Is B2B customer experience as important as it is in B2C companies? Every industry has its presumptions, and in the B2B (business-to-business) space, some have long held that customer experience is less important than for B2C firms that sell directly to consumers.
After all, the very definition of B2B businesses leaves out the word consumer: it refers to companies selling to each other, such as software, facilities management, and countless “as a service” products.
What’s the old saying about never assuming anything?
As consulting firm McKinsey notes, the notion that building a customer-centric organization matters less for B2B firms is a “flawed assumption… in our experience, a customer-centric mind-set is just as critical in the B2B space.”
Correct. While B2B businesses are technically providing products and services to companies, they are selling to individual buyers who are consumers. In other words, they are marketing their services to humans.
And most B2B companies have a leaky bucket – customers that are leaving them regularly without telling them why.
Which means that B2B firms should also focus on customer experience – because CX results in more customers who spend more, stay longer, and refer others.
Customer Success vs. Customer Experience
Often, B2Bs have “customer success” departments, and GetFeedback, a customer experience feedback platform, aptly describes this team as “responsible for post-sales onboarding, adoption, and usage monitoring.”
With just one quick look at a job description for many “customer success” roles, it’s clear that “customer success” is just a euphemism for “inside sales.” If a customer success team is not incentivized on client satisfaction, willingness to recommend, or even success of the engagement, and if the team is held accountable solely for getting each client to renew and ideally spend more money next year than they did this year, then that is a sales department. It is not a customer experience department.
Unfortunately, that kind of strategy puts the company at odds with the very customer it is trying to retain because that’s not how clients think. No matter how happy clients are with your SaaS (software-as-a-service) platform, they don’t want to pay more next year; they want to pay less. Your job is to provide them with so much value that they can’t live without your product or service. That will plug the “leaky bucket” and make price irrelevant.
The GetFeedback State of B2B Customer Experience Report found that “about six of 10 organizations have a Customer Success team, but that by itself was not a differentiator. What matters more: teamwork. Sixty-two percent of Leaders say that Customer Success and CX teams work well together, versus just 49% for Laggards.”
In fact, the study continues, most B2B businesses lack a core CX team, defined as “responsible for collecting customer feedback in coordinating CX activities with other departments.” Forty-two percent of respondents did not have even one part-time person taking ownership for these CX activities.
Using Humor in B2B Marketing
That may be a tall order. B2B companies tend to be somewhat cautious in their marketing, even as research shows that B2B buyers are increasingly focused on customer experience, in part because of the rise of digital communication channels.
As one B2B communications firm puts it: “B2C marketing has long relied on humor to connect with customers, whether it’s a swamp full of frogs selling beer or cavemen selling insurance. But B2B examples are a much rarer breed.”
Yet being funny and having fun can be two different things.
Planable, a cloud-based social media firm, certainly isn’t dull on its website, urging prospective customers to “stop losing hours on brain-mushing grunt work.” Planable, of course, solves that problem with “way more time and way less busywork.”
Technology firm Cisco, meanwhile, created an online comic book to dramatize the fight against cyber criminals, starring an anti-hacker character the firm created called SuperSmart.
Not laugh-out-loud funny, but certainly clever – and a “smart” way to enhance the experience.
B2B Customer Experience Challenges
Given the nature of their business, B2B firms face some unique customer experience challenges.
A recent survey of B2B professionals cited a lack of communication among teams as the biggest obstacle, followed by other hurdles such as an inability to acquire and retain talent and difficulty forging “a unified view of the customer.”
Experts say that speaks to a larger issue: B2B firms have many different types of customers across industries, making it harder to provide a consistently excellent experience. They are also often further removed from the end users of their products than B2C companies, and tend to provide more services than their B2C counterparts, increasing complexity.
B2B Customer Experience Examples
Yet it is imperative that B2B firms overcome these challenges for some of the same reasons customer experience is important for any brand.
Experts recommend customer experience steps for B2B that mirror those for any company, including reward and loyalty programs, good communication with customers on phone calls and online, and smart use of social media.
Some B2B firms go above and beyond:
- Marketo, a marketing software company, created an online marketing coloring book to attract customers. “From a content marketing perspective this book may look like a giant piece of ‘chocolate cake,’ as in only here to entertain,” it explained. “But you can’t judge a book by its cover and you may be pleasantly surprised to find that this activity book consists of all the necessary elements of a successful and valuable piece of content.”
- Adobe, a multinational computer software company, hosts “Experience-athons” so employees can test out new products before real customers ever see them. “Adobe Experience-athons are all about engaging employees in using Adobe apps and services while creating knowledgeable brand ambassadors,” says the company. “When employees have a chance to use our products first-hand, they gain a better understanding of what it is like to walk in the shoes of our customers.”
- Verblio, a content creation company, writes fun job descriptions that really stand out in a crowded marketplace. For a recent Director of Partnerships & Strategic Expansion position, the company asked candidates about their childhoods and whether they were “the kind of kid who strategically traded stuff from their lunchbox for even more delicious stuff from other kids’ lunchboxes”.
- Slack, the digital communication and collaboration tool, often relies on customer feedback in determining product enhancements. When the software launches, it famously tells users to “Please enjoy Slack responsibly” – a play on the legally-mandated language of the alcohol industry. Client administrators can also customize the welcome message.
- Benco Dental, the largest privately-owned dental supplies and equipment company in the U.S., offers dentists who want to build or redesign their offices can a complimentary visit to Benco’s CenterPoint Design. That’s a showroom featuring 25 fully equipped operatories, filled with real dental equipment, furniture and supplies so that dentists can experience the environment up close before making a major purchase decision. “We make these deeper-level connections with customers,” says Melissa Sprau, Benco’s director of design, explaining that company leaders invest so much time, effort, and money into prospective customers because a vast majority of them end up buying. And when a dentist designs a new office, they’re likely going to need some dental equipment and supplies to go with it.
Related: An Interview With Chuck Cohen, Managing Director of Benco Dental (Video below; Transcript here.)
Main image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay. Excerpts included from The Experience Maker: How To Create Remarkable Experiences That Your Customers Can’t Wait To Share, used with permission.
This is part of a series of industry articles featuring customer experience examples that any company can use.