Business-to-Business Customer Experience Strategy for 2016 & Beyond

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shutterstock_78822880Before you get carried away with patterning your business-to-business customer experience strategy on the latest shiny objects, here’s a way to help you invest wisely. It’s simple: Step 1 is to sketch out the phases of “What are our customers’ processes for selecting, getting, and using the type of solution that we sell?” Step 2 is to list your answers to “What is required by us to fulfill these processes of our customers?”

Don’t get me wrong — shiny objects may be fine — as long as they efficiently serve your overall strategy with sustained benefits. And that’s key! Manage customer experience more like you do any other business investment:

  1. What is really needed by the stakeholders?
  2. What is the most efficient way to provide those needs?
  3. What is the best way to make the benefits an annuity?

The convergence of answers to those three questions is typically what executives will select for any kind of business investment. But the shiny object syndrome, following the crowd, impatience, greed, self-centered thinking, and lack of due diligence in business case development have too often obscured the wisest business-to-business customer experience strategy (B2B CX) decisions.

What Stakeholders Need
Step 1 — What are our customers’ processes for selecting, getting, and using the type of solution that we sell? — should ultimately be understood intimately. And for separate customer segments, preferably segmented by expectation sets rather than demographics. And of course your deep and holistic understanding of these things should be gained through unbiased research with customers directly. But for the purpose of creating your B2B CX strategy, this simple outline will do:

  1. We need something
  2. What are our choices
  3. We decide and buy
  4. We receive our order
  5. We install and use
  6. We have questions
  7. We integrate what we bought with what we have . . . in order to achieve a specific capability.

b2b customer experience lifecycle

Efficient Way to Provide Those Needs
Step 2 — What is required of us to fulfill these processes of our customers? — should ultimately be understood in direct relation to the expectation-set segmentation research from Step 1. And by doing proper root cause analysis, i.e. asking why five times to get beyond symptoms to true root causes. But for the purpose of creating your B2B CX strategy, you can answer Step 2 within an hour or two. Keep it simple, with two sub-steps:

  1. What do we need to do daily to support a customer at each phase of their processes outlined in Step 1?
  2. What capabilities enable us to provide that daily support of customers’ processes to select, get and use the solutions they buy from us?

When you keep the questions simple like this, a profound truth emerges. No one is exempt from playing a critical role in customer experience excellence.

Some may balk at that assertion, saying surely some of these things are minor and so far removed from customer interactions that they can be excused from the need to apply customer-centered thinking to them. Yet that is certainly false! Take the example shared by a friend of mine recently, about a customer holding up payment, and incurring a lot of otherwise unnecessary meetings and escalations — all because of a disagreement about the terms and conditions (T&Cs). In the big scheme of things, T&Cs is a tiny fraction of what it takes — and it’s way back deep in the capabilities section of the chart shown here, and determined by your Legal Department — all of which are a far cry from your front-line staff, touch-points, digital marketing, loyalty and reference programs, and so forth!

It’s a case-in-point that it truly takes a village to achieve customer experience excellence. It can’t be relegated to a section of your company or a set of nifty technologies — that is, if you really expect to be consistently excellent (read: an engine for growth). And it must be all about customer-centered thinking throughout your entire company (and your suppliers and alliance partners) if you expect it to be profitable.

Making the Benefits an Annuity
You may be taking comfort in your voice of the customer action alerts that involve any corner of your company in resolving a current issue for a customer. That’s necessary, yet grossly insufficient. Because it is not sustainable for ROI. You’ve got to get ahead of all of those costs by insisting that everyone get in-sync with customers and do the right things right the first time, as much as is humanly possible. It will free-up your front-line staff from being a buffer between things-gone-wrong and customers’ emotions. It will free-up your front-line staff and everyone involved in escalations and remedial efforts to apply their expertise to higher value-add.

Many companies have invested well over a million dollars, or multiples of that, just in voice of the customer technologies and staff. How can the return on that investment be high (read: annuity) if your strategy ignores the simple truth that any of the daily support or behind-the-scenes capabilities, as listed in the diagram above, are excused from customer-centered thinking? Escalations are expensive! Remedial efforts squander precious resources. You’ll always be on a treadmill of sub-optimal investment until your B2B CX strategy embraces the fact that no one is exempt from playing a critical role in CX excellence.

Customer Experience Strategy
So start now to think bigger. What will it take in the coming year to help everyone adopt customer-centered thinking? How can we help everyone learn customer-centered thinking at a manageable rate? Don’t fool yourself into assuming it can happen through a training course or posters or an executive speech. It must become a way of life.

Take note from other B2B companies that are thinking bigger, pursuing customer-centered thinking as a way of life, transforming to be in-sync with customers in every way, and finding better resource utilization and growth. Here are some inspiring case studies:

Start now to transform your company to be in-sync with customers through-and-through. The best-loved companies need minimal investments in remedial efforts and enticements because they are in-sync, like a hand-in-glove feeling, from their customers’ perspective. Think of the ways you can redeploy current funding of things that are out-of-sync to things that could create new value. That combination is a well-founded strategy for long-lasting growth.

This article is part of a monthly series: Optimizing Business-to-Business Customer Experience

2 COMMENTS

  1. I plan to spend some more time digesting this article and the links provided; this orbits the heart of the issue in Customer Service functionality.

    At first pass, however, one thing struck me.

    In the seven-point list under “What Stakeholders Need,” I can’t help but think item #7 should really be item #3.

    Given the massive challenge companies face today of unifying service across a multitude of channels, shouldn’t “7. We integrate what we bought with what we have . . . in order to achieve a specific capability” be heavily considered and prioritized as early in the process as possible, with detailed infrastructure and workflow assessment, so as to know the limitations and impacts across all channels before diving in?

    If we don’t know definitively how a “shiny new object” fits in and across our existing networks and our service paths, aren’t we introducing unnecessary risk that can be mitigated with some due diligence?

    Perhaps I misunderstand…

  2. Thanks, Mark. You hit the nail on the head. The end-game is always in-play from the start and throughout. The end-game for the customer is what they’re integrating your solution with (people, processes, things).

    Very little in current customer experience management techniques zeroes in on clearly defining that, segmenting customers by that, fully understanding the expectation-set around it for each segment, and supporting it through the way we design voice-of-the-customer, loyalty efforts, etc.

    If we re-calibrate our CXM strategy and tactics, we set ourselves up to hit the nail on the head for customers rewarding our business for stronger and more sustainable growth.

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