B2B Customer Experience Today
Truth be told, B2B buyers want the same streamlined customer experiences (CX) as their B2C counterparts—perhaps maybe even more so. In Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report, which surveyed over 8,000 consumers and business buyers, B2B clients were even more inclined to pay more for a better experience, find CX just as important as a company’s products and services, and stated that experiences were pivotal to their perception of a B2B brand.
The Customer Experience Stakes Have Never Been Higher
Such data suggests two important shifts in B2B:
- B2B clients are demanding more out of their CX, spurred on by at-home experiences with B2C brands and digital innovations introduced in those experiences.
- In reaction, B2B industries must break from old CX traditions and innovate CX to compete beyond price and product
B2B customer relationships have always been a touch more intimate than that of B2C:
- They are grounded in personal relationships
- They involve more complex organizational hierarchies
- They often come with additional touchpoint and ecosystems to consider
- Churn comes with greater financial consequences
Unfortunately, B2B companies are lagging behind B2C organizations in innovating their CX to adjust to changing client expectations. At CustomerGauge, we consider this shift in expectations as part of the emerging “B2B CX Gap.”
This “CX gap” results in a number of consequences:
• A disconnect between the C-Suite and CX advocates, ultimately stalling CX innovation
• Little insight into important stakeholder sentiment, leading to unforeseen churn
• Lagging digital transformation around customer-centric processes, reducing visibility into multi-channel CX
• The formation of organizational data and operational siloes, stagnating CX progress and execution
• A lack of personalization and convenience, minimizing intimacy in B2B relationships
These gaps have left many B2B companies to realize some harsh truths about their own CX programs. Namely, that they’re not up to par—and it’s costing them their customers.
Luckily, there’s a path forward.
B2B CX Strategies: Battle-Tested, Expert-Approved
In this eBook we dive into advanced strategies that have dramatically transformed the CX programs of the world’s largest B2B brands. Each chapter is divided into five hard-hitting tips that tackle common issues faced when managing a revenue-generating B2B CX program, and expert guidance from top influences in the customer experience industry.
TIP 01: Speak The C-Suite"s Language— And Give Them The Visibility To Lead
It’s no leap in logic to say that the success of your CX program depends largely on the buy-in of the C-Suite—whether you like it or not. Researchers at Walker found that B2B companies who were more successful at CX within their organizations forecasted 20% or greater growth than B2B companies that lacked an effective CX strategy. This very same research pinpointed that one of the largest obstacles in the success of these programs was the disconnect between CX professionals and the C-Suite.
B2B often leaders lack visibility into the state of their CX programs purely because their CX software doesn’t offer executive level views. According to Accenture, at least 40% of B2B leaders lack a clear view of their customer experience program.
CX professionals that can’t effectively communicate CX insights to the C-Suite will struggle to achieve long term buy-in of a customer-centric transformation. Companies should invest in technologies that offer a 360 degree view of CX for the C-Suite to make strategic decisions, discern ROI, and pinpoint what areas of the business to focus on based on CX and revenue contribution.
It is often wrongly assumed that the C-Suite shouldn’t involve themselves in frontline issues. However, CustomerGauge has found that companies who close the loop at the executive level experience a minimum +2.1% increase in retention.
In other words, having the C-Suite on your side in a CX program can drive retention and revenue growth. Even companies as large as Wolters Kluwer see the benefits of having a CEO behind their CX program.
“I saw a key new client voicing frustration, so I called them up and asked what was troubling them. He explained, and we solved it within about two days. He called me back, and said ‘You’ve got a customer for life.” - Russell Evans, CEO, Wolters Kluwer Asia
Want to align CX with the C-Suite
I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single customer experience leader I have ever met has been highly analytical. And about half seem to have a formal technical education. For example, I am an engineer myself.
In companies that have manufacturing operations, the customer experience leader often comes from a product quality background. Most of these leaders have excellent statistical skills and a deep understanding of meaningful sample sizes and so on. To be clear, none of the above qualities are bad. But there’s is still a problem.
