Improving B2B Customer Experience: Is It More Personal Than B2C?

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The term “customer experience” usually conjures up images of individual customers in retail or other business-to-consumer (B2C) environments.

I am often asked about business-to-business (B2B) as a separate experience. After speaking on overall customer experience themes, for example, audience members will approach with the B2B questions:

Why should we care about customer experience in B2B? It’s totally different than B2C!
Our end users are often not our customers, per se, since they aren’t the decision makers and bill payers. So, who, exactly should we design a customer experience for?
Our customer list doesn’t include names of individuals, it includes lists of large corporations! How do any of the CX ideas you discuss apply to us?
I’d argue something that can seem a bit counterintuitive. B2B relationships with customers are often MORE personal than those in B2C.

How can that be? Consider how large-scale business relationships work!

A potential customer becomes aware of a brand, but probably doesn’t understand the full potential of how the brand could help her business.

This means the potential customer does some research, perhaps reaching out to their network.

According to Salesforce’s 2018 Trends in Customer Trust report, 93% of customers are more likely to recommend a company they trust over those they don’t. This means trust building has to start immediately.

I’ve facilitated a number of business-to-business customer advisory board sessions and other meetings with customers. It’s not uncommon to hear the decision to engage with a B2B provider was based on a specific person’s name.

So when I’ve asked, “why did you first reach out to ACME?” It’s not uncommon to hear several customers answer “Brad” aka a top salesperson.

But then what? Some sales cycles in B2B reach epic timelines of months or years between start and sign-on-the-dotted-line status. That’s when the relationship with Brad or Barbara the sales leader from Company X really matters.

There are frequent check-ins, maybe a golf game, or perhaps a holiday gift basket for good measure. And while Barbara or Brad are aiming to earn the business of ACME Corporation, they are dealing directly with Jeff or Jill who work there.

It’s as human as it gets.

After all this personal relationship building in sales, something dramatic shifts in the relationship.

Jeff and Jill are suddenly working with a new team. There might be a deployment team, an onboarding specialist, an account manager, a customer success team and a compliance officer thrown in for good measure.

These become real relationships, too, and even if Jeff or Jill aren’t the ones interacting with these Company X teams every day, their teams are. This means the complaints of what’s not working with Company X go directly to Jeff and Jill.

So consider the customer experience design from Company X’s perspective.

Much of B2B experience design is based on traditional business plans and how the organizational chart looks. Traditional business planning is focused almost entirely on sales and marketing.

How can we let the right customers know about our brand? How can we sell to the most of them?

And while it’s logical from the Company X perspective to move a customer from a sales team to a client team once the sale is made, it’s not all that logical for the customer.

After months or even years of turning to Barbara with questions or concerns, now Jeff has to determine what category of question or concern he has and then navigate the team structure to know who to call. It’s a lot to ask of a new customer.

Yet it happens…all the time.

Want to know what your business can do to improve B2B customer experience? Here are a few ideas.

1. Remember it IS personal, even though it’s business.
Your clients are people who work for companies.

It’s important they feel recognized and heard throughout the relationship, not just during the wooing of sales.

2. Communicate proactively more than you do today.
I can almost guarantee this will improve the experience for your B2B.

In business, we often avoid communications completely instead of sharing “I don’t know yet” status or something negative. Your clients want to hear from you when it matters.

This is a key part of building trust, but a lot of company cultures don’t support this. Build a culture where it’s ok to communicate negative status updates because that’s the truth, and truth is rewarded, not punished.

3. Your culture matters more than you might think.
Cultures of blaming, finger pointing and general territorialism hurt customers. They get caught in the ego-driven shenanigans and their businesses suffer.

Create a culture where working together on behalf of your customers is the number one goal. Let your different departments collaborate and support one another for better experiences.

4. Build trust as an ongoing activity.
Just because your customer is paying their bills on time doesn’t mean they feel like things are great. Neglect and apathy kill these long-term relationships more than something going horribly wrong.

Just like any relationship, creating real moments that provide value matter way beyond the courtship. Design proactive positive moments throughout the customer journey, not just when they become a customer.

5. Show loyalty to your customers, don’t just demand it from them.
A common refrain in B2C experiences is that companies today don’t show any loyalty to their customers. That’s why it’s so frustrating when you see the “new customer” deal but don’t qualify as a long-term customer.

The same frustrations happen in B2B relationships. How are you helping your customers deal with their business challenges? How are you adding value to them? How are you supporting your long-time clients with better outcomes and innovative ideas? Don’t save the best stuff for your new clients only.

Yes, there is disruption in our world today with robots, automation and robust technology that can make us feel like we’re living in a less-than-human world. But for the foreseeable future, people still have to run things. Humans have to make the decisions that matter and businesses are simply organizations with lots of people in them.

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