Investing in customer experience and embedding it into an organisation’s strategy is crucial in order to compete in every industry; meeting clients’ needs and exceeding their expectations is the catalyst for success regardless of the product/service offering and customer base.
Expectations go beyond boundaries
Although analysis is more commonly associated with the B2C space, customer experience for B2B companies is increasingly being placed under the microscope. Regardless of whether they are shopping for themselves or for their company, customers bring with them expectations around the customer service levels they should receive. We are witnessing the so called ‘consumerisation’ phenomenon, which is the convergence of customer expectations from the B2C to the B2B space. As reported in a B2B Customer Experience Survey, the majority of executives acknowledged that their expectations had grown significantly over time and that they now look for more tailored solutions and are both more knowledgeable and more self-directed. In other words, business buyers increasingly expect a ‘consumer-like’ experience when dealing with their suppliers, and tend to compare it to every other experience they have had, regardless of the industry. This means that a buyer is likely to set their expectations on Monday morning at least in part based on the level of service received from Apple when buying their new mobile phone on Saturday, or from Amazon when ordering same day delivery for their groceries, comfortably sat on their sofa.
It is clear then that a B2B company that aims to fully satisfy its customers should draw best practices from a broad spectrum of other industries – including those within the consumer space. Companies working across various industries, ranging from airlines to financial services, have leveraged the wealth of customer data at their fingertips – to create personalised customer interactions and build emotional stories (much like EasyJet did) or to create storytelling campaigns to engage with customers and inspire employees (as BNY Mellon did). Another recent example is Standard Chartered, which was able to decrease average complaints by 32% by investing in employee engagement and introducing new digital services, as part of its ‘Service Excellence Model’.
A one-size-fits-all approach does not exist but reflecting on data-driven practices that exist elsewhere can serve to strengthen the personalised relationships B2B companies create with their customers. Each company should seek to investigate its needs and identify its own way to reach and impress existing and prospective customers. Lloyds Banking Group, for instance, conducted research amongst SMEs and discovered that service is what mattered most to them. Having been voted as ‘Best Bank for Service’ over the last decade, the bank realised that this was a message that would resonate with prospective clients. As part of an ongoing marketing campaign centred on spreading the ‘brand truth’, the bank was able to convert more than 700 prospect SMEs into customers.
Still a long way to go but it is worth it
An opportunity exists for B2B businesses to deliver excellent customer experience and to achieve uplifts in satisfaction and strengthen customer loyalty. Having said this, there are various factors that add complexity and are in need of attention. Firstly, a B2B relationship usually involves multiple actors and influencers, from senior executives to mid-level employees in a number of departments, such as production, supply and legal, to mention a few. There is not a single customer for a service or product but multiple stakeholders with different expectations and perceptions. Secondly, B2B relationships are usually long-term, characterised by repeated purchases and mutual dependence, which makes gaining customers’ trust even more critical to ensure loyalty and retention: losing one customer could mean losing dozens of monthly orders and years of mutual collaboration. Lastly, a B2B customer journey is typically long and fragmented and includes a high number of touchpoints; this adds another layer of complexity but also presents an opportunity to positively impress the customer across all points of interaction and deliver an outstanding overall experience.
Despite presenting a series of challenges, B2B companies are increasingly seeing and deriving value from developing and embedding customer experience strategies across their organisations. However, there is still a long way to go before providing a positive customer experience becomes effortless. It has also been reported that, 86% of B2B executives recognise customer experience as a strategic priority. Moreover, the vast majority of them believe that delivering a differentiated customer experience links directly to business results (78%) and provides a competitive advantage (77%). Nevertheless, the same study reveals that companies still face lots of challenges in investing in customer experience and delivering improved service and experiences to their customers. The most relevant barriers cited include low engagement from the company’s senior executives – who have too little time to dedicate – along with lack of formal customer experience processes and lack of cross-organisational integration.
Commitment to a clear strategy around customer experience as well as investment in the right resources and toolkits are critical elements to help B2B companies succeed in a competitive marketplace, as this can also help them drive efficiencies – both by reducing operating costs and increasing revenues – and positively impacting staff engagement. The benefits of getting this right are numerous and achievable, so why not investing in developing sound customer experience strategies that are embeddable and informed by best practices across the industry?