“80% of customers (Business Buyers) say the experience is company provides is as important as its products and services”
Source: SALESFORCE RESEARCH, Customer Expectations Hit All-Time Highs
Working on Customer Experience (CX) in the B2B field is not as common as with B2C; and doing it with some industries like the aerospace industry is quite new. B2B particularity first lies in the multiplicity of decision makers within the organizations. Working with leaders of the aerospace industry in North America in the very beginning of 2020 clearly was an opportunity to address the issue of how to differentiate from the competition with customer experience. Quality and price no longer are the only factors which impact the collaborators choice when they have to select product or services for their companies.
Defining the overall customer experience strategy in the context of companies selling to other companies first involve working on customer journey optimization. This is what we will see through the document before explaining why and how to improve the employee experience.
I. WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT CX IN THE B2B CONTEXT?
Putting the customer at the center of a company’s focus is a difficult exercise, always leading to profound transformations. And this is the case for B2C as well as B2B companies, in almost any industry. If you are currently working in the B2B industry, you are probably asking yourself how to improve revenues and reduce costs by optimizing customer satisfaction. You are probably hesitating: “how different is it to deal with customer experience when my client is a company rather than an individual?”.
Here you’ll find the differences in multiple perspectives: B2B and B2C customer journeys, interactions, business and financial issues, and finally how to deal with customer experience in a B2B context.
Customer experience is complex, dynamic and difficult to capture. It is multi-dimensional in nature (Schmitt, 2003; Verhoef et al., 2009, Lemon and Verhoef, 2016) encompassing customer responses to all the interactions they have with a firm. B2B customers are seeking for high-level of customer experience: managers are pushed to find quick and “tailor-made” solutions for their company’s business and operation issues.
The importance of interpersonal interactions
Let’s take this example of one of my clients. It is a leader in the energy sector, who was looking for a solution to collect (B2C) customer’s opinion. The interface of the solution they chose met their expectations: easy to use by anyone in the company (UX), quality and responsive customer service, the solution was customizable with many automated tasks. But what made them choose the solution is the quality of the customer journey from the very first interactions with the company selling the solution. Experience in B2B (service) contexts is surprising given the importance of interpersonal interactions in B2B services, and that most customer encounters are not one-off experiences but part of a broader endeavor to build and maintain long-term relationships.
« CX leaders are almost three times more likely than their peers to have exceeded their top 2018 business goal by a significant margin » E-consultancy, Digital trends 2019
Let’s start with the definition of the two core concepts we are dealing with in this study: Customer Journey and Customer Experience
Customer Journey describes the path of sequential steps and interactions that a customer goes through with a company, product and/or service. It becomes a cultural way of life for the company and impacts everything from employee engagement to customer experience, according to Forbes “100 Of The Most Customer-Centric Companies”. Mapping a customer journey means identifying all different actions a client will take while interacting with a brand through its products, its services, its digital content, etc.
A report from the BCG on “The Evolving State of Digital Transformation” (2020), shows that almost 90% of recent digital transformations have integrated customer-facing initiatives such as digital marketing, personalization, and streamlining the customer journey among their primary goals.
As companies are should put more and more emphasis on customers, to the extent of elevating the customer to the center of their strategy, the first thing they should do is quantifying and assessing all interactions with customers. Why? First, in order to know exactly the moments, the places when and where interactions occur and finally how to make customers satisfied with all of those interactions. That is why mapping out their customer journey has become so important for companies in order to drive their whole organization toward customer satisfaction.
What is so different between B2C and B2B?
B2B purchasing process is much more complex and buying cycles are longer than in the B2C settings. B2B buyers are usually following a formal buying process and purchases are tied to budget cycles and important deadlines. Among the specific stages of B2B customer journey there is contract negotiations.
In fact, B2B buyer research by Demand Gen finds that buying cycles last 1-3 months and 80% involve up to six people. The study also notes increasing usage of online resources (social media, review sites, and vendor web sites) which has pushed sales engagement later in the cycle.
Then, when your customer is a company you must consider B2B-specific touchpoints, such as sales meetings, business conferences, proposals and project kickoffs (i.e.).
