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The Future of Customer Experience in B2B
CloudCherry | Featured | September 27, 2017
When talking about customer experience, there’s almost an underlying assumption that the focus is on customers in the B2C space. But B2C is just one side of the coin. There’s the B2B angle to it as well, where delivering a great experience is equally crucial to be successful in the long run.
According to Accenture, approximately 80% of executives in B2B companies believe that offering an outstanding customer experience is directly connected to generating better business results and ensuring the company has a competitive advantage. Despite this realization, fewer than 25% of these companies excel at offering great CX. The rest still have a more product or channel-centric approach, with everyone in the organization focused on the product and where and how it’s marketed.
A serious issue for B2B companies is that they tend to make flawed assumptions regarding understanding their customers. Only 17% of B2B companies have fully integrated customer data throughout the entire organization, meaning that developing customer strategies is based more on gut than on actual data and insights.
B2B companies also lag behind their B2C counterparts when it comes to Customer Experience; they tend to score, on average, less than 50% in Customer Experience Index ratings, compared to B2C organizations that tend to score between 65% and 85%.
Be it B2B or B2C, one sure thing is that customers are evolving. And that means they’ve started to form higher expectations and demand more personalized experiences. The problem is that, even though in the B2B space companies are dealing with other companies, the actual interaction is still between humans. And these people are setting the bar higher because their experiences otherwise – in the B2C space, for instance – is a lot more delightful and seamless.
For example, you might run a steel factory that supplies to various industrial companies. However, when one of your clients needs to place an order, it involves human-to-human interactions. Let’s assume it’s a purchasing manager. The purchasing manager does all his banking via a smart phone, orders his groceries online, and has an app to remind him that he has to get to the gym. In other words, his personal life is made highly convenient because he interacts with brands that don’t just satisfy a market need, but make things easier.
Then he calls up your steel factory to ask how he can place an order. You send him a bunch of paper forms to fill out, tell him he needs to fax them back, and then you take a week to deliver a quote. Then he has to accept the quote, once again through a paper form, and then wait a month for delivery of the product, with no means to track the status of the order. You might be surprised, but a lot of B2B companies are archaic in the way they operate.For the manager, it is like going from the 21st century back to the Stone Age. You’d get a better understanding now as to why B2B customers want more seamless experiences!
The purchasing pattern of B2B customers tends to be more complex than those of, say, retail customers. And that means B2B companies will have to invest in technologies (design, product, etc) that customers can seamlessly work and interact with.
One of the main challenges in B2B is that there is no single customer profile, even within the same client’s organization, which can make it difficult to deliver a consistent experience. Hence, you are likely deal with multiple stakeholders in the client’s organizations you serve, some of whom might only participate in specific portions of the journey with your company, and not from end to end. Adapting to different expectation sets is, therefore, something B2B companies need to be really good at.
Another flawed assumption many make is that B2B purchases are mainly driven by rational decision-making, but there are so many other factors at play – the relationship between the supplier and procurement team, the supplier’s reputation, and more. B2B companies also tend to have a more varied offering of services and products than a B2C company, and that offering is very customized to the individual needs of their clients. The customer journey, therefore, is much more complex than that of a retail customer, especially when one takes into account the highly technical nature of said journey.
There’s also a higher degree of fragmentation resulting from not only location but also account attribution within your organization, as well as the fact that the process involves various departments and multiple teams.
Despite the various challenges, there’s definitely a way for B2B brands to stay relevant, customer-centric and in turn run successful business models. Let’s look at some of the emerging Customer Experience trends in B2B that he
The Omnichannel Experience Is Knocking on the Door
Customers want a seamless and consistent experience across different touchpoints, which means it’s time for B2B organizations to think omni-channel. Combine different channels, both online and offline, and tie experiences across these touchpoints to ensure that the customer can comfortably interact with you.
Chatbots Are Becoming Smarter
As the focus on machine learning increases, artificial intelligence is becoming more powerful, which is eventually going to lead to more intelligent chatbots. However, while they are indeed becoming more popular in the B2C space, there is great scope for B2B companies to use chatbots – it simplifies conversations and empowers customers through self- service.
Where little human interaction is required, chatbots can be deployed. As AI becomes smarter, the use of chatbots can be expanded to other departments.
