Q&A with Shane Redding: Why B2B companies are no longer in control of what the customer wants

With her training course ‘How to design the right CX’ coming up on 20 November, Shane Redding tells Molly Raycraft how the CX landscape has changed and what your marketing should be doing to keep up

Where do you even start when it comes to designing a CX programme?

Shane: I would say you never start by designing a CX programme per se, you need to look at what the business objective is. 

It could be you’ve done your sales and marketing and realised you’ve got a problem with a leaky bucket [where too many leads are put into the pipeline to deal with properly, so some fall out], so you could aim to improve that. If you’re fixing that business problem, ask how you are improving the customer experience at the same time.

In the context of marketing, CX is part of designing a product launch or marketing campaign. It could be one of the things outside of marketing that could really affect how successful that is.

Has CX changed significantly over the years?

If you step back 20 years, you wouldn’t even be talking about CX. You would be talking about customer service and that’s completely different. There was a team dealing with unhappy customers and they were there to resolve problems. 

So if you bought a copy of a business magazine and it wasn’t being delivered you would ring the customer service team, and the metrics they’d use would have been completely different to today.

It came from design-thinking and companies like Apple and IBM thinking about the whole process, from idea to product or service. Every stage they were thinking about the customer and what they needed, and putting their needs at the heart of it. That’s where it’s changed fundamentally.

Has the B2B customer grown less loyal?

Funnily enough, I don’t think they have. If companies get the whole offering right and create real value, their customers are more likely to remain loyal. The biggest differentiator in customer value is amazing customer experience. It’s become a true competitive advantage which is why many B2B companies are investing in this area. 

There are other segments of the market in B2B that have relied on forced or structural loyalty. This could be contractual with penalty break clauses or embedded structural loyalty – when a business becomes deeply dependent on integrated systems. For customers this can be expensive and hard to extract from.

However disrupters are using content to expose these risks; new forms of pricing such as freemium encourage switching. Many suppliers are unaware that their loyal customers are in fact trialling or parallel running different suppliers especially in IT. So I think there’s quite high stakes to play for. 

Deep understanding of what the key loyalty drivers are for your customers is critical, as is the use of propensity modelling to understand those most at risk.

Why do some businesses feel CX is harder to achieve than it once was?

In the past, if you worked with a company there was a lot that was almost hidden, certainly in terms of price transparency, ease of service, and what other customers were saying. Now the customer is in control – I call it ‘upside-down marketing’ – and this is through the transparency of the web. That choice and knowledge now reside with customers, and that has changed loyalty. This knowledge empowers customers to feel safe to make a choice and move.

There are businesses that have tried to create structural loyalty. For instance, a martech company may embed technology to such a level it’s really difficult to extricate yourself from it. People don’t like that, they don’t like being held to ransom. 

What common mistakes do marketers make?

Certainly in B2B organisations they genuinely think they’re still in control. They still think they can choose what they serve to customers but if they’re not listening to what their customers want, they’re not going to survive. 

Where it falls down is the programmes I see labelled as improving customer experience have absolutely nothing to do with that. They’re just about saving the customer money. In the consumer world that’s a classic example of forcing customers to use internet banking when not all customer groups and customer segments want to use that channel. 

The organisations that get it absolutely right are the ones that understand the pain the customer doesn’t. Who knew that the biggest reason people switched to Uber was because you can watch that little dot where your taxi is? It takes away the fear, you’re stuck in a meeting room, you’ve got to make that next meeting, and you’ve got the reassurance it’s going to be here in two minutes. 

The companies that are truly serious about customer experience are using behavioural economics –  using psychologists to understand the way we think to give us things we don’t even know we need. I think B2B has some fantastic opportunities to do more.

How can marketing get closer to the customer?

One of the things we go through on the training course is the different techniques for understanding customers. This could be classic market research, so things like focus groups. But to me there’s no replacement for going out on sales visits. 

For example, if you’re a very big company and you’re working to big company guidelines, it’s very removed from a typical day in an SME. Earnest brought its Think Small research to life and asked what everything meant for the customer.

The other thing CX can really do is understand the commonalities between your different markets and your different customer types. Uber is used by masses of different people, but it has that commonality that is a great experience that delivers something everybody wants. It’s about bringing those two things together. Sometimes marketers can try and develop things that are too niche and haven’t got an overarching appeal – that’s where things go wrong.

Is pinpointing the customer journey important for good CX?

On the course we do a live exercise in two groups, by going through a typical customer journey around a product or event. We do it from the customer perspective and we do it from the company perspective. What happens is the company view is always about the process and quite structural. The customer view doesn’t just look at the process but at an emotional level as they take each step. 

It allows the marketer to really add value at each step because they understand the experience themselves, they’re trying to make it easier. You’re trying to understand the action but also the why, and the why not. That’s what customer experience is about, how you make it easier for them, because in today’s world everything is about making it easy.

What challenges are you hoping to help marketers overcome with your course?

I want them to understand marketing’s role in customer experience and how to influence other stakeholders that you need to involve. It’s about understanding what marketers can do but also what they have to influence within the business. Therefore it’s helping them have a clearer voice because they should be the department that’s the voice of the customer.

People will leave the training with things that they can do differently. We want people to come with their problems which we solve as a group. People learn as much from the other people on the course as they do from me. It’s that opportunity to step outside your day job, realise what you’re doing well, talk to other people, prepare your business, benchmark it, but also give yourself a pat on the back.

Join Shane's CX Masterclass

Want to start a CX programme? Or perhaps perfect one you already have?

Join Shane on 20 November, where she will guide you and fellow marketers through a full day of learning.

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