In today’s technologically-advanced world, virtually every company has a B2C online customer portal where consumers can come in, order a product, pay for it, ask questions, and get everything they need without picking up the phone to dial customer support.

But according to a recent white paper, a surprisingly few amount of distributors offer the same simplified, at-your-fingertips computerized solution for their B2B transactions – a stark and disappointing reality for company officials who pride themselves on their alleged superior customer support.

In fact, according to said report by TermSync, a cloud-based customer portal service, only 30 percent of distributors offer a web-based customer portal for customers to perform basic functions such as pay an invoice or file a dispute.

“Everyone we speak with talks about how they separate themselves from the competition because of their high customer service levels and how they go that extra mile for their customers,” TermSync CEO Mark Wilson tells Leo Rommel of Industry Today. “But all the data out there suggests customers these days want and almost expect a self-service option like an online portal, and many of these distributors don’t have or offer such services.”

That’s quite troubling, Wilson adds. Here’s why: A recent Forrester study, according to the TermSync analysis, says 72 percent of customers prefer a self-service model, like an online portal, to phone or email support.

“That is partly because of what they’re seeing in their personal lives,” Wilson says. “What we’re seeing kind of anecdotally with distributors and vendors is that, yes, most do provide great service when their customers call in and ask a question. But more importantly, you’re kind of making them go out of their way to call in when what they would rather do in the first place is use a self-service online option to have their questions answered.”

In essence, the majority of distributors are behind on the times, and that needs to change – and in hurry – if the 82 percent of companies surveyed by TermSync wish to continue differentiating themselves from their competitors via superior customer service.

“It’s 2014 and it’s time that a lot of companies, especially ones that say they pride themselves on providing a good customer service experience, actually back that up and do not let these types of projects get pushed aside,” Wilson says.

Even more puzzling, Wilson says, is that many of the distributors that do offer a web-based portal often find themselves lacking the core functionality features that customers expect and demand.

According to his company’s study, just 54 percent of portals allow users to pay invoices. At the same time, just 58 percent of portals allow customers to see invoice history while just 52 percent showcase current promotions. Furthermore, just 76 percent of portals allows users to submit questions.

Wilson says all of the above should be offered in one location.

“Those basic functionalities, if you’re not offering them, then what are you offering?” Wilson says. “You’re just frustrating customers because they are taking the time to go to the portal but then they cannot see those basic options. And chances are customers will not come back.”

And if that happens, he adds, distributors get the wrong impression about the importance of having an online customer service tool.

“The vendor looks at it a year into the project and says, ‘Well, we built an online portal, but our customers didn’t really use it, so maybe we shouldn’t have had one in the first place,’” Wilson says. “The underlying issue is that the initial portal that was offered didn’t have the basic options it needed to have, not because the customers didn’t want it.”

Wilson’s theories are supported not just by his own company’s findings but by the conclusions reached by another recent analysis, by Amdocs, which claims 75 percent of consumers would prefer online support if it was reliable. However, that same study, cited heavily by the TermSymc whitepaper, says only 37 percent try accessing online support because they “perceive the options as inaccurate or incomplete.”

TermSync’s report adds that few distributors “are taking the opportunity to implement features on their portal that make their customers feel special while getting valuable feedback” from them.

More specifically, 93 percent of respondents expect their team to respond to customer inquiries within one business day. But, according to the study, a mere 40 percent track if that timeframe is met regularly. And of those who do track their response time, 85 percent rely on employees to self-measure and only 32 percent share these results with customers.

An online portal – especially one operated by an independent third party – can help monitor the timeliness of responses and better measure customer satisfaction, recording the most real-time feedback.

But if online portals are so instrumental, why haven’t they caught on in popularity with vendors and distributors in their B2B operations? After all, when the study asked companies why customer portals weren’t offered, 42 percent said other projects took priority.

“One of the questions we asked of the vendors is who in their organization – or what department – really owns the customer relationship, and the responses were all across the board,” Wilson says, adding that, according to the white paper, 36 percent of respondents cited operations, 33 percent sales, 17 percent marketing, and 14 percent account management.

“I think part of it is no one person or group in the organization is taking ownership. It’s something virtually every company has discussed, but no one is really taking ownership,” Wilson says. “It’s always, ‘We’ll get to it next quarter or next year.’ It kind of sits on that to-do list and never gets accomplished.”

They don’t feel a pressing need to get right on it, Wilson says, despite the fact that such technology has existed for years.

“We are not saying to get rid of customer support or phone support,” Wilson says. “Those methods makes sense in certain situations, in many situations. But in today’s busy, computerized world, most customers expect an easier option, and that option includes a method online.”

About TermSync
TermSync helps B2B companies bring a customer-centric approach to the post-sale relationship. Its cloud-based platform connects over 100,000 businesses, streamlining processes for both vendors and their business customers. This approach results in improved customer relations, reduced processing costs, and faster payments.


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