There’s much talk online and in the press about how people’s experience during this COVID-19 era will impact a new ‘normal’ customer experience when we finally settle into some stability. It is looking increasingly like life is going to be in this current holding pattern for some time to come.
For example, will people still want to spend long periods of time browsing in-store as much as they did before, will they be able or willing to test and try products in-store, where they may be hygienically challenged?
What about people as B2B customers? What will have changed for this group and their new behaviours or adapted needs and how will this impact what they expect from their suppliers?
B2B customers were already ‘distant’ and indifferent
Before now, the level of client engagement and satisfaction of B2B customers was already low, when compared to what we see in B2C. According to Gallup:
- only 29% of B2B customers are engaged, while 60% are indifferent and 11% are actively disengaged
- only 54% of B2B customers strongly agree that their sales or account teams are trusted advisers
So, given this already low base, how can organisations learn from the current period, navigate this moment, prepare for and excel in the new normal?
Is it as simple as adapting how you sell to your customers given distancing? And what about how you service, support and nurture relationships with the current and likely short/medium term restrictions?
Better (and current) research and insight is imperative
In the same Gallup survey, only 31% of B2B customers believed that their supplier understood their needs.
Add to that the anxiety and uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought to us all, there has never been a more important time to talk to customers and understand how they are feeling, thinking and how their needs are evolving. We have been running research and insight projects for clients throughout this period. The smart organisations recognise that this is a time to discuss, discover, and engage rather than retreat and withdraw. Insight needs to be timely, relevant and up to date.
This need for engagement is further reinforced by the study run by B2B International in May and published in eMarketer. Insight and understanding comes at the top of their list (that follows), before touchpoint improvement and development.
There’s a (permanent?) move to digital ‘selling’ and servicing
We’ve seen the acceleration of digital behaviour in most walks of everyday life in an attempt to keep connected with those around us, our outside worlds when we’ve been grounded at home.
B2B companies have had an easier transition to remote work compared to B2C companies, according to a March 2020 survey from Marketing Week and Econsultancy. 51% of B2B companies perceived their company to be prepared to enable working remotely compared to only 34% of B2C marketers.
McKinsey have executed a survey which shows some interesting insights about B2B organisation ‘sales’ efforts during COVID-19. It was run across 11 countries in seven sectors. This survey emphasises what B2B organisations themselves are thinking and feeling currently.
Their survey confirms that:
- 76% of sales have transferred to full or partial videoconferencing/phone/web sales model
- 54% consider the new model just as effective or more than before
- 32% are “very likely” to sustain these shifts 12+ months after COVID-19 and another 48% are “somewhat likely” to do so
What is clear, is that the demand for self-service is becoming more and more important. This is as part of the repertoire of choices or touchpoints, but not as the only channel or access point.
During COVID-19, Zoom-users grew by 2,000% between January and April 2000. WhatsApp usage increased by 40% and Facebook by 37%. We have all been craving human to human interaction and these figures speak to our increased use of digital means to achieve this. B2B is no different – these same people, who are using these channels for personal use are also B2B customers. Relationships are fundamental to B2B customer success.
So, this ‘remote’ or distanced sales model i.e. digitally-led, appears to be here to stay as far as B2B organisations are concerned, despite nearly half (46%) viewing them as less effective. There needs to be a focus on making digital ‘human’ – where interactions are still real, live, and personal, but enabling this from afar. Success will come from striking the right balance of digital and physical/human contact and being able to genuinely take care of customers from a distance.
The Customer ‘Reset’ (or ARTT)
This is the time to be understanding, assessing, and reviewing customer needs along their life cycle, journey, and touchpoints. How can they be improved now, and for the post COVID-19 normal for the customer? The customer should be the starting point for the COVID ‘reset’.
The four areas that we would counsel organisations to be focusing on, are:
- ACCESSIBILITY – can customers interact with the organisation, when they want to and for whatever they want? For example, can they reach out to the right technical expert to quickly answer their queries? Are there the right options and choice of self-serve vs. directed and proactive support? Can they get to the data that they need, in real-time to do their jobs?
- RESPONSIVENESS – are the human and digital touchpoints providing a consistent and timely response to the customer? Is the customer able to rely upon a response or solution that meets their expectations or are they left in the dark? Are you set up to be alerted of customer issues and respond proactively in the best way? Are you keeping connected with customers?
- TRANSPARENCY – are you continually and consistently communicating with customers? Do they have transparency and clarity over what is happening, changes, those things that impact them in the short to medium term so that they can manage their business?
- TAILORING – do you understand the customer’s organisation and personal context? How well do you appreciate their challenges, emotions, and what is your ability to show empathy? Are you consistently gaining feedback and acting upon this insight to improve and innovate what you do? Can you enhance customer ‘intimacy’?
The Organisation ‘Reset’
Once the customer experience has been reviewed through the eyes of the customer and you have a view of your customer’s reality, there needs to be an assessment of the implication for your organisation. How is it currently supporting or hindering the customer and their experience needs, how is this experience (and how should this experience be) delivered through physical and digital touchpoints?
What’s the balance that best responds to what customers now expect?
Here’s a simple template which provides a lens to apply the insights gleaned from customers to the experience that the organisation delivers.
The following considerations should be made to:
- Ownership – who owns the customer, which elements of the journey do they own, are handovers and transitions well made? Are the right skills, capabilities available to be used in the right places in the customer journey?
- Collaboration – silo working is an issue when working physically together for most organisations. COVID-19 has ironically brought a shared sense of challenge and purpose to many organisations through remote working (and arguably better focus). Leverage this joint working and use it to break down the internal and external boundaries that have existed
- Support processes, systems & tools – have these been lined up to deliver the learnings from the Customer Reset? Is the organisation enabled with the right data and tools to deliver the adapted customer experience needs?
- Performance tracking – are you measuring progress, following up with the customers and feeding this back into the organisation to drive action?
COVID-19 is an unwelcomed and uncertain time for the majority. However, it is forcing a reassessment of how organisations engage with and deliver for their customers. Perhaps organisations would have reached this (accelerated) point at some time in the future, but they can now leverage this opportunity for a B2B customer reset. This reset should begin with reaching out and engaging with customers to understand how they are feeling and it should resist the temptation to shift the majority of interactions to digital, at a time when we are all valuing the human touch.
Consider a ‘Reset’ for Smiling Companies, Happy Customers. Customers will remember those who were there for them every step of the way and thereafter.