This diagram from The Marketing Directors
(B2Bvs. B2C Marketing What works best on the dance floor) is a good synthesis of the differentiators in the B2B and BC2 customer journey
Customer experience can include many elements, but it really boils down to the perception the customer has of a company’s image. When an employee of a bank uses a digital solution to upload and analyze the financials of a company he/she is working with, and one day he/she receives some satisfaction survey, what counts are this employee’s perceptions about the experience with the solution. It is not what the company leaders think they provoke to their (B2B) clients with the solution and the customer services. Even if the customer perceives the experience with a company differently that what the company’s marketing team expected, that is the actual customer experience. B2B customer experience, like in the B2C context, can be measured thanks to indicators such as NPS (Net Promoter Score), CSAT (Customer Satisfaction), CES (Customer Effort Score). Finally, CX really is what differentiate offers from different companies: why would you, as a customer, pay more for an espresso in two different cafés? Certainly because of the experience each one delivers. Why would you, as a company leader, pay more for some logistics services from two different service providers? Certainly because one of them offers greater customer support or additional on-line services to enrich your customer journey (i.e. on-line tracking of your order, chatbot to quickly answer your questions, etc.)
II. Optimizing customer journey: short/medium/long term
Optimizing customer journeys has short, medium and long-term impacts on the organization and its performance. B2B account teams are usually quite involved with their clients throughout a long sales cycle, interacting with various influencers of the buying decision and almost “living” the customer journey alongside their clients.
A large industrial company in the US had created a department with dedicated customer representatives in order to serve any customer very carefully. Those people are building the customer experience on a daily basis through personal interactions and tailored services like logistics, customer support for their internal operations. When speaking to the Customer Service Representatives you realize they are graduates in psychology, business administration, sociology, etc. Also, they tend to be very committed to satisfy each and any of their clients.
- First, in short-term perspective improving interactions with the customers all along the customer journey has two main benefits: overall customer satisfaction improvement and lower operational costs. Organizations are looking for quick wins when they start optimizing Customer Journeys. As an example, improving the customer interface (UX) of a company website to make it easier to place an order online quickly improves the online transformation rate from potential customers to actual customers. Why? Simply because suddenly the brand offers an experience with minimum constraints in the order process for the customer. “79% of Millennials are more willing to buy from brands that have a mobile customer service portal.” 2017, State of Global Service Report, Microsoft
- Then, in the medium-term, the point clearly is to make your offer more attractive for your current as well as potential customers. And, by “offer” I mean the actual offer: products and services, as well as the whole customer service: interactions with the organization, availability of information, personalization, automating client tasks (online/user interfaces), etc. At this level you aim at gaining customer loyalty through adequate and personalized customer journeys.
“33% of consumers who ended their relationship with a company last year did so because the experience wasn’t personalized enough.” Put your trust in hyper-relevance, report from Accenture Strategy
Forbes ranked the “top 100 Most Customer-Centric Companies” (2019), among them there are two cases which show us the importance of delivering high-quality customer service. Away Luggage, Warby Parker and Best Buy disrupt their industries and are often rewarded with growth and increased revenue.
“Away Luggage. Customers drive every decision made by the company, and Away uses data to create comprehensive customer profiles for personalized recommendations and service.
Best Buy. The tech store went through a digital transformation to evolve with changing trends and streamlined its in-store and online experience to provide personalized advice, including visiting customers in their homes to find their best tech solutions.”
“Warby Parker. With integrated data and a unique point of sale system, customers don’t have to keep repeating their preferences but can instead work one-on-one with associates to find the perfect pair of glasses and pay via tablet.”
- Finally, in long-term-perspective, your customer journeys are optimized. Your customers know it and your potential customers want to work with you because they know you offer smooth and personalized interactions. They are satisfied and you have done the right things for them to tell it to you (Feedback Management). For this purpose, the whole organization must be customer-centric with all the process to adapt to customers’ expectations and improve continuously. A long and profound work on corporate culture is necessary to reach this in the long-term: training programs for employees, tools, etc., for a true customer-centric model.
« Client-centricity is the most important factor in a successful business digitalization, since client-centric companies are 60% more profitable compared to companies not focused on the customer » – Deloitte, July 2017
Here are the usual key touch points in B2B customer journeys:
This customer journey designed by Qualtrics reflects the common steps any client (company) goes through in a B2B context. A step-by-step overview of a customer journey is an opportunity to isolate any interaction with the client to better analyze its perceptions and anticipate the next stages to better satisfy him/her.