The principal skill requirement for a corporate customer experience leader is the ability to communicate clearly and effectively.
Unfortunately, the skills mentioned earlier don’t help at all in that department. Indeed, they can be counter-productive. I took too long to understand this myself.
Early in my career I spent hours talking numbers and statistics to executives who were desperately trying to seem interested and to avoid falling asleep while I spoke.
From their comments and questions I gradually understood that they had made up their minds about the problems and solutions about a minute or so after I started to speak.
Why could I not see this? Why was my answer to this so wrong; I would start the explanations all over again, assuming they had not understood. I failed.
I could not get the support I needed for my investment proposals. Why, oh why was this happening? My logic was impeccable.
It turns out that logic doesn’t matter much.
The most important communication skill a CX leader has to learn is the ability to tell stories. Customer stories. Relevant CX stories that create emotions.
The kind of CX stories that make leaders happy about where the company is excelling and angry about CX failures.
Yes, do your formal research to find out what needs to be improved. But then, persuade your leaders to sponsor and fund the improvements through engaging storytelling.
Do this, and you and your customers may just live happily ever after.
TIP 02: Introduce Coverage As A Core KPI, It Might Just Save Your Business
“What you don’t know, might just kill you” is an extremist approach to a customer experience program—or is it?"
There are a number of vital KPIs that paint a picture of your company’s CX health. Finding the narrative behind your brand sentiment means looking deep into the data. However, while engagement and sentiment are often the go-to metrics of B2B CX professionals, overlooking this one KPI might just result in your largest accounts churning right under your nose.
Coverage measures how much revenue your collected feedback covers. This can help you answer, for example, if your NPS is representative of your most valuable accounts.
The answer matters, because in B2B the following statement always holds true: While all your clients are valuable, not all hold the same value.
If you aren’t connecting with key contacts at some of your largest accounts, you’re missing a big piece of your CX puzzle—and revenue. Just like during the acquisition process, connecting with and satisfying stakeholders is invaluable. In a customer relationship, this is also true—not only for the retention of an account, but the continued growth of that account.
In our NPS® & CX Benchmarks report, respondents found that as coverage grew, so too did retention and referral sales.
Why is that? There’s two reasons:
Higher Retention: The more contacts and accounts you survey, the higher
the chance you’ll rescue a churning customer.
More Referrals: The more contacts and accounts you survey, the more customers you’ll identify as a good fit to refer your brand.
Coverage is King in B2B CX Programs
If I were to ask you—“what is the most important metric for a B2B business?’”—what would you say? Net Promoter Score®? Response rate? Not bad options. However, both of these metrics have the potential to lead your strategy completely astray without pairing them with this little known (but extremely powerful) metric: Coverage.
Coverage indicates how large a portion of your account base collected feedback covers. So, why is this the most important metric in B2B? Let me tell you a little story…
In the early days of our Net Promoter program, we thought we had it all figured out. Here’s a quick snapshot of our ‘major’ metrics at that time:
- Above average response rate at/more than 30%
- Closing the loop on about 80% of cases
- Net Promoter Score in the 60’s
Our program was a shining beacon of excellence that we could share with our clients—or so we thought. But…then we lost an account. And then another. This was a tough pill to swallow. How was this possible when we had such a great Net Promoter® program?
When our customers were so engaged? Three years ago we took a step back and started to assess our program strategy. Upon closer inspection, it turned out that our high score and response rate were from our smallest, yet most engaged accounts.
Our perception had been skewed by a high score that was not representative of the majority of our account revenue. The risk for churn from our enterprise accounts suddenly became very real.This was our wake up call.
We started by stack ranking our account relationships by revenue and measuring the response rates on these larger accounts driving the majority of our revenue. Turns out, many of our enterprise accounts suffered from Single Points Of Contact (SPOC), and our response rates were staggeringly low.
