’s accounts receivable team to fulfil – as part of the invoicing process. In our increasingly automated and machine-driven world, there is a growing preference for ecommerce systems that can seamlessly connect.
Speed in B2B eCommerce
Closely tied in with convenience is speed. Customers expect the purchase process to be both easy to use and fast. For B2B purchases, much of this speed should come through direct connection with payment systems; automating the delivery of invoicing details. Machine-to-machine communication removes both the risk of human error in invoice production and processing, and the requirement for staff to dedicate valuable time to such a mundane task.
By speeding up the purchase to cash side of ecommerce, through automation and direct machine-to-machine connection, accounts payable and accounts receivable teams are freed up to deliver more value than manually invoicing and making payments.
Hot Topics in B2B eCommerce from the eCommerce Expo 2018
Whilst all of the above points hold true, it’s worth mentioning our take-outs from the expo last week over and above these important areas. There was considerable buzz around the role of AI in ecommerce processes, with IBM’s Watson offering in this space creating a considerable head of steam. But taking the benefits of AI to their highest common factors, it really comes down to enhancing customer experience through greater personalisation and empowerment of the individual.
There were a good number of talks addressing the need for customer-centric enhancements to the ecommerce experience, whether AI-flavoured or not. Most of these focussed on the pre-sale aspects of an ecommerce process, but through conversations with delegates we found plenty of interest in how the post-sale elements of the ecommerce experience can yield better gains in a shorter time.
Enhancing B2B eCommerce Infrastructure
Netsend presents an ideal solution to the aforementioned challenges, bridging the gap between the ordering process to invoice fulfilment. Netsend can streamline the order to cash process, directly connecting the ordering process to payment systems for painless, seamless payment processing.
Moreover, Netsend provides customers with a futuristic customer experience beyond that found today in B2B ecommerce. Customers can still receive invoices, in a format of their choosing (even if systems are directly connected), as well as other communications such as statements of account. Customers are provided with an online portal which allows for changes to contact details and easy access to billing history, enabling download and printing of previous invoices.
Payment processing is an integral part of the Netsend portal, allowing customers to pay online, or via connection to their accounts payable systems. Customers can even signal their intent to pay, through the portal, after receipt of invoice.
The Netsend portal helps customers self-serve, reducing call volumes into help desks and accounts receivable teams. This all improves customer experience and frees up staff to manage exceptions directly, improving response times.
From a vendor’s perspective, Netsend offers unparalleled visibility of the payment process. Vendor’s can see at a glance the payment status of customers, as well as their receipt of invoices and any declaration of intent to pay. This visibility allows for fine-tuned automation of follow-up communications to remind late payers to act, as well as providing a list of individuals to contact directly if necessary.
It was fantastic meeting and discussing the above with so many of you at the ecommerce expo, and hopefully this blog post reaches many more of you who are interested in bringing tomorrow’s enhancements to your B2B ecommerce infrastructure.