In the B2B context negotiation phase usually lasts longer than with B2C clients, this is the reason why the company who is providing another one with product or services must be listening to the client to evaluate conversion rate from one step to the next one: say bid management to contracting. In addition to improving the conversion rate (the chances of selling are higher), anticipating customer satisfaction helps achieve costs reduction or get incremental revenue.
Return On Investment, Return On Satisfaction…
One of the biggest obstacles change-makers face in pushing their organizations towards customer centricity is convincing executives that the investment will yield a return.
Both Amazon and Zappos – which was bought by Amazon in 2009 – are prime examples of brands that are customer-centric and drive high revenues thanks to this strategy. They actually became icons of the CX since they deliver very good experience to their customers. And this is due to the fact that they have spent years creating a unique culture around the customer and their needs.
Basically, there are three main metrics in addition to the Time To Value and Customer Churn to measure the level of customer-centricity of your company:
- Customer Health Score: a way to measure how happy, healthy and functional the relationship with each of your customers is. It can be a percentage, a RAG (Red, Amber, Green) status, or even as a score out of 10, the key thing to note is that a CHS is derived from a combination of your own series of measures that determine what makes your customers successful with your product: number of interactions with your customer service team and level of satisfaction with them, number of logins on their customer account (online), support requests, how your sales perceive the quality of their own interactions with the customers, etc.
- Average Lifetime Value: How much is a new customer worth to your business?
- Net Promoter Score: Are your customers satisfied with you? The biggest benefit to having a happy customer base is that they become an extension of your marketing team!
“On a scale of 0 to 10 how likely are you to recommend our product?”
Below is an extract of the evaluation of this international company’ services, especially the customer service and the customer portal (on-line). The respondents to the survey are buyer managers working in industries from the aerospace sector.
Please rate the delivery service, the working relationship, the level of responsiveness…:
Source: Julien Hervy
Reorganize to a build customer-centric brand
For an organization, focusing on Customer Experience strategy usually can be considered as a deep reorganization of both operations and customer relationship. When leaders desire the brand to benefit from the positive fallouts they must accept to sequence the action plan on the short, medium and long term. Customer Experience strategy operates on tools (IT, etc.), HR organization, Brand image and above all on the established corporate culture. Actually, when it comes to impose a customer-centric vision to the whole organization, the challenge is to convince your teams, both those directly interacting with your customers and those supporting them with administrative tasks such as billing, logistics, communication, customer service departments, etc. Working with specialized consultants helps frame the progressive and effective “evangelization” towards this customer-centric vision. How to spread customer-centricity into corporate culture? By adapting – consultants and CEOs – the message and the way organizations accompany their teams in this profound transformation through a tailor-made plan, they make it possible for brands to reap the benefits at different time horizons.
III. WHY OPTIMIZING CUSTOMER JOURNEY: FINANCE, DATA AND BUSINESS
When CX increases profitability
As McKinsey research shows, “Enhancing the customer experience can bring rich rewards. Across industries, satisfied customers spend more and stay more loyal over time.” (Putting customer experience at the heart of next-generation operating models, 2017)
Below is a list of the top priorities when a company decides to enhance the customers with distinctive experience. This, in order to create conditions for its further development, in order to promote economic progress for the benefit of consumers.
- It begins with bringing in data and analytics-based insights about what really matters to customers and how best to deliver it to them (conducting proper Feedback Management program helps companies to gather and analyze customer insights)
- Thanks to an optimized customer journey, it takes less effort and cost to solve customer issues, in every steps of their journey.
- In order to align strategic goals with customer relationship, an organization working with B2B customers could create a CX Committee to translate those goals into operational goals.
- Changes will be needed in both underlying processes and the way employees work. Therefore, the organization needs to work on Employee Experience even if ROI* is not as easy to demonstrate as for sales increase.
*ROI: Return On Investment
- Effect of customer satisfaction on total return to shareholders (TRS) is dramatic. If we compare the TRS of companies with above- and below-average customer satisfaction scores, leaders achieve four times the growth in value of the latter over a ten-year period.