We immediately started to engage these accounts and garner responses from every level of the organization—from the frontline to the C-Suite.
The results were immediate and compelling and we thought to ourselves: “We can’t be the only B2B organization experiencing these problems.” So we ran an industry-wide survey to find out and it turns out we weren’t alone.
Not only that, we’ve unlocked a major ‘secret’ to B2B growth in the process—high coverage rates= higher sales growth.
TIP 03: Ensure Digital & Process Transformation Go Hand In Hand
Coupling strategy and technology is necessary for scaling a CX program for the long-term. B2B organizations in industries like logistics and manufacturing often struggle to break from traditional processes both from an operational standpoint and a technological and customer standpoint.
So even when companies in these industries onboard more complex customer experience tech, they often neglect rolling out the operational strategies to support these systems.
In our recent publication on the state of B2B CX and rise of Account ExperienceTM, we discussed the role of the relationship manager in B2B CX programs.
In the UK alone, KPMG found that 95% of companies surveyed preferred/were satisfied with a sole human relationship manager. When the relationship is solely automated, that satisfaction drops to 61%.
This raises an interesting complexity to the CX equation: when it comes to developing a well-balanced B2B customer experience program, the appropriate approach is striking the right balance between digital and non-digital transformation.
Therefore, while 95% of UK B2B companies indicated that they preferred a real human relationship manager, 86% of B2B companies in a survey conducted by McKinsey preferred to use self-service tools for reordering. Companies like DHL, one of the premiere logistics organizations in the world, have seen incredible success in the digital transformation of their CX program.
After overhauling their customer experience management program with CustomerGauge, DHL Supply Chain built out their sales and CX operational processes to support the customer-centric transformation (see the full story by clicking the image below).
As a result, DHL:
- Integrated monetize features with sales process to generate revenue and increase renewals
- Transformed their global survey and closed-loop process to optimize their customer journey
- Increased their NPS by 10+ points in several countries
- Increased their customer response rate by double
How Can You Drive Digital Transformation?
Demo CustomerGauge’s Account Experience platform and learn how to support your own CX transformation.
Master CX Like CISCO
Customer experience has long been overlooked in the B2B space. Recently, B2B companies have realized the importance of focusing on their customers to deliver seamless, convenient experiences. Many of the best B2B experiences are the result of digital transformations. B2B companies tend to be very set in their ways and traditions, but disrupting and updating the entire internal system to become more customer centric and digitally focused can lead to great results. Instead of simply fixing smaller problems, a complete overhaul can put the company on track for lasting customer-first success.
One great example of this is Cisco. Cisco went through a major CX transformation when it transitioned its more than 27,000 employees in its Services group into a newly designated Customer Experience group. These employees work with customers to provide personalized service. Customer experience is more than just product support; it involves every step of the customer journey from start to finish. Changing the services group to represent customer experience allows Cisco to proactively communicate and build relationships with customers.
Employees were then trained on empathy and encouraged to spend time in their customers’ shoes to understand how they can use Cisco products to elevate pain points and better leverage the products to meet their individual business goals. Employees also understand the power of their unique roles and have a vision of how their responsibilities contribute to the overall goals of the company. Along with transitioning employees’ responsibilities, Cisco also evolved its product offerings to cloud- and subscription based products to match what customers demanded. These updated products made Cisco a larger part of the entire customer lifecycle and helped build strong, lasting relationships between the customer experience team and its clients.
Making this bold, strategic move transformed the company and helped all employees realize the role they play in CX. Cisco’s transformation was successful for a number of reasons, but it started with buy-in from the CEO and top executives, as well as a seamless shift in both operational and technical transformation. With the leaders on board, this customer-first culture and transformation spread throughout the company more efficiently.
A number of factors contribute to a high performing B2B customer experience program, including leadership and commitment from the C-Suite, a customer-centric culture and engaged employees. Teams must also have the right technology tools to deliver a high-quality experience. A great B2B experience doesn’t happen overnight.
