Just as in the B2C world, the B2B customer experience has a considerable impact on business results. According to research by PWC, consumers will spend up to 16 percent more for a better customer experience. Price and quality are still important, but B2B buyers are not just purchasing a product or service; they’re buying efficiency, convenience, and a relationship with knowledgeable partners who provide expertise and a positive experience.
As one Forbes article points out, the B2B customer experience is unique in that the sales process is usually longer and more complex, and it involves more stakeholders and decision makers. However, B2B buyers are people, too, and they have expectations and preferences for a customer experience that companies will need to meet in order to remain competitive. Here are seven ways to transform the B2B customer experience and ensure your customers are delighted, engaged, and loyal.
1. Understand customer needs
Customer needs are varied and change over time. To transform the customer experience, your B2B product or service will only hit the mark when it meets evolving customer needs. However, to meet customers’ expectations, you must first understand them. Gathering customer feedback and understanding the customer’s journey helps to build a deeper understanding of current customer expectations, and those activities also provide insights that can help in anticipating future customer needs. Here are some of the actions you can take to understand customer needs more fully:
- Mapping the customer journey
- Developing buyer personas that help you pinpoint the varying expectations between different types of customers
- Asking for feedback, such as with surveys or Net Promoter Scores
- Speaking the customers’ language and using terminology they relate to
2. Embark on a digital transformation
Thanks to modern technology, today’s B2B customers can research their buying options before ever speaking with a potential partner. According to an Accenture study, 94 percent of B2B buyers conduct online research at some point in the buying process. In addition, they are accustomed to 24/7 customer experiences from making B2C purchases. As such, the B2B customer experience can be enhanced by using digital tools and capability to deliver information, expertise, and personalization to meet buyer preferences. Machine learning, AI, and automation are all tools that can help to deliver the personalized and seamless customer experience that today’s buyers have come to expect. One company found success by implementing digital self-service, interactive videos, and a mobile-first strategy to meet the digital needs of its B2B customers.
Digital transformation requires more than incorporating new technology into key customer-facing processes. It requires a shift in behavior so that employees know how to identify and implement digital solutions that meet and exceed customer expectations. To achieve a true digital transformation, organizational leaders will need to help employees develop a new way of thinking, and ensure an upgrade of employee knowledge and skills through training.
3. Provide organizational clarity
Ensuring that all employees are working to improve the customer experience requires more than simply saying that the customer is important. The customer should feature prominently in the company mission and values so that everyone knows that every employee, not just those in customer-facing roles, has an obligation and opportunity to improve the customer experience in their day-to-day work. Putting the customer in company values provides clarity so that people know just how important the customer is to the long-term success of the company.
When customers are not at the core of the company mission and values, other metrics and priorities can take precedence, and conflicting views about the customer can take hold within the organization. Organizational clarity ensures that people stay focused on customer needs, the customer journey, and, ultimately, how the work of the organization benefits the customer.
4. Develop a customer centric culture
To ensure an exceptional customer experience, there must be a culture of customer centricity. It’s common for people to think about customer centricity solely within the context of sales, marketing, and customer service, but true customer centricity occurs when every employee within the organization considers the needs of customers and acts in their best interests every day. A customer centric culture can only develop if employees have the ability to see their roles through the lens of the customer and are empowered to take actions that positively benefit the customer.
Experiential learning is a great option for customer centricity training because it provides hands-on experiences that allow individuals to practice while they learn new ways to impact the customer experience. Not just for customer-facing employees, customer centricity training also helps people understand the company vision for customer centricity and how each person can take personal ownership of making that vision a reality.
5. Ensure leadership support
The customer experience is heavily impacted by the degree to which leaders emphasize the importance of stepping into the customer’s shoes and improving the customer journey from start to finish. Leaders need to champion and model the behaviors required to improve the customer experience and support all employees as they learn how to do the same. Some of the ways leaders can support employees include:
- Leading by example and demonstrating how leaders and all employees can impact customer outcomes
- Coaching employees to help them recognize their role in driving and improving the customer experience
- Identifying opportunities for employee learning and development
- Supporting training reinforcement that helps individuals avoid falling back into old ways of doing things
6. Encourage two-way communication
Transforming the B2B customer experience doesn’t happen overnight and requires frequent and consistent communication within the organization. Not only do company leaders need to repeat key messages that demonstrate a clear focus on the customer, but employees also need opportunities to ask questions and discuss the many ways in which they can impact the customer experience in their roles.
As with any enterprise-wide change, everyone within the organization has to approach their role differently, and a shift toward the customer experience can cause some individuals to become resistant. However, frequent two-way communication helps to address the resistance to change and gives employees more opportunities to grow in their support of customer centricity. Some of the ways you can encourage two-way communication about the customer experience include:
- Brainstorming sessions that offer the opportunity to develop new ideas and processes that benefit the customer
- Online surveys or polls that help to measure employee understanding and support of customer centricity
- Team meetings dedicated to improving the customer experience
7. Measure and compare customer metrics
Without metrics to help measure the impact of your customer centricity efforts, it’s hard to know if they’re working and truly impacting employee behavior. In addition, not only do employees need to understand their role in improving the customer experience, they also need to put that knowledge into action in order to improve customer and business outcomes. Measuring progress also helps you understand key areas that may have derailed or that require reinforcement.
The process of transforming the customer experience should involve establishing a baseline of key performance indicators, and then comparing those KPIs once the customer centricity measures have been implemented. From there, you can see how far the organization has come and develop a roadmap for continued success. Some examples of metrics that can help you understand your progress include:
- Growth in customer retention rates
- Net promoter scores
- Revenue growth
Improve the Customer Experience with a Mix of Activities
True customer centricity requires that the customer is at the heart of everything individuals in the organization do, from the C-suite to frontline customer service staff. There’s no single strategy that will help to transform the B2B customer experience, but rather a combination of activities that converge to build a customer centric culture. When people understand why the customer experience is so important and have the skills and ability to impact it, there’s more opportunity to develop loyal, lasting relationships with customers.