Business customer virtual interaction: enhancing value creation in B2B markets in the post-COVID-19 era – an SME perspective

Publication Name

Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing


Purpose: The unprecedented changes in the marketplace induced by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant accelerated corporate migration to virtual ecosystems have added several unique research opportunities and theoretical gaps, especially in business-to-business (B2B) small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) markets in the service sector. Particularly, customer interactions in B2B services that were once sustained by the “people mix” now demand a huge overhaul in light of the “new normal” restrictions. Hence, the purpose of this study is to explore how B2B service firms can engender firm value through virtual customer interactions during and in the post-COVID-19 era from an SME’s perspective. Design/methodology/approach: This study adopts an exploratory qualitative inquiry to contribute to this discourse by proposing a conceptual framework based on prior literature and relevant theoretical frameworks, as well as qualitative interviews with SME managers, CEOs and/or owner-managers. Findings: The qualitative findings reveal organizational preparedness, empathy, digital content and trust as key enablers of effective B2B virtual interaction that enhances cocreated value, thereby augmenting firm value. This study offers a much-needed examination of virtual interaction in B2B contexts and proposes a business customer virtual interaction model. Research limitations/implications: The exploratory nature of this study is one limitation, and future studies with a bigger representative sample size that uses survey or experimental data drawn from large enterprises might add value to the current findings. Also, while this study is conducted in dynamic markets due to the COVID-19 crisis, future research must examine the customer/firm’s experiences in other forms of crises-led market ecosystems. Practical implications: B2B service firms must be strongly inclined to continuously take steps to develop and maintain virtual interaction with customers. Proactive efforts to familiarize internal and external stakeholders with virtual interaction platforms are a crucial step for effective customer engagement. The effectiveness of B2B virtual interactions can be strengthened through digital content that elicits trust and exhibits empathy, especially in crises led-markets. Also, the value created for the firm must be redeployed strategically to sustain positive customer engagement behaviors that continue to deliver value to the firm and the customer. Originality/value: This paper contributes to the increasing B2B customer engagement literature by exploring the ongoing dialogue on how B2B firms can strive and succeed in the post-COVID-19 era or related crises-led market ecosystems through enhanced virtual B2B customer interaction efforts.

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