However, focusing on engaged employees and long-term customer relationships can lead to an experience that delivers quality results time after time.
A great B2B experience doesn’t happen overnight. Transformation can take time, but focusing on engaged employees and long-term customer relationships can lead to
an experience that delivers quality results time after time. Tweet This Quote
TIP 04: Invest In Technology That Supports Your CX Strategy, Not Siloes It
When we first launched our Account Experience platform to the B2B market, one thing quickly became clear: Traditional B2B companies were being underserved by the CX software marketplace.
We began hearing more and more “horror stories” from B2B customers about their current CX environments—from programs built on large manual survey products lacking real-time analysis to small survey tools that rely on complicated Excel sheets to gain deeper insight. Our team coined the phrase “Frankenstein’s Solution” to identify these cases.
“ We began hearing more and more “horror stories” from B2B prospects about their current CX environments.... Our team coined the phrase “Frankenstein’s Solution” to identify these cases."
In one case, there was almost a sense of disbelief from a contact that they wouldn’t have to manually export results, run two days’ worth of analysis, and then create PowerPoints for senior management to share insights.The siloed nature that CX data takes in an organization, where, often, revenue information and ticket support data is separated from satisfaction data, can spell trouble quickly in an account relationship.
After all, what is CX but a collection of a client’s experiences with your organization?
If you’re missing pieces of these relationship, you don’t have a clear view of the relationship, plain and simple.
B2B companies in this position struggle to breakthrough data and organizational silos, aggregate data, and form a cohesive view of the customer experience. So, how can you track the health of your account relationship and stay on top of possible churn? For our clients, data aggregation was key to offering the 360 degree view necessary to keep a pulse on their customer relationships.
It was this thinking that lead to a feature we now call Account Vitals. This feature
offers a detailed monthly activity tracker of your account engagement across key customer touchpoints—all in a single view.
Get Out Of The Weeds And Focus On Strategy
One of the largest obstacles pervasive in many CX programs is a lack of strategy. If you ask an executive at a company what their business/corporate/market strategy is, they’ll probably speak in terms of revenue and market share. However, if you then ask them what their customer experience strategy is—and whether it is aligned or enables their business/corporate/market strategy—most will stare at you blankly. Go a step further and ask them what their human:technology balance is within their CX, and how does it change for different types of customers—and you’ll get more blank stares.
It’s a funny exercise, but answering these questions is a key driver of CX program success. Too many organizations are adding channels, technologies, apps, and more without knowing how this affects their long-term CX strategy. Ultimately, this often creates a disconnected and unsatisfying Frankenstein-esque experience for everyone—not only for clients, but employees as well.
Too few companies put time into answering these strategy questions, which is why they are not seeing the results they want from their CX efforts. Now, there are no easy answers to these questions, as they require companies to make hard choices about what to do and, more importantly, what not to do. However, B2B firms that are just coming to the party could learn a lot from not rushing in head first. In addition, companies that are already in the midst of their own CX programs could benefit from pausing and thinking about what they are trying to do and why with their experience programs. Often, B2B companies get carried away with how they can wow, surprise and delight their customers and forget about understanding and delivering the basics brilliantly.
One of the best examples of the points I am illustrating comes from Big Ass Fans, a manufacturer of fans/lights for industrial, agricultural, commercial use. They were featured in my 2016 book: How To Wow. Their strategy of proactively following up with customers to listen, learn, and—most importantly—act on what clients are saying was central to helping their company grow from $34 million in revenue in 2009 to $175 million in 2014. They don’t go looking for a “pat on the back” from their accounts. Rather, they look for glitches or flaws in the process or product so that they can fix them and then feed that information back into the company so that they can improve. Their primary objective in every transaction is that the account is satisfied.
This has lead them to do many things differently:
From how they design their packaging to their illustrated instructions for the set up and operation of their fans. Now, many companies will be reading this and saying: “We do that through our surveys.”
