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Five Key Questions for B2B Customer Engagement By Jo Upward, MD of creative design agency, Platform

Everyone knows the power of business-to-consumer campaigns. 

Superbrands Amazon, Apple and John Lewis are always cited as the vanguards in involving and engaging their customers in their product development, outcomes and ultimately taking their lead from their customer.

However I am often amazed how little research there is around B2B customer experience, where the odds can be greater and the relationships just as, if not more, important.  Unlike when selling directly to the consumer, the business-to-business sales process is not an emotional one.  Although still based on the quality of your service or product, suitability to a need and of course, price, the process is often more complex and transacted across a number of channels.

Let’s look at a few statistics…

A recent research project from CEB quoted 81% of companies had a strong capability for customer experience delivery that could outperform its competitors. The same report stated that a 1% improvement in customer satisfaction could yield a 4.6% improvement in a company’s market value and it is stated that the cost of acquiring a new customer can be five to eight times more than generating the same revenue from an existing customer[1].

So what are the big questions within B2B customer experience?

The evidence suggests that focusing on customer experience drives customer sales and keeping a customer happy will lead to more sales at less cost. So as a company, how do you ensure your customer service model is effective? And what are the five key things you should be asking about your company when it comes to the customer service you provide?

1. How do you measure your customer experience?

Firstly, look at the way you measure your customer experienceGetting the right measure is crucial for aligning your organisation and uniting it around the customer. Simplicity is the key and having an understandable metric that is not only for the boardroom but also for one-to-one conversations with your Call Centre agents is vital. Simple measures like Net Promotor Score – NPS (looking at the number of people that would recommend you and those that are either neutral or would actively discourage others to use you) or Net Easy (asking customers how easy you are to do business with)  might not dig deep enough to provide your organisations with enough steer to make the right improvements.

You might want to make the decision to use an outside in/inside out measure where you ask your customers for their feedback to work towards fixing their issues and driving improved customer satisfaction.  However, customers can only perceive the effect of any issues rather than the cause so although this might highlight an area which needs to be improved, it won’t give you the solution or necessarily even identify the problem.

As an alternative you may want to drive for an inside out measure – a process metric that looks to model and measure each step of your product development, sales, provisioning and repair processes to simulate performance and to identify key failure points for improvement.

2. Does your customer service have transparent financial linkage?

The second big question is around how to create financial linkage to demonstrate return on investment. Traditionally customer service and customer experience has boiled down to hard numbers including discussions around operations of call centres, maintenance teams and the like.

What is needed in this modern world are the hard facts and figures but also a translation of the softer measures such as engaging and creating an emotional connection to customers into a financial language will engage the board.

A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect on profits as cutting costs by 10%. (Danial Alcorn – research)

3. Have you created a consistent experience at all touchpoints?

So we have established that you need to measure customer experience and you need to evaluate it financially, but how do you create a consistent experience at all touchpoints for your customers? This is of course where B2C campaigns focus and where many market leader brands get it right. 

Ensuring you have strong brand values and a brand promise is key. Ensuring your messaging both internally and externally is consistent is also the only way that you can really expect your customer to understand what you are saying loud and clear. That means everything from what your call centre team are saying to your livery on your vans need to have the same voice. It also means that your employees need to have clear guidelines and act as advocates for your brand so when they are dealing with customers they are being consistent and true to your brand.

At Platform we work with a number of clients to give them just this – a clear brand identity and one which is taken through from their logo, through their website and online presence to their offices and the way they represent themselves at events.

An example of this is a current client, a leading UK energy provider who work both B2B and B2C. The challenge was to come up with a branding vision which carried their environmental messaging and worked across all their company locations and in communication direct to consumers and customers alike. The messages need to be clear and consistent and the vision and priorities of the company simply communicated and reiterated at every channel.

4. How do you collaborate with customers?

So consistency is key whether a customer is engaging with you via an app, at a point of purchase in a store or sees your company name sponsoring a football match. Yet, your brand also needs to be flexible and utilise your customers and customer research to keep evolving.

A recent research project carried out by the Institute of Customer Service into the future of customer service identified the growing power of customers. The research identifies an increasing demand by customers to be involved as co-creators in the development of products and services, meaning that input from customers will drive new product development, functionality and service provision. 

Customer collaboration is a key part of lean processing – early iterations with customers allows IT solutions, new products, new services and solutions to iron out all those issues that are only apparent in actuality rather than in customer requirement documents (CRD)s.

Establishing a collaborative industry engagement programme where the solutions to moving the whole industry onto a new platform will be worked out collectively rather than imposed by an individual company is a big step change, but one which has proven for those who have embraced it to be highly successful. 

5. Have you got your supply chain on board?

The final big question is how you bring in your supply chain. You are not an island of delivery and any drive for customer experience must ensure those who are working on behalf of you and your brand work with you to service your customers.

Many forget that those who work with you, the DHL man who delivers your product to the office or the provider who installs into your clients’ infrastructure is also representing your brand, your company and will be part of the customer experience equation as much as those physically in your office.

So B2B has a lot to learn when it comes to customer experience and yet, with the journey will come the opportunities. In the commercial marketplaces that many of us operate, making small shifts to research and improve our customer experience could result in great rewards.

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[1] Source (Alan E. Webber, “B2B Customer Experience Priorities In An Economic Downturn: Key Customer Usability Initiatives In A Soft Economy,” Forrester Research, February 19, 2008.