Let’s talk about B2B customer experience

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As businesses are realizing that raising expectations on customer experience while overlooking employees needs make them struggle at delivering on their promise, another isse is starting to worry me : the B2B customer experience.

As nearly everybody agrees that there’s no customer experience without employee experience, as I’m stating to see businesses being worried about their partner experience (a topic that strangely emerges with the question of the performance of the purchasing department and not with customer experience), the B2B customer experience is still left abandoned).

The B2B experience : an industrial wasteland

Following the belief that consumers (B2C) make decisions based on emotions and can be manipulated while the business client (B2B) is a sad and rational personal and that looking serious means be covered with dust, tedious and frustrating (employees can tell you a lot about it), too many businesses left the B2B field abandoned.

Yes, there are B2B extranets. So nice and easy to use that people find that paying their tax online instead of using it is a greater experience.

Yes, there’ a B2B IS, most of times limited to an ordering solution with a user interface than can compete with the good old MS-DOS command lines. And when it consists of several applications providing services to the client, it’s often fragmented without integration nor consistency, with such a complex user interface that using it without training is impossible.

A better B2B experience allows better resource allocation

Yes there are B2B sales teams and clients prefer to deal with humans. However there is a difference between sales, negotiations and execution the contract, what consists of small recurring operations that everybody would like to be more seamless and fast. And there’s no surprise is clients want in-person interactions with sales when the applications put in their ands are complex and unusable. In the same way people prefer to go to a store when the e-commerce website delivers a terrible experience, clients calls their sales rep when the B2B extranet seems to have been designed in the era au dinosaurs. Bottom line : the sales force spends its time dealing with current clients, without added value, and with little time available to acquire new clients.

What was acceptable yesterday is not acceptable today anymore and here’s why.

The B2B client is a B2C client that walks through the office door

Firstly we’re in the era of enterprise consumerization. Employees expect to experience at work what they experience in their personal lives and expect similar services, processes and experiences. Globally speaking, B2B clients business behaviors are looking more and more like B2C behaviors over time. The same goes for their expectations.

Secondly, the major contribution of digital to business is about speed and scale. Digital helps to operate at a higher speed and scale, what is contradictory with the approach consisting of having a 100% human-based client relationship. It does not mean at all that humans must be put out of the customer relationship but that we must admit that sometimes they have very little added value and even have a negative impact. When a client loses time to contact someone when he could have got what he wanted in two clicks, for example. Don’t forget that the B2B client is the same person that does not visit their banker anymore and does not buy his plane or train tickets at a desk. He wants an advisor to talk with at the key moments of the relationships but wants the rest to be as seamless as possible. What means automation, self service, provided there’s as little clicks as possible and and engineering degree is not required to order a stapler.

It can also work against the interests of the company. If client acquisition is a key moment, if the sales force can’t scale, the need to make the existing relationships more seamless to allocate more human time on acquisition is obvious.

Clients want value, not messages

On the other hand, some B2C behaviors are amplified in the B2B world. Particularly the reaction to messages and campaigns that gets weaker and weaker. If people have less and less time and attention at home, it’s even worse in the office. The battle for the customer attention as reached such a high that they have only a couple of seconds to decide whether to pay attention to a message or not. If the B2C customer favors experiences over messages, that’s even more true for B2B ones who react to digital stimuli onli if they can get value from it. What mainly covers two fields  services that streamline operations with the provider and services that will help to grow one’s business with the support of a supplier that turns into a real business partner.

On the contrary, most businesses invested heavily on marketing automation. In the message rather than in the service. My point is not that it has no value, but that’s not where clients see value. It’s even more true in the B2B world : investing in digital must help to deliver value, not messages.

Digital has little value for the business if it has little value for the client

I insist on value for the client because no matter the potential of a digital initiative for a business, it won’t help to save and earn any cent without the client buy-in. An emailing machine that shoots messages no one reads or an extranet no one uses has no value. If a business does not want to think about value for the client when it comes to marketing initiatives, it should rather invest in industry 4.0 or use an IA like IBM Watson to perform routine administrative tasks.

In the end, thinking digital in the context of a B2B customer relationship does not mean thinking marketing but thinking value and services. What could mean :

1°) Self service

Clients may prefer doing things themselves that having to call (during office hours…) and wait until someone processes their request or call them back.

2°) Optimisation

A B2C customer is lost after the third click, why would it be different with a B2B client ? Journeys, interfaces, experiences…everything must be designed for simplicity, seamlessness, clarity. And, since technology only supports existing processes, thanks for simplifying processes in the first place.

3°) Automation

Automating recurring orders so the client will only have to validate, faster internal processing with the use of IA…

4°) Transparency

Most customer service centers spend most of their time handling requests about order or request statuses. It the status is made visible, if an alert (SMS or in App) keeps clients informed, everybody will save time.

4°) Support

When the B2B client is not the end client but only an intermediary, it may be be useful to help him grow is own business. Some industries are mature about that, some, because of culture or size, can’t afford advanced marketing operations while their own customers are changing. It could be wise for the provider to provide his client a kind of white label marketing/communication as a service platform (even including sites and webstores), even to share market data and insights. By acting this way he will position as a business partner and his perceived value will increase.

And I leave you with this video about Caterpillar’s B2B strategy. In the end…. a 15% sales increase.

( source chere)

Last, there’s the use of digital to deliver value to employees so they will be more efficient with the client, but that’s another issue. More about data and decision making. But here again, the gap between B2B and B2C practices in terms of customer understanding is huge.