Customer Experience News & Trends

5 reasons B2Bs blow away B2Cs in the customer experience

B2Cs, listen up: New research says you have a lot to learn from B2Bs when it comes to delivering the customer experience.

They may build widgets, not flashy storefronts. And their road warriors may not be as hip as Abercrombie & Fitch salespeople. But B2Bs have the leg up on providing outstanding customer experience, according to new research from Temkin Group.

Who deserves the attention now?

B2C companies may get all the media attention, but their counterparts are excelling where they don’t. In fact, many B2B companies use the customer experience as the foundation for stronger relationships and market share, Temkin Group analyst Aimee Lucas said.

Turns out, B2Bs — the guys who make ball bearings, industrial cleansers, complicated payroll software and automotive parts — have established best practices in seven areas of the customer experience.

There isn’t much that a B2C or a fellow B2B, who’s just catching on, can’t learn from their benchmarks.

Here’s what researchers found:

They understand customer needs better

B2Bs tend to rely more on a steadfast (some may say out-of-date, but they’d probably be wrong) way of understanding what their customers need and when. They use Customer Journey Mapping. And, more importantly, they help everyone across their organizations understand what it means to customers and their companies’ successes.

Journey maps are visual documents that illustrate customers’ needs, the series of interactions that are necessary to fulfill those needs, which people or departments are responsible for fulfilling those needs, and the emotions customers experience throughout the process.

In many B2Bs, service, sales and marketing professionals create customer maps yearly to help colleagues see and understand how each interaction — from the moment customers look at their website to the day they place their last order — negatively or positively affects customers’ emotions and reactions to the company. The maps — circle or bar graphs, animations or pictures — are customized so they’re easy for everyone from shipping clerks to the CEO to understand.

They close the loop on customer feedback

Do you think the 19-year-old clerk ringing up your new shirt at the mall has any idea what you (or thousands of others) said in the recent online surveys you all received? Not likely. Not likely, at all.

B2Cs don’t tend to close the loop on voice of the customer (VoC) programs, customer relationship management (CRM) initiatives or any kind of customer surveying they do as well. That’s not to say they don’t make changes and improvements based on customer feedback. They often just don’t tell employees the reasons for the change: We asked customers what they wanted, they told us this and we’d like to make this change for them.

Now to B2Bs: They take their reliable flow of customer insight and spread it throughout their organizations. That drives decisions to be customer-centric at all levels and in all departments.

Skin gel manufacturer D.O. Weaver and Co. in Aurora, CO, holds regular meetings with all employees to review what they’ve heard from customers — hard data and anecdotal. The CEO and his business development manager, Janice Hayes, ask employees to share something they’ve done for a customer in the past week. They also ask employees for suggestions on ways to improve the customer experience based on the feedback they’ve received. Then they close the loop: Everyone knows what customers said, experienced and wanted, and they make changes based on that customer feedback.

At insurance company Thames Batre Mattei, management shared feedback from customers with all employees on a recurring issue. But it wasn’t until they played recorded calls of customers complaining about the issue that employees wanted to find the root cause and fix it for good. The first-hand customer feedback motivated employees to close the loop.

They tap virtual advisory boards

You’d think the hip B2Cs such as Abercrombie that want to cater to the “cool” would rule the virtual business world. But their plethora of Facebook “Likes” and Twitter following aren’t leading them into the ranks of world-class customer experience providers.

B2Bs have done it right by concentrating more on advisory boards, rather than Facebook and Twitter. It gives them more interaction with their most loyal customers. In many instances, customers are honored to be invited to be part of the virtual advisory boards.

When pulling together customers to be part of an advisory board, it’s best to schedule regular meeting dates and times, send agendas early that focus on just one or two topics, and ask customers to be prepared to participate.

The Customer Advisory Board has seen B2Bs successfully use boards to:

  • spot early warnings of shifts in needs and emerging opportunities
  • prevent customer attrition among top-tier customers
  • obtain feedback early in new product development
  • get advice on approaching and appealing to new customers, and
  • gain insight on competitors and their products and services.

Example: Information technology company CDW has had a client advisory board for more than seven years. CDW can gather feedback in less than a week when representatives pose open-ended questions or send surveys to the advisory group on topics such as new product offerings, marketing messages and customer technology. Plus, advisory members can pose questions to each other. Then a CDW rep keeps monitors the online exchanges (in case they need help or insight), and even reports relevant information to other areas of the company that can learn from what customers discuss.

They give personal account attention

How about the clerk at the cell phone provider — does he know what works and doesn’t for you? Or is he just trying to sell you on the latest promotion? Yes, the B2C associate will give you friendly, insightful help, but he doesn’t tend to know as much about customers’ account histories, preferences and needs as much as account managers at the B2B level.

In fact, the Temkin researchers found that many B2B companies dig down into customer data — gathered from surveys and internal research. Then they can determine when and with whom things go well and things go wrong. In the B2C arena, those individual transactions are a bit harder to track – often because they’re shared between so many different people and channels.

The personal attention to accounts can pay off big time, too. In this B2B case, it paid off to the tune of $4 million:

When Ron Burley, senior partner at Brushfire Consulting, was involved in a software company, nearly everyone at the company had a part in taking care of customers. So one day Burley took a call from a customer who called often with issues that could mostly be chalked up to user error. Burley spent hours patiently working the customer through that day’s problem, hung up and didn’t hear a word from the customer for several months.

As time went by, it was assumed the customer was lost. Then the purchaser from a much larger company called Burley, wanting to standardize the product his company used across more than 300 outlets. Burley’s old customer had been part of the acquisition, and highly recommended Burley and his company because of their great personal attention. It turned into a new $4 million account.

They respond and recover better

B2Bs do a better job of fixing issues that affect customers — sometimes before, sometimes after customers know what’s happened — and bouncing back as a stronger organization in customers’ eyes than B2Cs. Granted, B2Cs might have the deep pockets and thick skin to stay afloat after a major screw up. But they can learn a lot from the way B2Bs better manage unfortunate circumstances so that they rarely lose customer loyalty.

Mistakes and failures are make-or-break moments in the customer experience. Rather than try to sweep them under the rug, businesses are usually better off using them to build the customer relationship.

The basic steps to recovery include:

  1. Notify customers of the issue and how you uncovered it. Use social media, email, calls, texts … whatever are the fastest, farthest-reaching tools you have.
  2. Apologize. Once customers know something has gone wrong, they want the company to take responsibility for it. An apology will be the most appreciated part of any gesture of goodwill.
  3. Explain. Customers usually prefer a short explanation of what’s gone wrong, what you’re doing to remedy it and when they can expect everything to back to normal.
  4. Follow up. When all is resolved, use the same channels to tell customers what’s been done.
  5. Make amends. After some time passes, it doesn’t hurt to apologize again for the inconvenience. Offer some kind of discount or special reason to come back or stay with your company. holds weekly reviews between several departments to check on issues that were escalated and make sure the recovery was fully coordinated. They use dashboard software to track the resolution timeline, and executives discuss open issues until they’re fully resolved. In extreme cases, customers that are affected by a major issue are flagged for being at risk of leaving. Then senior executives and reps from areas where the issue started get involved by following up with customers.

To stay ahead of situations that might need a recovery, the call center in Dakota Dunes, SD, for consumer electronics company Vizio created an Escalation Team of reps who took care of big issues for customers before they turned into relationship-breaking issues. The reps were hand chosen by Senior Director of Operations Scott Patten because they’d already proven themselves compassionate with upset customers. They invited customers to vent all they wanted. Then they responded at the end of the venting with: “I will take care of this.”

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