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Building customer experience

How to build a business-to-business CX programme: Four steps that separate B2B from B2C

3rd Aug 2018
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Business-to-business organisations shouldn't just replicate the customer experience programmes of business-to-consumer organisations, as they must be fully suited to the operational model of your company. 

Customer experience is usually defined in consumer terms: how did we do today when you came to our store? How helpful were our staff when you called our customer service department?

But consumers are only one type of customer. In the business-to-business (B2B) world, customers exist at every level: as individuals, teams or businesses in their own right. Every step of the supply chain represents a customer group, where demands need to be met and particular needs catered to.

As in the business-to-consumer (B2C) world, customer experience – across all these groups - is often the key battleground for competitive differentiation and client retention. Here though, fewer customers and dramatically larger deal sizes mean the stakes can be much higher. Ignoring customer experience in this B2B environment is a risky strategy – and can have far deeper repercussions for organisations than just delivering ‘poor service’.

54% of B2B organisations state that customer retention is now one of their top five business challenges. So how can they identify the critical moments in the customer relationship and capitalise on these moments to deliver exceptional experiences?

Use the experience of others

The good news is that much of the groundwork in understanding the customer journey - identifying key pain points and categorising actions that address areas of dissatisfaction - has already been done in the B2C world.

It can be tempting to launch headlong into a new programme and start capturing customer feedback by replicating what B2C organisations are doing. However, it’s important to think clearly about key issues such as how you’ll use the data you gather and how the programme supports the wider objectives of your business.

Why? Core CX practices apply equally well to the B2B market, but they do need adjustment to cater for distributed networks and complex supplier relationships. Customer relationships in B2B are also often much deeper and longer term than those in B2C, with longer purchasing cycles, more touchpoints and more stakeholders along the customer journey.

So, while it makes sense to leverage the proven processes of existing CX programmes, it’s critical to take a measured approach at the outset. Build a programme that is fully suited to the operational model of your organisation, as well as the nuances of the industry and customers you serve.

Follow proven steps

We see four key steps to creating a successful B2B CX programme. These are closely aligned to those for B2C, but with a twist:

1. Define your starting point and your direction

Before you do anything, ensure you have absolute clarity on what success looks like. Fundamentally, how is your CX programme going to help your organisation reach this year’s goals?  If there is no connection between CX goals and business goals then your programme is doomed to failure – it will be irrelevant. 

Once you know where you are headed it is just a question of where you are now. What do you already have in place to drive CX success? Do you have some of the building blocks to begin with, such as segmented customer data?

You’ll need to identify the gaps in your processes and plug them to ensure an end-to-end programme can succeed. Most critically, you’ll need customer journey maps that identify end-user types to accurately pinpoint moments that matter most to the business. You can then use these maps to anchor your programme to core measurement KPIs, and to design a framework that enables you to link critical data points to wider business outcomes.

2. Understand all your possible customer interactions

Do you have a clear view of who your customer is and who is managing that relationship? In the B2B market, the main point of contact for your customer may be an account manager, but there are also operational teams, support and service representatives, supporting sales personnel and more.

For those who work with global clients, the situation gets even more complex with multiple account managers looking after the relationship in different countries. This ‘many-to-many’ relationship means that a clear view of the overall health of an account is not as easily grasped as it is in a direct B2C relationship.

Use this to your advantage. You have more people who have access to the nuanced interactions with your clients, and those people have insight and opinions about the prospects for that account. While account directors may have the ultimate responsibility of retaining and growing clients, the rest of the team will have great insights into the quality of the relationship. Simply put, more interaction equals stickier client AND more insight.

Take global tools and components distributor RS Components as an example. The VoC programme at RS is huge in scale, covering multiple touchpoints in all regions around the world. The company gathers verbatim comments from its customers across all these touchpoints and geographies, and tracks and analyses these using text analytics because it knows they often hold the most useful insights for the business. As a result, RS is able to understand and act upon the voice of its customers consistently, everywhere it operates.

3. Focus on action

Listening is only the first step in understanding the customer experience. The purpose of all that listening – to customers, partners, suppliers and employees - is to drive action. You need to consider how your ‘listening posts’ can most accurately deliver the information you need to identify customer behaviours and emotions.

You need to integrate listening data with other operational data to add context. Most importantly, you need to create a clear process through which all this data you gather is shared outside the core CX team, so that business leaders and teams can understand it and take action.

Closed-loop alerting linked to your programme can help you understand what action needs to be taken, and ensures those actions are carried out. For example, a Norwegian company that provides solutions for business optimisation put in place a closed-loop process to respond to customers. Most importantly, they respond to clients who provide low NPS scores on the same day, by telephone.

Clients are amazed to receive a response at all, let alone to hear from a real person so quickly, and this has been a key contributor to the organisation’s 14-point increase in NPS in the past 12 months. 

4. Drive results

You may not own the actions that are needed to change your customers’ actual experiences with your brand, but are you driving the organisation toward the answers? Are you the catalyst, the champion, and the leader of your company’s CX maturity? Do you fully understand the connection between the insights you deliver and the results your organisation is striving for?

One of the beauties of running a CX programme within a B2B organisation is that client level tactical actions can drive significant ROI.  Tactical actions can be set in motion as an immediate response to a contact’s feedback or a changing situation, and enable account managers to save an account from churning, drive additional revenue or even activate a potential advocate by prompting to ask for references or even recommendations. 

Strategic actions are driven by a longer-term view and will probably impact multiple accounts. This makes them critical, but often not entirely within the control of individual account managers and so may require wider support.

This is where the scope and scale of your programme is critical, as ANSYS, the simulation software company, demonstrates. To ensure it can take action in direct response to customer feedback across seven customer touchpoints, the company uses live dashboards to feed insight directly to managers, providing company-wide data by customer type, business unit, region and office. As a result, the company has experienced a 23% increase in the number of customers willing to recommend their services to others.

Take the leap

Even when following proven processes, we know that B2B customer experience can be challenging for many reasons. There are only a few universal metrics that apply to B2B’s specific market segments, so benchmarking is often most effective against internal measures. It’s also difficult to gain CX alignment across multiple segments with very different client bases.

But those organisations that have taken a leap into the relative unknown have already proven the worth of their investment. They have been able to refine processes along the way to increase the relevance and success of programmes across all areas of their business.

The examples provided above – and the many more that we deal with on a daily basis – prove that B2B is just as capable as B2C of harnessing CX to boost the bottom line, control costs, streamline business processes. The complexity of the customer and supplier network should not be regarded as a barrier to creating a great customer experience that is also really good for business.

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