You may have heard that we’re in “the age of the customer.” With so many ways for customers to interact with brands, the burden is on companies to be swift, thorough, personal, and accurate when it comes to responding to inquiries and other interactions.

This goes not only for B2C companies, but also for B2B businesses.

While this is a tough challenge, it’s also a big opportunity for your business. In fact, in a study on the future of the B2B customer experience, the consulting firm Walker predicts that by 2020, the customer experience will be the most important factor over both price and product when it comes to determining competitive advantage.

Customer service is a significant piece of your marketing pie. Done right, it increases satisfaction, earns loyalty, supports repeat business and word of mouth referrals, and paves the way for expansion and growth.

Of course the trick is to provide a seamless, consistent, and personalized experience, which isn’t always easy with numerous points of contact (phone, chat, email, etc.)

This is where a versatile collaboration tool can make all the difference in delivering a solid customer experience that features streamlined, real-time communication and first-contact resolution.

Here are four benefits of using an online collaboration platform for customer service.

1) Faster and more accurate responses to customers

It used to be that in order to resolve an issue, a customer would have to open a ticket or make a phone call. It would then be on an individual agent to solve the problem, and when that wasn’t possible, the customer would be sent onward to connect with another specialist… tell his or her story again… be put on hold… all of which would cause frustration and could easily lead to the ultimate loss of that client.

This is where a messaging platform can make all the difference.

Set up teams or channels for customer service agents for each area that you frequently get inquiries for (i.e. billing, product questions, technical issues, etc.). Also set up teams or channels for subject matter experts who can be on call when questions beyond the frontline agents’ expertise arise. As long as these specialists know they’re expected to respond immediately to customer service questions while doing their normal jobs, agents will be able to effectively handle complex or uncommon issues faster and more efficiently than by calling or emailing the same people. The net result is a faster answer for the customer, which only entails chatting with one person.

2) Better support and improved knowledge base

In the scenario described, not only do customers get the benefit of an immediate solution, but the customer service team also benefits by being able to passively learn. And after the chat is ended, the answers are now searchable — which allows the knowledge base to continually expand. Relatedly, agents can immediately alert supervisors and other colleagues when they get constructive or helpful feedback from customers. A collaboration platform supports the free flow of information and makes it quick, easy, and efficient to share these insights.

Beyond technical answers, it’s also helpful for agents to use their team members as sounding boards, or to seek advice. For example, after a tough exchange an agent may message his or her team members and tell them about the experience — “this ABC issue upset my customer, and I did XYZ to resolve it.” Or an agent dealing with an irate customer might send out a message asking for ideas on how to to de-escalate a heated conversation. Having a team of coworkers and managers at their fingertips can help frontline agents feel more confident in dealing with a range of tough customer service issues.

3) Improved internal communication

Before the rise of messaging, it used to be that inbox overload, both email and voicemail, could easily lead to internal communication breakdowns, including confusion, tension, and even resentment between coworkers when emails went unanswered and phone calls unreturned. This in turn would lead to poor customer service outcomes.

The immediacy and persistent nature of chat helps strengthen the bonds between coworkers, whether they’re in the same department or different departments. It allows teams to talk through issues, get faster responses to hard questions, and improve internal interactions through constructive communication.

4) Betters ongoing client interactions

For small-scale B2B businesses that provide ongoing client services, a collaboration platform supports streamlined communications and helps account managers and their team stay in constant contact with their counterparts. For example, social media marketing company SEA Media creates client-specific teams (channels) so that they can easily chat, collaborate, brainstorm, comment, and otherwise interact with their customers. Built-in productivity tools allow them to create tasks, plan meetings (e.g. video or text chats), and integrate with other platforms such as Google Drive. With a mobile version of the platform, clients are easily able to jump in from wherever they are to check on the status of a project. And SEA Media is able to demonstrate how productive and hands-on they are on behalf of their client.

The X-factor in the customer eXperience is how effectively a company sets up its systems to serve clients quickly, efficiently, and with a personal touch that leaves a lasting positive impression. A customer-facing collaboration platform makes critical internal and external connections, which provides a better, more productive overall experience for both sides of the service coin.