Last week I had the pleasure of attending the B-to-B Customer Experience Summit, organized by Walker, a customer intelligence consulting firm. This two-day conference, the first CX event focused exclusively on B2B, was a big hit with attendees — CX leaders representing prominent brands in technology, telecom, distribution and more.
The keynotes were amazing, and I really enjoyed moderating two panels on predictive analytics and customer intelligence ROI. The setting was delightful in a Hilton hotel overlooking the San Diego bay. Kudos to the Walker team for a stimulating two days and great experience.
Walker President Phil Bounsall kicked off the conference with highlights of the firm’s “Customers 2020” study, which revealed major changes expected by, yup, the year 2020. Three big trends:
- Personalized experience. The study found that customers expect experiences to be more tailored to their individual preferences. To meet the changing needs of customers, nearly two-thirds of companies selected investments aimed to understand individual needs, challenges and future directions.
- Proactive relationships. Reacting to customer needs is not enough. Progressive companies also want to anticipate and influence future behaviors. In the study, 83% of respondents said they expect “a lot” of emphasis on metrics that describe customer intentions, up from 41% currently. Furthermore, more information sources will be used to create a holistic view of the customer.
- Consistent multi-channel communications. Among the communications channels “likely to use often,” email (77%), phone (76%), in-person (57%) and website (42%) dominated the survey results for today. By 2020, the top 4 are expected to shift to online communities (68%), social media (63%), website (61%) and email (58%). Customers will expect companies to deliver a consistent experience across multiple channels.
Based on the sessions I attended and the two panels I moderated, here are five ideas to help you get smarter about B2B CEM.
- Your Big Boss must lead the customer-centric journey
Nearly 90% of executives say they want to be CX leaders. But there’s a big difference between a dream and a meaningful goal that everyone is committed to achieve. Cisco has been customer-centric for as long as I can remember, but like any tech company has had to navigate market changes to remain viable. CEO John Chambers instilled a “fanatical focus on customer success,” according to keynoter Edzard Overbeek, SVP for Cisco Services. In 1997 Cisco began to measure customer sat and over the years has improved from 4.06 to an impressive 4.45. Overbeek emphasized that all employees have to be engaged in listening and improving, which must be driven from the top.
- If you think Customer Intelligence is expensive, try ignorance
When something is a strategic asset, it can be maddeningly difficult to “prove” the ROI in a strict financial sense. In my panel discussion on “What’s the Payoff on Customer Intelligence?” speakers Tammy Dujmovich (Cisco), Connie Cassel (NetApp) and Jeff Ernst (EMC) illustrated three contrasting ways that analytics can applied to Voice of Customer data to yield impressive results. For example:
- Strategic: Cisco, as part of its ongoing VoC program, identify a need for improving “ease of doing business” which became a company-wide priority to improve the Customer Experience.
- Operational: NetApp increased customer loyalty/retention by making changes to technical documentation, improving software quality and identifying at-risk customers so account teams could act before it was too late.
- Communications: EMC used VoC analytics to figure out the optimum frequency and method (email or text message) for progress updates on open incidents, segmented by severity. Good example of why one size does not fit all!
- Insights must drive action to the front lines of the organization
I lost track of the number of times I heard “actionable” at this conference, and for good reason. Forrester Research has found less than half of companies use VoC insight to systematically drive change. In his keynote speech, Bill Goetz, SVP of Marketing for Sysco, spoke about the key role of actionable insights in helping the company transform itself to be more customer-centric. With the help of VoC analytics, the company improved new customer onboarding, delivery information and business reviews. But the “home run” was an alert program developed with Walker, which helped field reps engage more proactively with customers at risk for defection, and turn them into growth opportunities. Impressive.
- Analytics will shift from “What Happened?” to “Make It Happen!”
A stunning array of tools are available to slice and dice data to understand why something happened in the past. These sorts of “descriptive” analytics yield useful insights, but it’s a bit like driving a car by looking in the rear view mirror. In my panel on Predictive Analytics, three Walker experts shed some light on how to get value from more advanced forms of analytics designed to predict or even influence future customer behaviors. Potential benefits include improved customer retention, deeper engagement and proactive sales enablement. Three disciplines need to work together.
- Business: Lauri Jones emphasized working backwards from the desired business outcomes and decisions and “making it actionable.”
- Technology: Mike Schwartz discussed technology considerations, such as infrastructure and data warehouse tools. His advice: make friends with your IT department early.
- Science: Troy Powell said that with the right business direction and IT capabilities in place, data scientists can earn their keep by matching the right tools and models to the right business problems.
- An enduring role for humans: Perspicacity
Anyone expecting analytics to spit out “the answer” is bound to be disappointed, because with multiple sources of data, you’ll get multiple answers. In addition to survey-based VoC data, companies are mining behavioral data and social media to try to infer what customers perceive and plan to do next. That’s why I feel quite confident predicting that analytics won’t replace human judgment. American astronaut David Wolf spoke about his adventures in space and how good decisions were made, and sometimes not. He called the human element in decision making “perspicacity,” which means making the right decision at the right time, even in the face of confusing and conflicting information.
Disclosure: I collaborated with Walker on the Customers 2020 study and the conference agenda. CustomerThink was a media sponsor for this event, and Walker has been a CustomerThink sponsor within the past year. This post is part of my independent coverage of industry trends and is not meant as an endorsement of any company mentioned.