Data plays a key role in CX
Data is the base for driving continuous improvement of the offer, of the processes of the organization, but most importantly of any interaction between the customers and the brand. Any organization which purpose is to optimize customer journeys must take into consideration several sources of data:
- From customers (feedback and any communication)
- About customers (CRM and online behaviors)
- Internal operations which are related to customer journey (processes, etc.)
- External operations coming from partners who have an impact on customer journey
The organization should first be able to make any data “actionable” to improve CX. The idea is to better understand the customer and know their expectations. Data must be integrated in fine dashboards with clear data visualization (dataviz) to share and collaborate on survey reports that automatically update in real-time, so everyone in your organization has the latest insights.
This is how the company will spread customer voice throughout the organization, and thus build a strong corporate culture built around the values of service and customerrelations.
Key drivers to improve business performance and ROI
“82% of business buyers want the same experience as when they’re buying for themselves.”
Source: SALESFORCE RESEARCH, Customer Expectations Hit All-Time Highs
The creation of a CX Committee is recommended to rationalize budgets and the costs involved by customer relationship. This department should integrate collaborators from different departments: from communication to marketing and logistics, etc. This committee is responsible for setting out the guidelines for a customer-centric vision of doing business. Then, employees of this team must develop concrete actions, follow their application and finally evaluate their impact on both customer satisfaction and business outcomes.
The CX Committee is responsible for setting up the best suited Feedback Management system with the clear objectives of avoiding or reducing customer dissatisfaction and the costs due to pain points in the customer journey.
Then, enhancing customer experience will lead to an increase in sales revenues and a positive brand image. Creating very distinctive experience in a way that makes the customers remember the interactions with the brand as particular moments certainly is the best way in 2020 to differentiate from competitors.
- Integrating Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) if the organization currently works with externalized CR team to optimize costs of customer success: make it a business unit with proper KPIs and budgets.
- Reducing the cost and maximizing revenues at any customer interaction. How? Because of a harmonized CX strategy and a customer-centric vision your CSRs create short, medium and long-term revenues for the brand.
- Improving Employee Experience first objective is to motivate your staff and improve both their productivity and creativity.
IV. CUSTOMER JOURNEY: ORGANIZATIONAL AND BUSINESS IMPACTS FOR B2B COMPANIES
You clients become your ambassadors through CX strategy
When the customer journey is optimized, customers tend to become ambassadors of the brand.
There are five classic drivers for Customer Experience Economics which can be measured and modeled across industries. They are suitable when the company sells to individual but they must be used when those clients are professionals.
- Customers spend more for your products and services. They prefer high-value offer and cross-buy more: they hold a greater range of products and services.
Example: Company A purchases some digital solution and collaborators who actually use the solution are highly satisfied: they are more inclinded to ask for more services linked with the product.
- Ambassadors use more the brand’s services.
- Loyalty: they stay longer and renew their orders frequently
- They refer the brand more often to their networks. Acquiring new customers becomes easier.
- Promoters (clients) of the companies cost less to be served than passive customers or detractors. They are a great source of motivation for the staff.
Trials and tribulations in the customer journey
When we talk to leaders about their investments in the CX strategy (IT tools, trainings for employees, etc.) they usually ask for Return on Investments and the correlation between the costs of optimizing CX and Customer journeys and customer satisfaction. As an answer, I often highlight the quality of Experience the organization creates for its customers and how their perception impacts the business: the WOW effect* (zone which is the best you can get). It’s when the customers are super satisfied with the experience, and even surprised by how good it was. The company could surpass their expectations; thus their good impressions will last longer.
The pain zone is “where” customers are very disappointed, or worse: when they are absolutely dissatisfied with the experience. This is a serious problem for the brand and has three impacts on the long, medium and short-term. On the long-term, these impressions will be shared without you having the control over it. As a result, the company’s reputation – especially online – will be badly affected. On the medium term, it as an impact on customer’s loyalty and of course, the revenues you get from them – they will probably not re-order anything from you. In the short term, in the pain zone, customers will ask for reimbursement, discounts, will eventually return their product, etc. This will represent both a loss of earnings for the company as well as additional costs due to exceptional customer service operations.
Below I synthetized the idea in a graph:
WOW: onomatopoeia which express the experience that makes people feel great excitement (surprise!)
