B2B Marketing: Building The House of Customer Experience
How to plan and deliver experiences that will wow your customers, starting from the foundations through to the strategy
As a B2B marketer, when was the last time you remember a customer saying "wow"?
A survey carried out by B2B International amongst 200 of some of the largest B2B companies showed that over half believed that they fail to deliver an acceptable level of customer experience.
B2B companies are, generally, very good at processes; they know how to make things efficiently and have quality systems that ensure products are made almost to perfection. However, ask a B2B company to change their production schedule for a customer requiring an urgent delivery and you will hear an intake of breath. B2B companies can sometimes be inflexible when it comes to adjusting to the special requirements of customers. However, in today's shifting landscape of increasing personalisation (and expectations), B2B companies need to become much more like their B2C cousins.
Building and delivering excellent customer experiences has many parallels to the houses in which we live.
Using a combination of firm foundations, strategy and tactics, you can build excellent customer experience.
Let’s start with the foundations. There are six key ingredients that form the foundation:
Foundation 1: Commitment
The B2B International survey shows that 52% of B2B companies admit that they aren’t fully committed to customer experience.
The return on a new production line, a new warehouse or a new office is easily justified in a business case. The financial returns from an investment in a new service rep or training in delivering customer experience, however, is harder to measure.
Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, hit the nail on the head when he said, “If you have to cost justify delivering exceptional service to your customers, you shouldn’t be in that job.”
Foundation 2: Fulfilment
In that same survey, 62% of companies admitted that they need to become better at fulfilling customers’ requests.
Often this is because they don’t hold sufficient stocks to provide a quick delivery, or that they might promise things that aren’t followed through. Some B2B companies have a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude, which ultimately leaves their customers wanting.
Foundation 3: Seamlessness
Large B2B companies have lots of departments, each with an agenda that may not have the customers’ needs at its heart.
73% of B2B companies confessed that this silo mentality makes it hard for customers to receive a seamless experience, and why they can feel passed from pillar to post when trying to get sense out of suppliers.
Foundation 4: Responsiveness
60% of B2B companies admit that they aren’t quick enough when dealing with customers’ requests.
And yet, speed is of the essence when it comes to customer experience; time really is money. There are no excuses in today’s digital and immediate world for failing to acknowledge an order or give a customer an accurate date for their delivery.
Foundation 5: Proactivity
75% of B2B companies said that they need to become better at anticipating the needs of their customers.
B2B customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions. Ideas for better solutions are there for the asking. Customers are eager and waiting for B2B suppliers to better understand the business and help them with more effective solutions. They just need to take the time and listen.
Foundation 6: Evolution
Expectations don’t stay the same. What was acceptable yesterday must be improved for today’s customers.
Customer experience needs to constantly evolve and 61% of B2B companies concede that they fail in this regard. Conversations with customers are an obvious starting point for finding new customer experiences; whenever another company serves up a great customer experience, there should be no shame in asking “Could we copy that? Would that work for us?”
With solid foundations, a strategy can then be developed for delivering excellent customer experience. This includes:
We know that in consumer markets the brand of the product has a marked effect on customer experience. Branding is just as important in B2B markets. A brand is the first thing we see when we do business with a company. It is the doorway to the experience. The brand carries a promise and expectations that must be met. It draws people in and, with the right values, significantly enhances the customer experience.
B2B products and services are not required for consumption in their own right; they are integrated into some other product or service that the customer is making. Customers want to be assured that the product they are buying will perform as promised, otherwise they will fail with their own customers. The right product is absolutely essential for delivering excellent customer experience.
Everything has a price, but it is the value of the product or service that really matters. People must perceive it as worth the money and that they have in some way received a bargain.
Today’s B2B customer expects to be able to obtain products from a variety of channels –distributors/stockists, direct online, telephone sales – whatever suits. Customer experience is affected by B2B companies offering omnichannel options, ensuring products are reaching the customer at the right place and each key touchpoint.
B2B markets are served by people. Salespeople, service people, delivery people and technicians all develop relationships with B2B customers, all of which are crucial to delivering the right customer experience. It is not just a question of training people correctly in customer experience - recruiting service-orientated people are just as important.
Now that we have the foundations and strategy in place, we can think about the finishing touches. When it comes to customer experience, these are the smiles and warm welcomes; the little things that make a difference.
Don't be fooled though - you can't have a B2B strategy made up of these tactics alone! We recently carried out a focus group for a company that wanted to find out what smaller things could be added to enhance a customer experience programme. Shortly after it began, the focus group fell into disarray and had to be abandoned because the customers who attended were incensed that their supplier was focusing on (in their mind) trivial things, rather than concentrating on sorting out the more important building blocks, such as delivering on time.
The reason so many B2B companies fail to deliver acceptable customer experiences is because they believe that their customers are quite different from those who shop on the high street. Certainly, B2B customers may be looking for slightly different things, but just like their consumer counterparts, they are driven by emotions.
For this reason, you should complete your framework for the house of customer experience with two householders: B2B and B2C. Some of the things they look for are very similar and others are inevitably quite different. The common ground is that both have emotions that drive their decisions and will both find their pulse increasing when they look with excitement at their perfectly built house of customer experience.