Last week I was approached by an American investment bank. Perfect for InfoQuest I thought. Has to be B2B and all about relationships – long-term; trust; mutual goals; lots of interactions at different levels.

But no. They were looking for help in their call centre, where queries about the financial products they were selling were answered.

I found myself having to explain the difference between B2B and B2C to an investment bank.

B2C, or Business to Consumer, is where there is a Point of Sale – in other words, somewhere where the transaction takes place. This might be physical bricks and mortar place such as a store, a restaurant, a filling station, a dentist (no pun intended) or a hotel. Or it might be a website or a call-centre. The common feature is that the transaction, the supply of goods and services, takes place pretty much in one go, in one place, and that transaction can be observed and audited with relatively little effort. In the olden days the audit wasn’t known as an audit, it was just good management, and relied on a Departmental manager being on the shop floor, keeping an eye on staff and making sure that the shopper’s experience was a good one – that the store was clean and tidy, well stocked, laid out in an appealing way, and that the return of faulty goods and unwanted Christmas presents was handled “appropriately”.

Nowadays managers don’t have the time to stop and stare. And staff are known as colleagues – they are equals, not underlings, and as such are often resentful of a) being spied upon and b) being criticised by people with whom they work. And so, to get round this social shift, mystery shoppers and customer satisfaction surveys came into being – the ultimate of which is the Net Promoter Score. NPS only asks one question – “would you recommend?”.

Terribly sorry, Mr/s Customer, I know you are busy. I have just one question.

Terribly sorry, Colleague, I know we are equals, but here are the results of the latest survey. Because we are equals I wouldn’t dream of interpreting the results or being judgemental. But the scores have been going down over the last few months – would you mind, please, getting them back up again?

B2B is completely different. Instead of being a one-off experience (perhaps repeated many times), Business to Business is a long-term, developing and evolving relationship between two organisations. One of the major tenets you find in B2B is Trust.

We employ the accountancy firm on the basis that they will produce our year-end accounts properly and they will give us the best possible advice.

And we have ordered the generators / switchgear / compressors / sensors / bearings / material handling equipment / logistics provider on the basis that the products and services ordered will arrive on time and do the job we need doing in the right way (otherwise there could be problems which, ultimately, could affect our ability to employ our people).

You can’t audit B2B with a mystery shopper or NPS – it’s just too complicated. There are too many people who are key influencers. And the decision-maker has to take into account internal and external factors, politics, team work and trust as well as the standard KPIs (key performance indicators) such as OTIF (on-time and in full) and PPM (parts per million) Failures.

InfoQuest, with its ability to pose up to 60 questions and statements in its surveys and get an average worldwide response rate of over 70% from hard to reach decision-makers is the most cost-effective way of seeing how good the individual relationships are that, when added together, become the most valuable asset that a company has.

But, unfortunately, we are not experts in call-centres (even those run by big American investment banks) and we turned the job down. Hopefully they will be back in contact before too long, with a project more suited to our skills and the InfoQuest box.