Source: Julien Hervy
CJ: Customer Journey
There are actions to take which will help you leave the Pain zone and start improving Customer journeys. Listening to your customers is the first thing to do in order to know what are the changes you have to do to leave that zone.
Once you’ve achieved “break-even” point 1, you’ve already optimized your customer journey in order to meet customers’ basic expectations. You should see an increase in satisfaction level in the feedback they give you. But don’t do only spot optimizations on your CJ, this is a permanent responsibility because your customers’ needs are infinite and they evolve over time.
Phase 2: If Customer satisfaction represents a cost for the company, because of all the efforts you have to make to meet expectations, you should soon be able to see positive Return On Investment for the actions you took.
Third step is to make WoW moment, to differentiate from your competitors and make your client very happy with your brand. And that would surely affect your customers’ motivation and though boost turnover and reduce operational costs. Why? Because the more motivated your employees are, the better they perform in their jobs.
V. FROM ACCEPTABLE CX TO GREAT EXPERIENCE
Identifying the types of experiences in the customer journey
First step implies to distinguish basic needs and profound aspirations/expectations of the customer.
Next step is to identify where it is possible to create surprise in the customer journey. You should also consider that some moments do not necessarily need to be extraordinary. Sometime, the employees at your client just need to complete their tasks.
On the left side of the graph below are the steps of the customer journey which apparently do not require to be designed as extraordinary experiences. But those one must be perfectly designed so that the customer does not “suffer“ from technological, human or organizational errors. Measuring the quality of the experience the company offers at each step is an occasion to constantly improve the processes.
On the right side is where we can create “Wow” moments and go beyond expectations.
Source: Julien Hervy
Make it a habit to improve the customer journey
Keeping up with its customers’ complex and changing expectations is a top priority for any organization but investing in technology and training is not enough. Indeed, you must consider that your customer journey is changing, it must be changing! The thing is you must adapt to your customers changes. Thus, analyzing social and business trends is essential but this is not enough: you must also directly ask your customers for their needs and frustrations through genuinely designed and personalized surveys. Consider that they are not only professionals but above all individuals with personal preferences, with their own expectations. Feedback Management clearly is an opportunity, not to say an absolute necessity, to capture the evolving trends through customers’ insights. I recommend you keep in mind and focus on those three sub-missions in order to maintain a certain quality of customer journey:
Connecting with more customers at more key moments
Feedback might be collected too infrequently and/or too late to allow for action on customer issues. You should solicit input from clients and stakeholders at the right time, the right way, at the right moment. The employees at your client are more likely to take the survey at some specific moment. Not considering that they are quite busy at some moment is a mistake. Just adapt the moment when you “shoot” the surveys to their constraints all along the customer journey.
This also implies research on customer preferences and the appropriate tools: UX and UI for any digital interface, where customers interacts with the brands – think about any communication channel: apps, website, chatbot, mail, phone, etc. Last Customer survey you might have done was designed to capture customers’ perceptions at some specific touch points of the customer journey, to get specific information, in an appropriate way some months ago. This might change over time because customers’ expectations and technology might create new touch points or change some of them (different perspectives).
Business-to-business clients look for solutions to problems, or offerings that better meet their needs: cost-reduction, such as more customized products, better integrated systems, increased responsiveness, lower cost-in-use, or higher productivity. Influenced by the consumer world, many b2b audiences are also seeking an improved experience in using a b2b product or service – a customer journey that is seamless, more convenient, and hassle-free. Savvy b2b suppliers sell an experience and outcomes, not products. We operate in an experience economy where brands embody more meaning through experience.
Establishing policies and procedures for effective actions on feedback
Here is about creating feedback levers for improving operations.
Too often, B2B organizations lack clear accountability for CX results, distribute customer feedback data narrowly among employees, or fail to prioritize high-impact actions. I sometime notice at my client’s hazardous processes to collect, analyze and share customer feedbacks. On one hand, companies may collect feedback from customers but miss to get the benefits of analyzing them because they do not have the right tools for that.
An example: one of my client who captures some feedback from its clients – firms – at any touch point in the customer journey without clear rules. The result? In this company they lack clear goals in the collection process of customers’ feedback, so the employees at my client’s capture random feedback which sometime cannot help measure the quality of the experience. Was it the right time to ask this question to the customer or send him some survey? No it wasn’t, because the brand did not map its customer journey to get a broader and more precise view of all the touch points with the client. No company can start improving customer experience without knowing the exact journey of a client: the stages, the main interactions, etc.
