Let’s begin with a quote from Becky Fromm, who is currently a Senior Group Manager, AMER Field marketing at Slack. This quote helps buttress why customer experience is more critical today than ever before, especially in B2B settings.
“The voice of the customer has never been louder. Thanks to social media and the changing dynamics of communication, every one of your customers now have the power to bring you more business or drive it away.”
Companies in the B2C space have long elevated, delivering excellent customer experience to top priority status. B2B businesses, on the other hand, are still behind. Based on an evaluation done by McKinsey & Company, most B2B companies score below average (50%) when it comes to customer service, while B2C companies score way above average (65% to 85%).
This goes to show the amount of work B2B companies need to do if they want to grow or even remain in business. As customer experience becomes better in the B2C world, customers will begin to expect the same levels of quality customer experience in the B2B space as well. The companies that are willing to address the customer experience with the seriousness and urgency it deserves will be relevant in the near future.
Based on this Walker study results, customers of the no-distant future (end of 2020) will decide on which brand to go for based on customer experience rather than on price or quality of the product or service.
This article will be going over five key insights on how to improve the B2B customer experience. These five tips will help businesses in the B2B space significantly improve the customer experience they deliver to their customers. They are;
- Focus on what matters to your customers.
- Appeal to all stakeholders.
- Employ a personal touch.
- Be transparent.
But before we discuss these five insights, let’s take a closer look as to why customer experience is important for B2B brands and the unique problems that plague B2B customer experience.
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WHY DOES CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE MATTER FOR B2B COMPANIES?
Providing a great customer experience doesn’t just serve the customer; it is also advantageous to you as a business because a happy customer equates to a healthy bottom-line. Here are two important reasons why customer experience is important in B2B environments.
Based on research done by PWC, a whopping 86% of customers are willing to pay more if they are going to get a better customer experience. How much more? You may ask. Up to 13% and in some cases as high as 18%.
Yes, businesses that invest in providing customer experience can expect to see a significant bump in revenue. According to the Temkin Group, companies earning a billion dollars annually can expect to increase that figure by $700 million within three years of investing in customer experience; that is a 70% increase in revenue in years!! Need I say more.
Better Client Retention
According to the Temkin Group, 77% of customers will recommend a brand to someone else if they had a positive customer experience. Also, PWC discovered that 32% of all customers are likely to stop patronizing a particular brand they loved after just one bad experience. Wow!
This shows that today’s customers really do value excellent customer experience and won’t hesitate to look elsewhere if a particular company isn’t living up to their expectations.
Client retention is even more critical in the B2B space because, in many cases, the onboarding process takes up a lot of time and resources as there are a lot of stakeholders involved. Losing one major client can have a noticeable impact on a company’s bottom line.
THE UNIQUE CHALLENGES OF B2B CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
At their core, all businesses are the same, providing customers with value. However, when dealing with customers, B2B businesses present some unique challenges not found in B2C companies and other businesses. Here are some of those challenges
For the most part, B2B transactions involve multiple departments and stakeholders within the customer organization. This is unlike B2C, where transactions are mostly done with a single person. B2B transactions are usually large-scale operations that affect the entire company; it is only fair that the different departments get to weigh in.
A B2B company’s challenge stems from trying to maintain a holistic customer experience for the various stakeholders across all touchpoints. It is doable, but not easy. Any issues with one stakeholder can jeopardize the entire transaction.
Multiple stakeholders also mean multiple interests. With different interests in play, decision-making may not be geared towards what is best for the company, as the different stakeholders have their unique goals and objectives.
As a B2B vendor, effectively navigating the minefield of customer company politics is a must-have skill. If your products or the service you were hired for antagonizes a key stakeholder’s interest, prepare for an uphill battle.
Long Sales Cycles
Multiple stakeholders also result in long sales cycles, sealing a deal on a B2B level will involve a lot of people, legal will have to draw up contracts, the accounting department will have to make the deal work within the confines of the budget, and so forth. In the B2B world, trying to seal a deal for a year isn’t out of the ordinary.
