Merkle B2B and two of its constituent firms, B2B International and gyro recently published the results of research that focused on what is required to consistently deliver world-class customer experiences, and where most companies have work to do to meet those requirements.
The research report is based on an analysis of 5,000 previous studies relating to customer experience and on over 3,000 interviews with B2B buyers and key decision-making influencers in North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. The interviews examined over 5,000 brand experiences involving the purchase and use of financial services, manufactured goods, professional services, and technology solutions.
The report begins with a rather sobering assessment of the overall quality of B2B customer experiences. The authors observed that over 35% of the interviewees with large companies (1,000 or more employees) said that buying from B2B suppliers is often a difficult process. So it's not surprising that the resulting customer experience is often mediocre. An analysis of Net Promoter Scores found that two-thirds of B2B customers have a passive or negative customer experience.
Merkle's report summarized the state of B2B customer experience in stark terms: "We have established that the process of identifying, researching, choosing, and using a B2B supplier is rarely impressive, often ordinary, and frequently suboptimal."
The Four "Brand Superpowers"
Merkle identified four factors that collectively produce world-class customer experiences - Reliability, Understanding, Enrichment, and Preeminence. The report refers to these factors as "brand superpowers," and it places each superpower into one of two groups based on the type of value delivered.
Reliability and Understanding are superpowers that deliver "business" value directly to the customer organization, while Enrichment and Preeminence provide "personal" value to individual buyers, influencers, and users. Here's a brief overview of the attributes of each superpower.
Reliability - Merkle uses the term Reliability to describe company and product/service attributes that address basic business requirements. So this superpower includes good product quality, dependable customer service, and appropriate product/service pricing. If we think in terms of a hierarchy of needs, Reliability would be at the base.
Understanding - In Merkle's framework, Understanding refers to the quality of the relationship between a company and the business organizations it serves. Merkle says that Understanding includes attributes such as tailoring, adaptability, service, and aligned business cultures and philosophies. The report puts it this way: "Where Reliability speaks to performance, Understanding is concerned with experience - the whole business-to-business customer journey must work in a seamless and integrated way."
Enrichment - Enrichment refers to a company's ability to make work life easier or better for the individuals in the customer organization who use or otherwise interact with the company or its product or service. So Enrichment provides personal value because the benefits are experienced by individuals, rather than by the customer organization. Enrichment also includes enhancing the professional knowledge and skills of individuals through educational resources and events.
Preeminence - In Merkle's model, Preeminence is the superpower that enables a company to enhance the professional status of the people in the customer organization who made the decision to do business with the company. A company that succeeds with this superpower is usually a recognized innovator and thought leader in its field, and if it also excels at Reliability, Understanding, and Enrichment, the people who made or influenced the decision to do business with the company will see their status enhanced in the eyes of their colleagues.
The B2B decision makers interviewed for the Merkle study generally gave companies good marks for delivering on the Reliability superpower, but they rated performance on the Understanding superpower as no more than satisfactory. The interviewees rated performance on almost every aspect of the Enrichment and Preeminence superpowers as unsatisfactory.
The idea that companies must provide both "business" and "personal" value isn't new. For example, a 2013 study by CEB (now part of Gartner) and Google also demonstrated that providing "personal" value is critical. This study tested the impact of more than seventy brand benefits on a range of "commercial outcomes," including familiarity, consideration, preference, purchase, repeat purchase, premium payment, internal advocacy, and external advocacy.
The researchers divided the benefits into two categories - business value benefits (those that flowed to the customer organization), and personal value benefits (those that flowed to individual "buyers"). The study found that personal value benefits had twice as much impact (lift) on commercial outcomes as business value benefits.
The Merkle research highlights the importance of the personal dimensions of B2B customer experience, and it provides a helpful framework for marketing, sales, and CX professionals to use when evaluating the quality of the experiences they are providing.
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