If we look at a lineup of modern customer support solutions in an effort to find something designed for B2B, we’re going to have a pretty hard time, because—it turns out—all established support tools have either been conceived as consumer-focused, or evolved to be that due to market pressure.
It’s hard to know which support products were conceived as B2C-focused—maybe ServiceNow—so let’s assume that none were, and simply show how any customer support startup is destined to end up focusing on supporting consumers.
Why does this happen—why do all customer support tools end up focusing on B2C? While there are certainly other reasons, let’s focus on three:
- “Validation bias”—a preference for brand-name customers over obscure B2B firms;
- “Volume bias”—the realization that a company with more customer support traffic requires greater attention from product and engineering;
- “VP of Customer Success bias”—there situation where a B2B company formalizes its support organization by hiring a VP of Customer Success, who establishes order by implementing a B2C-focused support platform.
Validation bias is, roughly, this: when a customer support startup is given a choice between two customers—one a recognizable consumer brand, another a devops security SaaS company—all other things being equal, the startup is likely to chase the consumer brand, for the simple reason that listing a well-known logo as a customer makes it easier to acquire new customers and attract venture funding.
Similarly, if the customer support startup was lucky enough to land both the recognizable consumer brand and the devops security SaaS company as customers, when prioritizing the feature roadmap, the fear of the big-brand customer churning is likely to add more weight to their product asks over the less-attractive logo.
Validation bias functions as an accelerating self-fulfilling prophecy—the more consumer brands join the logo garden, the stronger the B2C tilt of the overall product direction. Since post-product-market-fit, the product direction generally does not wander beyond a couple of degrees off course, B2C focus tends to be the end state.
To explore the volume bias, let’s imagine two companies—one B2C, one B2B—with similar revenue. Let’s say the B2C company has 100K accounts and the B2B one has 100. Because the B2C company’s product is pretty simple, one support agent can handle 10K accounts, so there are 10 agents. The B2B company’s product is complex, so one support agent can only handle 10 accounts, so there are also 10 agents.
Even though both B2C and B2B companies pay the same amount to the customer support vendor in licensing fees, B2C agents handle significantly more support traffic than B2B ones. B2C agents spend all day in the support product, fielding simple questions, while B2B support agents work on a handful of complex requests at once by spending a lot of time with product and development teams trying to reproduce tricky scenarios and collaborating with users outside the support solution—via phone calls, team chat, email, video conferences, shared documents, and occasionally in person.
Even if the B2B agents complain about certain missing B2B features, the customer support vendor will naturally pay more attention to the customers that push the limits of the product’s operational capacity—hence, the volume bias.
Finally, the VP of Customer Success bias has to do with the fact that B2B companies tend to run with nonexistent or poorly-defined customer support organizations relatively far into their startup journeys, largely because founders and their founding team are the support organizations, with customer communication happening, as it were, “all over the place”.
Once a B2B startup has sufficient traction and capital, the messy customer support environment is fixed by hiring an experienced VP of Customer Success whose job is to build out a customer support organization and procure and implement customer support software. Since all customer support software is designed for B2C companies, the chosen software, too, will be designed for B2C and any lack of B2B-specific features will be shored up by increasing the ratio of agents to accounts.
For the customer support vendor, the VP of Customer Success bias can be summarized as follows “since we have customer support departments at all these B2B companies buying our software, our product works great for B2B.”
In summation, all customer support products are designed for companies that sell to consumers because consumer brands are more attractive to the customer support software vendor from marketing and fundraising perspectives, because consumer brands have significantly more support volume than B2B companies with similar revenue, and because B2B companies formalize their support organizations by bringing in specialists who implement B2C software because a) that’s how it’s always been done and b) all customer support software available to them is designed for B2C.