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Personal touch goes a long way for B2B customers, study finds

New research reveals that business to business customers expect personal service in an online chat, and this is a crucial element of customer experience.

The study by University of Eastern Final, published in the European Journal of Marketing, looks at the nature of social presence in B2B online chat dialogues depending on the stage of customer relationship.

It found that the theme of B2C sales being driven by online engagement is moving to B2B sales. However, companies are moving activities online but the impact of online chat services has not been extensively explored or understood.

The study highlighted that lack of social presence can be one reason why a company’s online sales are stagnant, and more businesses are looking to invest in this avenue.

University of Eastern Finland lecturer Jonna Koponen says, “Many companies want to invest in elements that ooze social presence, since anonymous, asynchronous and text-based technology-mediated communication can reduce the creation of trust between the parties."

Interestingly, the study showed that the behaviour and goals of customers in online chat dialogues varied depending on the stage of the customer relationship.

New customers and potential buyers were looking for solutions to their business problems, asked for more information on SaaS services or gave feedback to the company, the study shows.

In a best-case scenario, they had decided to purchase the service or wanted to continue their dialogue with the company’s solution sales representative in another communication channel.

As for long-term customers, the study found these clients used the chat service for obtaining information, solving problems, giving feedback and booking appointments with the company’s solution sales representative.

They also used the chat service to maintain the customer relationship and at times they brought in new customers by recommending the company to others.

The chat service was also one of the channels B2B customers used for making complaints.

Koponen says, “Social presence plays a key role in e-commerce. Earlier studies have shown that social presence increases the customers trust in the website and in the seller, and it also provides support for the customers decision to purchase.”

The study is the first to show how an online chat service can help to build customer relationships in B2B ecommerce. It specifically explored social presence in a B2B online chat service and technology-mediated communication with social presence of a real, authentic person.

The data was collected at a case company specialising in SaaS services, and it comprised 157 chat dialogues between buyers and sellers.

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