HOW TO IMPROVE B2B CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Focus on what matters to your customers
Oftentimes, we see B2B companies develop products based on what they ‘think’ their customers want and then try to sell those products, usually with varying degrees of success.
What if B2B companies actually went out of their way to study and understand their customers’ problems before developing products to solve them. You will agree that the adoption rate for those products designed with an in-depth understanding of clients’ issues is sure to be high.
Spending time, effort, and resources in understanding your B2B customers’ pain points isn’t going to be an easy feat, but your customers are sure to appreciate it.
Sometimes, those key issues that really need to be addressed may not be discernible from reports or available data.
You will have to take an ‘inside look’ by becoming a part of your B2B clients’ day-to-day activities. Your B2B clients should be involved in your product development process every step of the way. This way, when the time comes for launching, it will be seamless.
How, then, do you measure success when your products are specially tailored to meet your clients’ specific needs? You measure success by how well your products perform in helping your clients achieve key business objectives, not by how many units you can sell.
If your products help your clients achieve what they set out to do, then you have indeed done a good job, the satisfaction of your clients becomes a non-issue.
Appeal to all stakeholders
Effectively appealing to all the stakeholders involved in a B2B transaction is one of the many challenges of doing business in B2B settings. However, doing it right is important.
It is your duty as a B2B product or service provider to see things from all the stakeholders’ perspectives within your client organization, right from the top-level executives down to the front-line end users.
Establish robust communication channels with all stakeholders and pay attention to their concerns. Understand how they will interact with your products or how your services directly impact your stations.
In some cases, stakeholders may not just be limited to direct employees of your client organization. Pay attention to trade unions and other external bodies who, in some way, have a say in the activities of your clients.
Be proactive in meeting the needs of your B2B clients. Do not wait for things to get out of hand or for your clients to come calling before taking action. As you may know, any downtime in the B2B world can cost millions of dollars, so it is therefore in your best interest to be proactive in solving your clients’ problems even before they arise or become apparent.
How can you become proactive? Do you have to develop telepathic powers and read minds all day long? NO! One approach is to put systems in place that provide you with real-time customer data so you can stay on top of every development as they occur; this way, nothing catches you off guard.
Employ a personal touch
In the B2C world, there is usually an emphasis on businesses’ need to build personal relationships with their customers. Knowing your B2C customers on a personal level and using their personal information in providing them with excellent customer service is one of the best ways to guarantee customer satisfaction.
The same idea also applies to the B2B world. In the process of trying to secure deals with other businesses and working with them on a daily basis, you will have to deal with actual human beings who have feelings and emotions.
You must try to build personal relationships with the representatives of your client organization on every level. Don’t treat them like just another business deal, but rather as the humans they are. They will hopefully become advocates of your business within their establishments and to other companies.
Transparency is very important in the B2B world not just because it is essential to building trust and long-lasting relationships and the high stakes involved.
Being transparent with your B2B clients keeps them abreast with all your activities so that they know what to expect and aren’t caught off guard by any surprises, thereby preventing downtime.
Practically, being transparent entails being open about your mistakes and how you plan to manage them, allowing your customers to access information about your business in real-time, and being honest about your capabilities and capacity.
BEST PRACTICES FOR B2B CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
In addition to the five insights, here are some best practices to help you deliver a stellar customer experience for your B2B clients.
Employ the Right Tools
There are a plethora of routes one can take when it comes to using technology in delivering excellent customer service. Current trends show an increase in the use of artificial intelligence (A.I) for predictive analysis, helping businesses be proactive in handling their customers’ needs.
Customer relationship management systems are a must-have if you want to keep track of your company’s interactions and your B2B clients.
The possibilities are indeed endless. Do well to leverage the available technology in satisfying your client’s needs.
