Business to consumer (B2C) enterprises have been embracing and leveraging the benefits provided by ever-changing, personalized customer experiences for many years. It’s therefore not surprising that business to business (B2B) vendors are also increasingly focusing on what they can do to improve the experiences of their business customers.
B2B customers are now expecting the same high levels of customer service, personalization and transaction-simplicity that B2C customers enjoy. But how much do you know about customer experience in B2B enterprise?
What is B2B Customer Experience?
The generally accepted definition of customer experience is:
The result of interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship.
This definition applies to both B2C and B2B environments. But of course the personnel in B2B enterprises are consumers themselves. They will have experienced the changes that have taken place in recent years, enabling shoppers to find and purchase what they want with ease, knowing that it will be delivered incredibly quickly. Their experiences as consumers have inevitably influenced their expectations in the workplace. Business buyers will naturally have the same high expectations for fast, easy business transactions, speedy delivery and personalized service.
While the same, broad definition of customer experience can be applied to both B2B and B2C environments its important to be aware of the differences. Customer experience encompasses everything from the first point in time that a prospective customer becomes aware of a vendor. B2C enterprises will often be marketing to millions of prospective customers whereas B2B organizations will generally be more targeted in their marketing, carefully selecting their prospects.
For B2C vendors the sales cycles can be very short. Prospective customers will often quickly progress toward making a purchase, supported by online technology, the availability of information, comparisons, reviews, and advice. In B2B contexts the sales cycles can be much longer. The ultimate purchasing decision may not be made by one person and often requires various stages of appraisal and evaluation before final approval.
B2B enterprises will often employ account managers, responsible for looking after customer relationships for their client portfolios. Also, service and support for B2B customers tends to be more personalized than the same provisions in B2C operations.
It’s clear that customer experience in B2B must consider many aspects of the customer relationship, customer care and customer behaviour which don’t exist in B2C.
B2B Customer Experience Trends
It has been reported that the customer experience management market is projected to grow from USD 7.8 billion in 2019 to USD 14.5 billion by 2024. Customer experience is clearly big business and its about to get much bigger!
Back in 2015 just 3% of B2B businesses indicated that they valued CX as an integral part of company culture. Jump forward to today and at least 89% of companies now expect to compete primarily based on customer experience and 80% of B2B buyers expect the same buying experience as B2C customers.
Clearly, B2C experiences are setting the standard which needs to be met by B2B. B2B clients want the same transactional ease that’s provided for B2C customers but B2B buyers also want omni-channel facilities that enable them to find the information they seek and interact across all channels. B2B organizations that are able to support this demand and integrate omni-channel capabilities with their legacy systems and practices will have a competitive advantage.
An important aspect of B2C customer experience is personalization and this applies equally to B2B. B2B personalization involves tailoring all aspects of business advertising, marketing, sales-offers and communications to meet the specific needs of each individual B2B customer. It requires a deep understanding of business customers, their needs, expectations and business goals – in order to deliver experiences which go beyond what they expect.
Best Practices in B2B Customer Experience
Customer experience is clearly vitally important for B2B organizations. So what can B2B businesses do to improve the experiences of their business clients? Here are some top level, best practice guidelines.
Develop Customer Insight
Business buyers will often be under a lot of pressure. They will have budgetary responsibilities and their buying decisions and actions will be judged by their colleagues, managers and directors. This pressure can lead to anxiety and stress.
By getting to know each individual business buyer, understanding the pressures they are under, the requirements that they must meet and how their buying actions are assessed, their customer experience can be tailored to alleviate their anxieties. Developing valuable customer insight for each and every business customer underpins the delivery of great customer experience.
Foster a Customer-Centric Culture
Developing a customer-centric culture means putting the customer at the center of everything a B2B business does, in order to drive customer satisfaction and loyalty. B2B businesses will often have historically been sales-focused, so shifting to a customer-centric paradigm can be challenging. Education and communication are what’s needed to move an organisation in a customer-centric direction.
Deliver Personalized B2B Experiences
B2B customers all need to be treated as individuals with specific needs and desires. Delivering personalized services to B2B clients adds value for both the client and the vendor. B2B clients need to recognise that they are valued, that their specific requirements are fully understood, that their business goals are acknowledged and that they are partnered with the best possible supplier. By thoroughly getting to know B2B client organizations and their buyers, offers can be identified which meet their specific needs and relevant information can be provided in a timely manner and format that’s right for the client.
Make Full Use of Technology
B2B companies need to be fully aware of the various channels and technologies through which they can interact with existing and prospective customers. New technologies are continuously being developed so its important to remain aware of these and how they might be used effectively. Chatbots are a great example of a technology that allows customers to get in touch and interact at any time they choose. Using historic customer data to derive bespoke product and service recommendations is another example of how technology supports personalization. Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence are emerging technologies that are increasingly employed in improving customer experience and meeting customer expectations.
Deliver Outstanding Customer Service
The general goal of great customer service is to drive continuously improving customer satisfaction. Customer service most often involves answering questions and queries at any stage throughout the customer journey. But most customer service enquiries and interactions in B2C situations occur post-purchase, in response to customer questions regarding how to use a product and issues they may have encountered.
Since there are fewer competitors in most B2B arenas customer service becomes even more important as the quality of the service provided is a significant differentiator. B2B customers are not the end consumers, so their customer service needs are very different to those of B2C customers. An important aspect of B2B relationships, when compared with B2C, is that B2B customers typically involve multiple people in the client organisation. Customer service must therefore efficiently work across multiple departments, involving all of the relevant people and keep track of all customer interactions.
Derive Continuous Feedback
It’s important to facilitate B2B customer feedback throughout the customer journey. By deriving customer feedback at all key touchpoints a B2B business can ensure that their valuable clients are not encountering unwanted hurdles or roadblocks. Collecting feedback highlights aspects of the journey that are suboptimal, enabling them to be addressed for the benefit of all.
An effective technique is to carry out simple but engaging customer experience surveys. Keep in mind that B2B buyers are likely to be under pressure in the workplace so there is little point in expecting them to complete lengthy, time-consuming, detailed surveys. What’s needed is a simple mechanism through which just one or two relevant, engaging questions can be asked in a timely manner to gather their immediate responses. Keeping these surveys as short and succinct as possible will elicit the best response rates.
The term ‘customer experience’ has been a buzzword for a number of years and the recorded growth in the customer experience management market demonstrates the ongoing development in this area. Some B2B organizations have been slow to acknowledge and respond to the fact that B2B customer expectations are being shaped by B2C experiences. But most recognise that their continued business success significantly depends upon delivering excellent B2B customer experience.
Give Customer Thermometer a trial and find out how your customers feel! You will quickly see how easily implemented, simple surveys deliver great response rates that will improve your customer service.