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Business-to-Business Customer Experience

B2B (Business-to-Business) customer experience receives less attention than its B2C counterpart and can often struggle for attention against other corporate priorities. B2B brands who embrace CX, however, can seize the opportunity to make more revenue and profits.

Paul Robertson, Marketing Director at Inspectorio, believes creating positive customer experiences in a B2B context can be more rewarding than with consumers. He comments, “In B2B, experiences between customers and businesses can last for significant periods of time. The customer lifetime value is often greater meaning there is more at stake.”

Paul Robertson, Marketing Director at Inspectorio

In many ways, delivering CX is similar in a B2B context as B2C – it’s about things like consistency of service across multiple channels, personalisation and putting the customer at the centre of everything the brand does. Robertson comments, “A good customer experience is becoming a point of difference for B2B brands. Customers expect to be able to do things seamlessly. They want to achieve their goals with the least effort possible. They want to achieve their goals in a time and place or channel that suits them. They want a frictionless experience”.

People who make B2B purchasing decisions are also consumers. They are becoming accustomed to easy, personalised and seamless experiences with a brand. In a B2B context, however, the consequences of getting CX right or wrong are potentially far greater, Robertson adds, “In B2B, you typically deal with more people than a B2C relationship. More people creates a bigger opportunity to delight or a bigger risk of disappointing more stakeholders. Everyone you disappoint could influence a key decision maker (if they are not one themselves) increasing your risk of churn or customer leakage from a negative CX”.

B2B CX can be far more complex as buyer journeys tend to involve longer sales cycles and multiple decision makers. It can also entail a broader range of activities and customer touchpoints that stretch across different departments between and within the businesses involved. This makes the process of mapping the customer journey as well as understanding the experiences customers have along that journey far more complex and difficult to grasp.

Why is B2B CX so important?

Recent research by Accenture highlights that B2B executives consider customer experience (CX) to be a critical factor for success, even though only 20% believe they have effective initiatives in place. “Essentially, CX creates value”, says Robertson, “For the customer, successful CX can result in people doing their jobs better and more efficiently. The customer receives greater value from the products or services they’ve purchased. This in turn drives efficiency, productivity and profitability. For the brand it means loyal customers who stay and are prepared to pay more for quality experiences.”

Despite the recognition of its importance, according to Accenture, eighty percent of B2B companies do not have effective or successful projects in place. This is supported by Gallup research that shows that only 29 percent of B2B customers are fully engaged, and 71 percent are at risk of leaving for a competitor. B2B brands run a serious risk of losing revenue and profitability if they are unable to lift their game and start using CX to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

What are the challenges to B2B CX?

The first major challenge B2B brands face, as with B2C brands, are silos in data and organisational structure. Data and information about customer interactions exists in separate pools across the organisation, where different departments can only see the information relevant to their job function.

To deliver exceptional CX requires, according to Robertson, “a 360 degree view of your customers. Sales, service and marketing should be referring to the same data set to get one view of the customer. If that doesn’t occur, decisions are made in silos which often do not lead to the best outcomes for the customer experience.”

He says, “To deliver effective CX initiatives, businesses need to undergo a digital transformation to ensure they are collecting the right data and, secondly, are able to use it across departmental functions to drive value for their customer base.”

Everyone within the organisation needs to be able to access a single ‘source of truth’ that enables the organisation to respond quickly, effectively and in a personalised manner.  Regardless of whether the customer is talking to their account manager, someone in customer support, or are accessing a web page or piece of marketing content, they are given consistent information and an experience that is relevant to them.

The second major challenge is around people and culture. Changing technology and systems is relatively simple compared to changing people’s values and behaviour.

According to Caroline Malliols, Head of Customer Experience at MedicalDirector, a leading provider of health practitioner software, cultural change is always a major challenge and it doesn’t happen overnight. You need to generate a lot of energy and bring in some champions who are going to help you change the rest of the business. She comments, “communication and education around the customer experience is vital in driving the change management process. It is about making sure that what we are implementing, is measured and communicated to the rest of the business.”

Making B2B CX happen

B2B brands need to offer their customers frictionless experiences. Robertson points out, “Systems, communication channels and polices need to evolve based on customer needs. If there is a new channel that your customers would find convenient such as live chat or Facebook Messenger, you need to be there. If your customers want to try a new feature without going through a salesperson, you need to create a self-service option to let them. If you have a live chat setup, you need to ensure every staff member can answer sales and support questions to avoid delays and deflections”.

The critical quadrant required to create frictionless experiences and drive effective CX, involves:

  1. People – The employee experience is as important as the customer experience. Front-line staff need to be empowered to make decisions and provided with the necessary tools, training and support.
  2. Processes – Business processes designed around the customer rather than managing the internal functions of the business.
  3. Technology – Integrated systems that enable the necessary business processes and allow the organisation to automate and scale their CX initiatives.
  4. Accurate Data – Accurate data is crucial to delivering personalisation at scale as well as understanding and designing experiences that delight customers.

For B2B CX to be successful, the effort must be organisation wide. Sales, marketing, customer support, product management, quality assurance, and so on, must come together. Most B2B brands, as highlighted by B2B marketing, rarely treat CX holistically or strategically. Organisations need to understand the value that CX excellence can deliver across the entire customer journey and identify specific areas where effort will drive business value.

Mark Atterby

Mark Atterby has 18 years media, publishing and content marketing experience.