By Pat Bermingham, CEO, Adflex
While payments technology is removing barriers and streamlining processes across the board for B2B merchants, building professional relationships is still well worth the time investment.
If the shift towards digital-first relationships hadn’t already taken hold at the beginning of 2020, it certainly has since the pandemic hit. Out of necessity, human contact has been limited, and many firms opted for a hands-off approach to customer service. Purchasing methods have altered too, with a 44% annual increase in online spending in 2020.
Experts predict many of these changes are here to stay, and with good reason. Businesses that have optimised online checkouts and accounts payable processes have reaped the benefits in the past year. Digitization enables efficiencies across the board, which for some might make spending time speaking with partners and customers seem like just another resource-sapping hurdle to overcome.
However, business is about people, and technology has yet to come up with a solution that can come close to providing the value of strong professional relationships, which can often be the difference between success and failure.
Know your customer
Just as consumers will return time and time again to the brands they trust, B2B buyers offer their repeat custom to partners and suppliers they know. In fact, with the stakes often higher in B2B transactions, the buyer/supplier relationship is placed under an even brighter spotlight; buyers need to know their suppliers will provide a reliable service, and the more time taken to build a rapport, the more at ease a buyer will be. This is time well spent for a supplier who will benefit from repeat custom, a vital component of success for any business.
The same goes for payment processors. Payments are a vital part of any transaction and any issue with payments systems can mean a supplier isn’t getting paid on time. This causes cash flow problems, or means that a buyer is unable to purchase goods, which then leads to missed manufacturing deadlines. It is this type of scenario in which business relationships can break down, and a supplier could lose their most valuable asset: customer loyalty. Unless, of course, they have a long-standing relationship with the buyer. Such relationships are becoming increasingly rare, particularly in an online world where a buyer is only ever a click away from an alternative supplier. But when something is rare, its value skyrockets.
Simplifying payment complexity
B2B payments can seem complex and varied. Questions are likely to arise from both the merchant and the buyer side. But the burden of understanding these complex systems and scenarios shouldn’t be on the merchant, it should be the role of a processor. In a time of crisis, where the stakes are high, the reassurance that you can speak directly to an experienced provider capable of resolving an issue is as valuable as the technology itself. A merchant in distress should not be subjected to a frustrating messaging format or, perish the thought, an automated chatbot.
Some common customer queries that every provider should prepare for:
- “Can I speak to someone straight away?”
Why is this important? Payments are instant, and today’s customers expect everything on demand. A faulty payments acceptance system can mean lost sales, meaning a merchant is running against the clock and will often want instant assistance with issues from their provider.
- “Can you help us to understand your documentation?”
Why is this important? API documentation and developer code may not seem like an opportunity for personable customer service, but a provider that goes the extra mile by hosting introductory discovery calls for new customers and on-hand whiteboard sessions can build a customer’s confidence with new systems.
- “How should my business accept payments?”
Why is this important? The number of digital payments options is growing fast and every merchant’s needs are different. Being on hand to provide honest and knowledgeable recommendations with case examples is a perfect way to let a merchant customer know they are in safe hands.
Processors build their own relationships, for the customer’s benefit
The more touchpoints, the more a processor can learn about its customer’s individual business needs. Better relationships also mean better communication between a vendor and its merchant customers, so when problems do arise, they can be resolved quickly and efficiently to minimise business disruption.
The most supportive payments processors have strong business connections of their own, acting as a central hub for issuers, acquirers and schemes. Such relationships bring real benefits for a processor’s customers, including reduced merchant service charges, an extended acquirer pool to choose from and access to a wider range of services.
Customer benefits can be further supplemented by a processor that offers an acquirer agnostic platform, which eliminates acquirer and issuer lock-in for merchants who rely on flexibility, or for new customers that already have an acquirer and don’t want to change when they switch vendor.
Partnerships with national and global acquiring banks and issuers still bring the best aspects of traditional business approaches to our new, transparent digital world. By offering the long term strategic and operational benefits of digital payments to merchants and buyers, payments vendors are encouraging more uptake of new practices, streamlining supply chain transactions to the benefit of all involved.
All the advantages achieved through better relationships are about letting customers do what they do best – providing a great service or product to their own buyers – safe in the knowledge that they have a strong, supportive payments provider on hand, with a genuine care for their team and business performance. This is the basic grounding on which successful partnerships are formed and the additional benefits of truly forward-thinking payment solutions can then be brought in at scale.