I have recently heard customer experience within b2b organisations described as an ‘emerging topic’ which surprised me. All organisations have customers, so why is the idea of establishing customer experience programmes something that seems to have been embraced more willingly by b2c companies?
Ipsos MORI’s latest Captains of Industry survey1 finds that only one third (31%) of b2b organisations always discuss customer experience at board meetings, and therefore do not seem to place customer experience at the top of their agenda. This is in contrast to over 6 in 10 (62%) of those from b2c organisations.
So, why is customer experience not at the top of the agenda for b2b organisations? Maybe because they believe they are already doing it well…
1) Meeting functional needs
Although it might not always be discussed at board meetings, the majority of b2b Captains (90%) say they have customer feedback measures in place. These measures include metrics such as ‘delivery performance’, ‘customer retention’ and ‘complaint levels’ which are more likely to be driven from internal data as opposed to direct customer insight. With these measures, it is perhaps not surprising that two in five (41%) of b2b Captains believe they are ‘very good’ (9 or 10 out of 10) at meeting the functional needs of their customers, compared to 21% of b2c Captains.
However, with complex b2b relationships, meeting functional needs is not enough.
2) Closer customer relationships
Perhaps it is the very nature of b2b relationships which leads b2b organisations to believe that they already have a full understanding of their customer needs, so customer experience programmes are not a priority? Amongst b2b Captains, 35% say they are ‘very good’ at understanding customer needs (compared with 18% for b2c Captains), which could be driven by the following:
- The buying cycle is longer in b2b, with more touchpoints across the organisation
- B2b organisations are dealing with a lower volume of sales, but they are much higher value so the relationships are more high profile within the business
- Interactions are more personal with less reliance on automatic / digital communications
Although b2b organisations may feel close to their clients, you could argue that understanding and monitoring the full customer experience is more important in b2b than for b2c. The complex nature of the relationships (compared to b2c) can present a real business risk, which should make board members pay attention:
- More touchpoints - so more places where things could go wrong
- Higher value - so the loss of a single customer relationship could have a significant impact on the business
- More personal - so higher service expectations which have to be fulfilled to keep the customer happy
3) Building an emotional connection
The very nature of b2b relationships also implies there should be a degree of emotional connection between the organisation and the customers, yet only one in four (24%) b2b Captains rate their ability to build an emotional connection with their customers as ‘very good’. Among those who only give themselves a rating of 8 or less out of 10 (base: 34), 32% believe emotional connection is not relevant to their business.
It may indeed be more challenging to create these emotional connections in a b2b environment, where the rational side of the decision making must be demonstrated and buyers are potentially more detached from the product. However, it is something that b2b organisations should be considering if they want to be successful.
A recent Ipsos study (Getting Sticky) has demonstrated that the rewards for creating an emotional attachment in the service industry are significant. The study has shown that when a customer is both functionally satisfied and emotionally attached, they are significantly more likely to stay with the supplier, cross-sell and recommend the supplier than if they were just satisfied.
Getting the attention of the board
Due to the core characteristics of b2b relationships and the inherent reliance on personal interactions, there appears to be significant opportunity to build an emotional connection which can have a clear ROI – something that should resonate with any board member. Keeping customers both functionally and emotionally satisfied, across all touchpoints, is key to maintaining – and growing – those high value relationships.
However, you have to understand and monitor these complex interactions to know where improvement is needed and how to deliver this, hence the need for customer experience programmes which are holistic and company-wide. B2b organisations need to be agile and responsive to customer needs, rather than bureaucratic and process driven as a result of departmental siloes, which are so often in place.
Therefore, the most effective customer experience programmes start by fully engaging internal teams from across the organisation. This needs to start with board buy-in but should filter down to include account managers, sales team and other customer facing representatives. This approach delivers a valuable internal perspective which can shape the programme, as well as establishing long term commitment from stakeholders to help ensure findings are embedded and – more importantly – acted on. Therefore, delivering the business improvement that board members will be eager to share within board meetings.
1Ipsos MORI conducted 114 interviews with participants from the top 500 companies by turnover and top 100 by capital employed in the UK. Participants were Chairmen, Chief Executive Officers, Managing Directors/Chief Operating Officers, Financial Directors and other executive board directors. B2b Captains based on 49 companies who are primarily b2b. B2c Captains based on 39 companies who are primarily b2c (excluding 26 who were both). Interviews were primarily carried out face-to- face (8 were carried out over the telephone) between September and December 2016.
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