On the other hand, some companies are good at collecting feedback and analyzing it but they do not share it enough within the company. This could result from a misunderstanding of who within the organization takes part, directly or indirectly, in the customer relationship. As an example, the billing department of an Insurance company should be aware of customer satisfaction. In fact, procurement managers at the client’s of the insurance company might have difficulties accessing the bill or understanding the details. This is a pain point in the customer journey; customer satisfaction is at stake even. Thus, employees at the billing department of this insurance company should get updated insights concerning customer perceptions of the billing process. Why? Because they need real feedback to get to know how to better serve the customers at the billing step of the customer journey. Speaking about corporate culture, knowing how to better serve the clients, how to better realize your mission as an employee, surely have a positive impact on your motivation. And you know the saying: “happy employees make happy customers, make happy employees, happy customers, and so on.”
As soon as you get insights from customers you should make it an opportunity to improve your business. Most of Customer Feedback Management solutions have follow-up on actions. It means controlling if #1 the actions were assigned to the right person in the organization, and if this one #2 honored its responsibility towards this action. Then, #3 it is time to finally close the loop: being able to check customer satisfaction after the action is done.
Conclusion: Customer Experience and Employee Experience, a matter of perspective
Go beyond customer optimization
Nowadays, tracking your Amazon parcel online or tracking the delivery of an industrial machine is expected to be equally simple.
2020, most companies place CX on a strategic pedestal. B2C transactions tend to be quick and efficient, with minimal interaction between buyer and seller. In B2B, a long-term relationship is more often established and the amounts involved are undoubtedly considerable. Both B2C and B2B customer experience tend to be similar when it is about designing digital platforms or interactions. But, when it comes to maintaining high quality of experiences, B2B clients usually require more attention from multiple perspectives: product/service improvement and adaptation, customer service, logistics, accounting, etc. Customer journeys are on average way more intricate when your client is a company.
The way you articulate the interactions with the clients all along their journey with the brand must follow two objectives: make them satisfied at any time, any interaction in the customer relationship: collaborators, digital platforms, website, chat, etc. (communication channels).
Then, setting up a Feedback Management program is the first thing to do when you have the ambition to optimize customer journeys with corporate clients.
This is also the first layer of a CX strategy. Of course, you cannot just let your customers (their opinions) decide everything in your business. And this even if their opinions are crucial for you since they help increase sales, sale-margins and retention rate. In fact, the customers are the ones who know better than anybody how you can satisfy them, but they almost know nothing about your corporate constraints such as: operations, strategy, budgets, etc.
As soon as you have integrated the program it is time to use feedback analysis tools and alerts in order to provide input for constructive thinking on CX strategy. Collective intelligence as considered for a business, comes from two sources: your employees and your customers (you could also add your partners, etc.) Listening to both of them will let you know how to meet customer satisfaction. When you read Feedback Management, please do not think only of the technology, the solution, but consider it as a whole program which implies human interactions, soft skills and organizational optimization.
Now it’s time to create the types of experiences that the companies your selling to are expecting and some which will positively surprise them. In order to achieve high quality of customer experience any company should tap into the collaborators who are directly involved in the customer relationship: listening to their ideas and expectations because they know the companies you are dealing with and you need them to be motivated to enhance any interaction they have with the buyers/corporate decision makers at your clients’. A good Employee eXperience (EX) usually generate good Customer eXperiences (CX).
The last layer is corporate culture. At this level you have reached the roots of the organization: the “why” you exist on the market, the “why” you differentiate from competition and the “why” you corporate clients continue to deal with you.
When you start changing deep corporate culture, you integrate customer centricity in the company corporate DNA.
December 2020 Julien Hervy, Strategy Consultant
“84% of customers say being treated like a person, not a number, is very important to winning their business”Salesforce Research
The Covid-19 crisis adds to the complexity of modeling the customer journey and how you deliver the experience: from the sales and logistics phases to the integration. But the deep reorganization of internal processes of companies to meet sanitary requirements might also be an opportunity to develop digital interactions with them and collect more accurate information to build appropriate B2B experiences.