However, what makes Big Ass Fans different is that they do all of this face to face or over the phone and have a department that is dedicated to the pursuit of these conversations and learnings. That demonstrates commitment to their customers and
the relationships they have with them.
TIP 05: Be Seen As More Than A Vendor With Personal And Convenient CX
Do your clients see you as a vendor or a partner? The distinction matters if you’re looking to maximize customer lifetime value (CLV) and build sustainable growth. But what changes an account’s perception of your company from that of a vendor or a partner?
But convenience also takes on another meaning in B2B CX: Unlike a 9-5 vendor relationship, a partner relationship goes beyond an SLA.
“B2C companies have always excelled where B2B hasn’t when it comes to convenience and personalization."
So how can B2B companies create a more personalized customer experience program that mirrors the intimacy of client relationships?
And moreover, how can they make that experience more convenient?
Here’s a few places to get started:
1. Give your team visibility to see beyond the surface level of an account.
CustomerGauge clients cannot only see their accounts at an overview level, but at the contact level as well.
Confirm your company understands the satisfaction of decision-makers and champions, and whether you’re reaching the right people based on the size of an account
2. Make your survey program hyper-relevant
Are you sending personalized surveys that address the contact specifically? Do you reach your client at relevant touchpoints? Ensure your surveys are triggered at the appropriate time, for the appropriate contact, and that they are optimized for quick completion.
3. Closing the loop isn’t as simple as closing a ticket
Sometimes, closing the loop in B2B happens after hours, sometimes it requires on-site visits, and sometimes it means making important calls for your clients when they’re not available to make them. In the next section, Shep Hyken walks through just how to go above and beyond in closing the loop with clients.
Be More Than A Venior, Be A Partner
B2B companies are no longer just compared to their direct competitors. Today, clients are also comparing vendors based on the best service they have received
in any industry, B2B or B2C. New client expectations have put a critical focus on areas once overlooked in B2B customer journeys: personalization and convenience.
For example, Amazon’s amazing delivery service lets customers know when their orders are received, packed, shipped, and delivered. What is stopping B2B companies from doing the same in industries like, says, IT services when communicating phases
of a project? B2C companies and Amazon are simulating a two-way relationship with this kind of real-time interaction. B2B clients crave this as well— and that means B2B organizations need to focus on changing their approach to interacting with their
accounts. This starts with changing their perception from just a vendor to a partner.
The B2B company that understands the power of being a partner to their clients, versus just a vendor, achieves long-term wins. This goes beyond just the customer journey of ordering something and having it shipped. This idea of partnership involves intimately understanding the company that they’re doing business with, to the point where B2B companies don’t just take an order and they don’t just make suggestions, they talk about ways a client could be more successful.
Let’s look at an example: Contegix was a company I worked with that provide cloud-based services. One of these clients sold concert tickets online for popular acts. In this relationship, Contegix was the backbone and support for this ticket provider.
One week, the client informed Contegix that they needed a certain amount of power to sell tickets during a popular concert. However, on Friday, somebody at Contegix noticed that the power commissioned wasn’t enough and that the servers were being overloaded—greatly impacting incoming revenue for their client. Unfortunately, Contegix couldn’t get in contact with any key decision-makers to confirm what should be done to help during the crisis. So they made the decision on their own.
They said: “They need to add a little bit more power than requested, and we’re going to give it to them. It’s going to cost our customer more money, but if on Monday morning they don’t think we’ve made the right decision than we’ll eat it. However, if they think we made the right decision, they’ll appreciate that we didn’t let their servers crash and shut down profitable business.” And, on Monday morning, that customer couldn’t have been happier.
Here’s the core of B2B partnerships: Contegix saying “Let’s not just think about the contract. Let’s think about what’s truly best for our customer. Let’s invest a little bit more.” This is going beyond the SLA, going beyond the 9-5 duties. This is reducing friction. This is convenience. This is a true partnership.