Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 519
, Published on 08 May 2016
Have you ever found yourself returning to same store just because you felt as if you are treated in a special manner? Or say, have you ever wanted to visit the same restaurant because you felt they took better care of you than other restaurants? Well, that is customer experience for you. Over time customer experience has emerge as a major differentiating factor for B2C companies. But is this the case for B2B companies?
This article focuses at the state of customer experience in B2B companies. A recent research reveals that only 23% of B2B companies receive strong returns on their investments in improving customer experience. At the other end of spectrum are those 20% which receive low or even negative returns on their investments. The majority (57%) of companies lie in the middle with mediocre returns on their investments. The research reveals that this group generates just about 58% of customer experiences’ leaders’ return on their investments.
This group is further subdivided into 3 groups:
• Companies that are great in execution but lack in strategizing
• Companies that are great in strategizing but lack in execution
• Average achievers who have some of both but not all
In a nutshell, the capabilities of B2B companies to provide above par customer experience are well behind the B2C companies. The state of customer experience is poor in the B2B industry. Why is it so? Maybe, the executives of B2B companies believe that customer experience is not so critical a factor for them.
But, the research indicates the opposite. The research revealed following facts:
• According to 86% of B2B executives, customer experience is very important and 41% put it at the top of their lists.
• 79% of B2B executives believe that a differentiated customer experience has a direct effect on results & 78% percent believe that it provides competitive advantage.
• More than 90% indicated their intention to maintain or increase their spending on enhancing customer experience.
• More than 74% believe that customer experience related considerations will play an even larger role in corporate strategy in coming years.
Thus, the reason for failure of B2B companies in leveraging customer experience is not lack of importance given to it. Hence, it must be either inappropriate strategizing or improper execution or maybe both. One of the major reasons is that most customer experience programs are copy – paste from their B2C counterparts and B2B and B2C customer requirements and experiences differ significantly.
So, B2B companies need to improve their customer experience programs. In fact, that is the current trend in the B2B industry. Many companies are trying to improve their customer experience programs. But why is there a need to improve the customer experience programs? Let’s have a look at some of the research findings.
• As per stats, after a bad customer experience, 51 out of 100 companies avoided working with that vendor
- With increasing competition, it is easier to find a replacement for your vendor. It is easier than ever to find a vendor providing similar product at a similar price. Thus, it is no wonder that B2B companies avoid vendors after a bad service experience with them.
• In a few years , 89% of businesses will compete mainly on customer experience
• By 2020, customer experience will become the key brand differentiator overtaking price and product.
The above mentioned findings more than explain the importance of a good customer experience program for the companies. The increased importance of customer experience in B2B industry is mainly fueled by two things. First, there is a change in the buying behavior of customers. Unlike in earlier days, it is easy to connect to various people. As a result, customers are interacting with one another and paying less attention to the marketing materials. Instead of relying on marketing materials, customers are reading reviews and news articles so that they can make an educated decision. This trend of researching before buying has been present in the B2C domain for a while now. But the B2B customers are also catching up. So no longer does the marketing material define business. It is based more on the reviews, especially the reviews by other users. This increases the importance of customer experience as bad experience means bad review and customers also tend to give bad review for a bad experience more often than for a bad product or higher price. Second, increasing competition has increased the gamut of alternatives available. Thus it is easier for a customer to switch from one vendor to another. Also, increasing penetration of internet has enabled faster discovery of alternatives.
So how do the B2B companies improve their customer experience program? First, they should refrain from replicating the successful practices from B2C companies as it is. The reason behind this is that B2B customer experience is different from that of B2C. These 5 reasons explain why B2B customer experience differs significantly from B2C customer experience:
• The issues in the B2B are more complex than those in B2C companies which lead to different types of support requirement. Therefore, there is significantly lower First Contact Resolutions (FCR) in B2B companies as compared to B2C companies.
• B2B companies spend significantly higher time with their clients than a B2C company which engages differently with its clients and spends much less time. This allows B2B companies to engage and interact at a much deeper level with its client. Thus a B2B executive is expected to know its client – its needs, business, goals, history etc.
• B2B is more about the relationship than the individual interactions. While this allows for some loose handling in one or two interactions if the relationship is solid, it is also the reason for complacency to seep in.
• There are higher amount of revenues from a single client as compared to a B2C company. This means that the expectations are also much higher.
• In B2B industry there are possibility of multiple buyers and multiple users unlike in B2C industry. This means that the customer experience program is no longer meant for a single customer.
Following are certain steps that the B2B companies can take to improve their customer experience program
• Customer service is a critical element of customer experience and hence service strategy should not be left till the end. It should be integrated with Sales and Marketing Strategy to provide a seamless customer experience.
• B2B companies should invest in both digital and traditional capabilities to improve customer experience. While digital capabilities have an increasingly higher impact on customer’s preferences, behaviors and expectations, traditional capabilities still remain critical. Thus there should be a balance of both.
• B2B companies should focus on selling relationships instead of products. This means decreased focus on identifying various features and focusing on the customer. This will include the pre-sales, during the sales and after-sales interactions. Any employee interacting with the customers should be likable. The sales pitch should be focused on providing solutions instead of selling features and after sales support should be as good as or better than the sales conversation.
• B2B companies should move from price-led marketing to value-led marketing. This requires them to become more customer-centric. They should also value their existing customers as retention costs are 6 to 7 times lower than acquiring costs.
• It is only too often that we find that the experiences for that customer lack uniformity at different positions of customer touch points. This leads to dissatisfaction among the customers. It has been found that satisfaction on customer journeys is better indicator of overall customer experience than individual interactions. Thus, the focus should be on maximizing satisfaction across the customer journey instead of focusing on any single interaction.
More and more B2B companies are trying to improve their customer experience program in the wake of increased importance of customer experience and it emerging as the next major differentiator. For far too long have the B2B companies ignored its importance. They need to revamp their strategies to provide best possible experience to their customers, something that B2C companies have been doing in last few years.
This article has been authored by Harshil Patel from IIM Kashipur
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