Is Operations Involved in B2B Customer Experience?


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cx-b2bHow would you like to reduce customer churn by 27%, increase Net Promoter ScoreTM by 65%, and outperform competitors by 20% in sales, purchasing, ordering, installation, billing, service inquiry, maintenance and account management processes? This progress was achieved by engaging employees company-wide in coordinating customer-focused improvements across Operations, Marketing, Service and other functional areas.

The key to these achievements was the Operations SVP’s passionate executive sponsorship. She had a hunger for voice-of-the customer (VoC) data and drove cross-functional improvements. The next VoC cycles showed significant up-tick, demonstrating to the executive leadership team what could be accomplished with holistic action plans.

All this happened after 20,000 small and medium business accounts were added to tw telecom’s customer base through a merger. A global provider of managed network services, tw telecom discovered that their acquired customers were very different from their historical customer base. The executive team realized they needed to really understand all of their customers and adapt to them.

“We evolved the VoC program out of Marketing, merging with the Customer Care and Business Operations teams to maintain independence as a best practice. Our team is called Customer Operations,” explained Lara Wise, VP of Customer Experience, in my online talk show interview. “The more we feel what it is that they experience, and adapt to them, the more loyal they are. It’s been much easier being part of the Operations organization, to get adoption from other departments across the company, helping them see their connection to customer loyalty.”

Should Operations be the home for every B2B company’s customer experience leadership? Not necessarily, but companies with the most holistic approach to customer experience improvement and innovation, such as EMC, NCR, Adobe, Boeing, TELUS, and Intuit, have core involvement among their Quality, Operations, Service, and Sales organizations. Indeed, the best progress in customer experience excellence involves every functional area. No one is exempt, as all make decisions and have deliverables with a ripple effect to customers. Your company’s executive team should carefully consider what structure will work best.

Regardless, at the heart of the achievements listed above is operational change. There’s no silver bullet besides centering your business on customers.
The end-to-end customer experience must be studied and improved. New value across the end-to-end customer experience is also necessary. Don’t fall into the trap of so many consumer industries that have bet their growth on enticing customers to rebuy and buy more through marketing and sales alone. We can all think of businesses that over-rely on customer communications while creating policies and processes that undermine it all.

Operations and Quality organizations bring important tools to the party. How can significant gains be made, and maintained, without 5 why’s and Pareto charts and Gantt charts? Every customer experience leader should be reading about and getting training in process management and change management and knowledge management. You can bring in specialists to help guide customer experience work in these areas, but there is no substitute for obtaining these skills across the whole customer experience management team. Think of it like this: a supervisor can’t relinquish people management aspects of his or her job to an HR specialist; the specialist can coach and provide templates, but the supervisor must learn people management to a certain degree in order to be successful. The same applies to these bodies of knowledge and customer experience excellence.

Go beyond your enterprise feedback management system. It’s a tool that streamlines analysis and data delivery to managers. But it has become a stumbling block, too. Create processes that enable cross-functional engagement in reviewing VoC patterns, not just trends. Find patterns between VoC and operational performance across functions. The more holistic your approach, the more significant your gains will be.

Go beyond traditional VoC. Search your company for other types of customer studies that can add new insights to VoC. Advertising, branding, user experience (UX), R&D and other departments typically conduct studies that can create greater context for VoC data. De-silo customer experience management.

Some watchwords from this story are: hunger, drove, cross-functional, holistic, adapt to customers, and engaging employees company-wide. There are numerous techniques available to help you center your business on customers. Involve your Operations organization to identify how customer experience management can be woven into your company’s fabric for ongoing substantial gains.

Is your company finding more success through Operations’ core involvement in customer experience excellence?

This article is part of a monthly series on "Optimizing the B2B Customer Experience".

Lynn Hunsaker

Lynn Hunsaker is 1 of 5 CustomerThink Hall of Fame authors. She built CX maturity via customer experience, strategic planning, quality, and marketing roles at Applied Materials and Sonoco. She was a CXPA board member and SVAMA president, taught 25 college courses, and authored 6 CXM studies and many CXM handbooks and courses. Her specialties are B2B, silos, customer-centric business and marketing, engaging C-Suite and non-customer-facing groups in CX, leading indicators, ROI, maturity. CX leaders in 50+ countries benefit from her self-paced e-consulting: Masterminds, Value Exchange, and more.


  1. Hi Lynn

    A very useful article that reminds us of the importance of involving all parts of the organisation if you want customer experience (CEx) improvements projects to succeed. I also agree with you that CEx is about more than the customer jobs and their associated interactions leading up to the point of sale, i.e. the marketing and sales interactions.

    The challenge is often that it is precisely these two departments (they are rarely one and the same department, even in industrial companies) that inaugurate most CEx improvement projects. And they usually do it to increase short-term sales. Not only is the Customer Service department often not invited to the party, Operations is rarely even on the CEx radar!

    As industrial companies increasingly adopt a servitisation business model the importance of the one-time product sales decreases as the importance of continuous service subscription sales increases. As Ng et al show in a paper on ‘Outcome-based Contracting’, this requires a renewed focus on customer outcomes (the value the services enabled by the products provide for customers during use) rather than just on outputs (how many products or contracts were sold). It is the departments like Field Service, Operations and Manufacturing that are typically responsible for the lion#s share of this service revenue, not Marketing & Sales.

    The introduction of connected products powered by smart sensors, network communications and data analytics in the cloud, that enable dynamically adaptable services (commonly known as the Internet of Things) only serves to multiply this servitisation trend. As Porter & Heppelmann describe in a recent article on ‘How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition’ The Internet of Things requires radically different experiences that focus on how value is created when customers use products, rather than on the products themselves. This greatly reduces the importance of Marketing and Sales in driving the new connected experience.

    Graham Hill

    Further Reading:

    Ng et al
    Outcome-based Contracting

    Porter and Heppelmann
    ‘How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition’

  2. Important points. All elements of the enterprise need to be involved in driving customer-centricity, and Operations – whether in B2B or B2C induustries – is often a fulcrum for making this happen.

    About fourteen years ago, I wrote a column describing how the Seven S Framework, a management model developed by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman while they were at McKinsey, could be applied to optimized stakeholder behavior. It’s essential to bring together streams of customer data so that they can support customer process enhancement. This is a key component of what Peters and Waterman described as Systems. and it is where Ops, Marketing, Service, and Quality conjoin to provide customer insights and value:

  3. Thanks, Graham and Michael. I’ve come to realize that a lot of readers probably think: yes, nice aspirations, but how can this be done pragmatically?

    I welcome readers to contact me directly with questions like that! My team has done a lot in companies on the big-process and cross-organizational side of things. Our techniques are universal. (B2B, B2C, government, non-profit, etc.)

    I allude to them all the time in articles such as these:

    Customer Experience Enablement at GE

    Customer Journey Mapping: Apply Insights Everywhere

    Customer Experience Improvement is a Team Sport

    Inspire Voice-of-the-Customer Actions: 12 Ideas

    I’ve come to realize recently that much of what we were doing in customer experience management prior to the advent of CRM and enterprise feedback management systems was more macro and systemic. While technologies have been a godsend for real-time data and 1-on-1 customer management, there has been almost a lobotomy effect on our profession regarding robust action and cross-functional collaboration to transform processes and experiences.


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