Relationship Building Should Be A Priority
Like we discussed earlier in this article, appeal to all stakeholders. Don’t make the mistake of focusing all your relationship-building efforts on a few stakeholders within your client organization. What happens when your contact within a company leave that company? You will have to start all over in building new relationships. Your best bet is to build relationships with as many contacts as possible across various departments within your client organization.
Educate Your Customers
Instead of always trying to take your customers’ money, why not give them something that other vendors won’t; insight.
Rather than being overly pushy in trying to close a deal, try educating and advising your clients, help your clients make the most of their available resources, and they will appreciate you for it.
Your unique position as an external contractor/B2B vendor allows you to glean insights that may otherwise go unnoticed. Your willingness to discover and share those insights with your clients shows your commitment to building a long-lasting business relationship.
Provide Customer Support Post-Service
This pretty much goes without saying. You are not expected to leave your clients to figure it out all on their own after the onboarding process. You are expected to help your B2B clients get the most out of your products and services.
As we discussed earlier, you don’t measure your success based on how many units you can sell, but how well your products or services helped your clients achieve key business objectives.
Provide Your Customers with Adequate Self-Service Tools
It is your duty to provide your clients with self-service tools to help them solve immediate issues by themselves, in the event that they are unable to reach your customer service team.
The availability of self-service tools will also reduce the workload on your customer support team, freeing them up to give their full attention to other customer-related issues.
Some examples of these self-service tools include chatbots, forums, knowledge bases, and so on.
Here’s an interesting read on 13 tips to improve your digital customer experience.
Always Listen. Collect Customer Feedback
Customer feedback is a great way to gauge how well you are doing in delivering a top-notch customer experience. Based on the feedback you collect, you can tailor your future efforts to meet your clients’ most pressing needs.
CASE STUDIES THAT SHOW B2B CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE DONE RIGHT
While most B2B companies today lag in the area of customer experience, a few actually excel at it. We will be looking at some of those companies and how they were able to employ some of the most important B2B customer experience best practices in meeting their clients’ needs.
The Finnish elevator giant is an excellent example of how B2B businesses can be proactive in handling clients’ problems before they even arise. KONE makes elevators, escalators, automatic doors, and other systems for buildings housing some of the world’s most important businesses.
With a customer base of over 400 000, KONE can’t afford to wait for any of their elevators or systems to break down before they take action. You can imagine how disruptive it can be to businesses if, all of a sudden, their elevators stopped working, and people couldn’t get to where they needed to be. KONE found a way to ensure that any issues with their systems were addressed before they got a chance to happen. How?
KONE employs a technological approach, using IoT, predictive data analysis, and cloud computing. Sensors within the customers’ equipment send real-time data to the cloud, allowing KONE to keep tabs on the operating conditions of every one of their customers’ equipment. Using the data collected, KONE can easily predict future faults and address them before they happen, thereby reducing or eliminating any downtime for their customers.
A facility management company, ISS exemplifies how B2B businesses can help their customers make the most of their available resources in achieving key business objectives. Instead of just doing the bare minimum of what they were hired to do (cleaning, catering, security, etc.), ISS takes things a step further by helping their clients figure out how to best use their office space.
With the aid of sensors, ISS can monitor how the buildings they manage are being used. For example, ISS can tell if certain rooms, lobbies, or other amenities like toilets are being overused or underused. Using the information they gather, ISS can offer suggestions to their clients on how to optimize the usage of their space better.
In the business world, customer needs and behaviors are rapidly changing. Customers now want even more out of the businesses they chose to patronize. Companies that ignore or don’t pay attention to customer experience have short lifespans.
Even companies that already do a good job of providing stellar customer experience can be caught off guard if they remain stagnant and don’t find innovative ways to satisfy their customers.
As a B2B business, never forget to focus on what really matters to your customers, establish relationships with all stakeholders involved, resolve issues before they become issues, deliver personalized service and stay transparent in all your dealings. Cheers.