Proactive Customer Service
Reactive service has been the norm from as far back as companies started providing customer service. If customers had an issue, they would contact the support team, who would then work with them to solve the issue at hand. More often than not, a survey would be then sent to the customer to determine how effective the customer service representative was, and how satisfactory the experience was.
Things have changed quite a bit over the past few years. Customer service teams are taking the initiative and reaching out to customers first so they can improve engagement and offer an outstanding customer experience. By ensuring problems are solved before they even arise, customer service teams are actually turning their clients into loyal advocates.For this reason, more and more companies are investing in their customer service teams, equipping them with the technology they need to anticipate customer queries.
Personalization Is Key to a Great CX
Personalization goes a long way!g customers. B2B organizations need to step up and invest in things such as journey mapping, voice of the customer programs, and any other strategies that will allow them to collect data and then take advantage of the insights they have garnered to offer the expected level of personalization.
The good news is that more B2B companies are becoming aware of this. Thus, they’ve improved how they take advantage of the collected data, and how they derive the insights that are vital to offering a truly personal experience that delights their clients.
Improving the B2B customer experience can be challenging, but nothing is impossible, especially if your organization is committed to gaining a competitive advantage by delighting clients. Here are a few strategies to help you do so.
1. Organizational-Level Commitment
The first step to delighting customers is ensuring the entire organizations is committed to doing so. This means all your employees need to understand what you are striving for and take your customer-centric goal to heart. You have to ensure that every stakeholder is aware of their role, and knows that no matter how far removed they are, they still contribute to the client experience.
It’s essential for client-facing staff to take on board the idea of delighting customers, but everyone must be just as committed to going the extra mile. This will help customers see that they do matter, which will do wonders not only for the experience but the client’s willingness to overlook errors.
2. Fulfill All Customer Needs
A common misconception among B2B organizations is that decisions are rational and based solely on quality and price. This myth is often perpetuated by sales reps who are only interested in achieving their short-term goals. They don’t listen to clients, and are so focused on selling products and services that they end up convincing the clients to buy something they don’t need. While it might be nice in the short-term, over the long-term this approach will result in a lost customer.
Thus, you need to not only understand what your customer needs and wants, but you also have to be empathetic. Establishing a connection with your client will help you by making it easier to understand their real needs so you can fulfill them effectively, but also to discover unmet needs they might not even know they had. When you can fulfill those too, customers won’t be able to do anything but be thoroughly appreciative of your ability to go the extra mile for them.
3. Make Life Easy for Your Customers
In the B2B space, the easier it is to do business with your organization, the more your customers will love you. So, if you want to build a host of loyal, delighted customers, you need to make sure that their entire journey with your organization is seamless, convenient, and easy. The fewer hassles, the more your clients will appreciate working with you.
4. Be Responsive
Remember earlier when we mentioned the lack of communication in the steel factory example? Well, do the opposite. Don’t disappear. Don’t take days to respond. Don’t ignore them because you feel it’s better than just telling them you don’t have new information.
In fact, the more communicative you are, the better. We live in the digital era when everyone expects an almost immediate response. While that might not always be feasible, timely responses will earn you a lot of favor.Being responsive shouldn’t’ be limited just to communication. The more responsive you are in all areas of the business, the more loyalty you will gain. For example, a certain fin-tech company takes 7 minutes to provide approval for a small business loan. Now compare that to a traditional bank that can take as long as 20 days. If you think that fin-tech company has seen their client base skyrocket, you’d be right.
5. Be Proactive
Don’t wait around for things to hit the fan. Instead, do everything you can to anticipate the needs and wants of your clients, and then resolve their problems as quickly as possible, ensuring you fix things before they start feeling the pain. The more proactive you are, the more loyal your customers will be.
6. Don’t Be Stagnant
Once you’ve finally gotten to the point where you are delivering a delightful B2B customer experience, you can’t rest on your laurels. Customers are constantly evolving, which means you need to evolve right along with them or you will end being left behind.
The agiler your organization is, and the better able you are to adapt to your clients’ changing needs, the better your long-term results will be.
While the B2B customer journey is far more complex than any in the B2C space, making the improvement of the client experience more challenging, it still needs to be done. B2B customers are evolving at the same rate as retail customers, and they expect more from their suppliers. So, if you want to gain a competitive advantage and watch your organization thrive instead of just survive, then it’s time you look towards delivering a delightful customer experience.