A PwC report found 65 per cent of customers consider a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great marketing, and 42 per cent were willing to pay more for a friendly and welcoming experience. It’s no wonder marketing teams are actively shifting their strategies to focus on the customer journey. According to an SAP report, the experience economy presented a $1.6 trillion opportunity in 2020 – a figure likely to increase.
Often, we think about customer experience [CX] in a B2C environment, where a great experience can foster loyalty, inspire word-of-mouth marketing and generate social media influence. However, CX is equally vital to B2B and can have a much more significant impact on the B2B organization.
Take a customer who leaves after encountering a less-than-stellar experience with a consumer brand. That lost household could have a significant lifetime value [LTV], but will ultimately only impact a business in a relatively small way.
In B2B, however, acquisition costs are higher, sales cycles longer and LTV larger. Losing one customer to a negative experience could have much greater consequences across the entire organization.
Most B2B companies believe they are successfully executing a customer-first strategy and delivering great CX. With marketing technology becoming ubiquitous, companies are analyzing customer data and more effectively targeting prospective customers, providing relevant offers at the right time.
But is this enough to qualify as CX? According to SAP, 80 per cent of CEOs think their organizations are providing excellent CX. Unfortunately, only eight per cent of customers agree. The disconnect could result from a lack of understanding of what CX means in a B2B world.
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What exactly is customer experience for B2B?
The experience economy is not new. It began gaining momentum more than 20 years ago when B2C companies disrupted markets by offering customers something more than just a high-quality product or service. Instead of a simple cup of coffee, Starbucks offered a hand-crafted beverage you could drink in a cozy atmosphere. Instead of selling functional computers, Apple offered sophisticated devices with aesthetic appeal, intuitive features and access to a very different sales and support experience.
Delivering great CX in a B2C world is simple – do what makes customers feel special.
In B2B, what constitutes a great CX is more nebulous. CX isn’t just one value-added piece layered onto your offering – it’s the sum of the interactions between you and your customers.
CX is how customers perceive your brand, your products or services, and what they expect to get from you. It includes the interactions that occur before and after the sale is complete and involves every aspect of the buyer’s journey from inquiry through the sales cycle, onboarding and advocacy.
Considering that B2B purchases involve, on average, 15 stakeholders – each with differing expectations, priorities and perspectives – it’s not difficult to see why designing CX is so much more complicated. To be successful, marketing teams and the rest of the organization need to prioritize customer needs.
The three customer experience fundamentals
By aligning with three CX fundamentals – technology, process and people – companies can be better prepared for the current landscape and rewarded for ultimately delivering better CX.
Customer experience fundamental number 1: Technology
In the past decade, the proliferation of marketing technology has been astounding. In 2011, there were about 150 tools on the market as the category of marketing automation was still in its infancy. By 2020, that number was 8,000.
Marketing tech stacks are constantly growing, collecting more and more data on all aspects of customer journeys. Yet, most marketers are less than satisfied with the customer data they can access and call into question whether they are able to leverage it fully.
Two significant challenges preventing companies from getting full value from their marketing technology are quality of data and difficulty integrating it.
Quality data fosters trust in the insights derived. Without confidence in the quality, there is little chance that decisions can be made on the back of it.
Individually, data stored in marketing technology databases can deliver useful insights about customers’ tendencies and preferences. However, greater value is found in bringing customer data together into a single platform.
Customer data platforms [CDPs] offer a single persistent database to house customer data and make it accessible to other systems. They pull data from other platforms, cleaning and combining it to create a single customer profile. CDPs can be the single source of truth, lending confidence to decisions made based on the insights it provides. The ability to leverage a richer data set is another benefit, providing additional context and leading to deeper insights.
A unified platform of customer data allows the predictive capabilities of artificial intelligence [AI] and machine learning to uncover buyer intent and anticipate customer needs that may otherwise have gone unnoticed. Marketing teams can use this knowledge to design positive customer experiences that differentiate the company from the competition – for example, reimagining content delivery or designing unique ways to engage and involve customers in the brand pre- and post-sale.
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Customer experience fundamental number 2: Process
Many organizations have developed processes based on traditional principles to leverage economies of scale and efficiency, such as Frederick Winslow Taylor’s scientific management theory. Well-established and mature companies used these processes to their advantage for some time, developing siloed departments and individualized roles in which people specialize in one aspect of marketing or one type of customer interaction [think social media manager and demand-generation marketer].
However, these processes make it difficult for marketing to keep up with the fast pace and rapid change of modern business.
In particular, this type of organizational structure doesn’t adapt well to a CX mindset, which requires rapid innovation and feedback from multiple channels.
An example from an article by Steelcase on the future of workspace compares legacy processes to a team of swimmers. Each swimmer sticks to their own lane, trying to achieve a personal best. When one wins, the others share in the success.
Modern processes are much less structured. They’re like a basketball team made up of players who each have individual strengths, which, when used together, get a winning result. As the game progresses, other players may be substituted in and out as needed to lend their particular expertise in response to the other team’s actions or to serve as a set of fresh feet on the court.
The basketball model aligns more closely with today’s non-linear workflows and the speed and agility needed for companies to unlock creativity and innovation.
Does your marketing organization operate more like the swim team or the basketball team? Does it sound overly ambitious to think that you could make the change?
Consider the evolution of DevOps and DevSecOps. These teams are comprised of IT and development members, as well as security. These cross-functional groups have evolved in response to rising customer demands for new features and faster development. In doing so, they have often been able to unlock creativity while speeding up the creation and execution of innovative ideas.
Silos need to be removed to allow for more cross-functional collaboration. People across your organization have unique perspectives and ideas about CX. Removing silos and affording them the ability to work together encourages them to create something special.
We’ve seen small companies, which no one would have bet on, disrupting industries. In many cases they’ve done this by offering experiences that speak to the true needs of the customer.
Customer experience fundamental number 3: People
Being focused on CX is a popular strategy for organizations today. However, adopting it has deprecated the most valuable asset of any organization – its people.
As discussed in CX fundamental No. 1 about technology, listening to customer cues, as well as collecting and analyzing customer feedback, is of great importance. However, the people within your organization perhaps hold the greatest wealth of information and valuable insight into exceptional CX.
Therefore, in an organization’s quest to be CX focused, people need to be encouraged and empowered to think the same way.
Ensure marketing teams have the technology needed to do their jobs effectively. Give them the power to be creative; encourage the development of new skills that ultimately allow them to evolve into new roles and add to the capabilities of the organization. Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report shows that companies are on track to do this, with 60 per cent of respondents saying that they intended to leverage AI capabilities to assist workers with their jobs in the future.
Look to the experts within your organization and the people on the front lines of your business for ideas and guidance. Most of all, give people a voice in designing the customer experience.
How to deliver on customer experience in B2B
Business is changing at a pace almost difficult to comprehend. The recent global health crisis has forced change on many companies, but the reality is we were on that path already.
It’s a challenge for every organization, and some haven’t been able to manage it. We’ve seen companies generally regarded as too big to fail do so in stunning fashion. On the other hand, we’ve also seen small companies, which no one would have bet on, disrupting industries. In many cases they’ve done this by offering experiences that speak to the true needs of the customer.
CX is driving growth and loyalty, and your company’s relevance could be on the line if you can’t deliver. The good news is the resources you need to design and deliver great customer experience already exist within your organization and are waiting to be unleashed.
With enabling, unified technology and supportive processes, you can make good on the promise of being customer-centric, delivering experiences that delight customers, foster goodwill and create loyalty to your brand.
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