Do B2B companies offer great customer experience?
We are father and son, and have spent the last two decades measuring customer experience. This is a subject that fascinates us and has led to B2B Customer Experience: A Practical Guide To Delivering Exceptional CX.
When preparing the blurb for the book the publisher asked if we could name some B2B companies that are guiding lights because they have achieved praiseworthy CX. Without being ungracious to the many companies that we have worked with, we can't think of any that justify being put on a CX pedestal. We emphasise that we are talking about large B2B companies, mostly international corporates. There are many small B2B companies that provide marvelous customer experience. And there are many corporates that have divisions and local business units that do a great CX job.
But, something happens when B2B companies become behemoths. They organise themselves into departments. They become process led. They may have excellent sales teams but these people aren't always strong enough to fight the production, credit control, or logistics departments to provide amazing CX. This shows up in customer satisfaction scores which usually range between 7.5 and 8.0 out of 10. Net Promoter Scores are typically between 25 and 30. Somewhere in these B2B companies there could be divisions or geographical regions where scores are higher but in the main, they hover around the mediocre level.
Why is this? Why do these large, apparently successful B2B companies do such an unexceptional job at offering excellent CX? It is this failure to perform that led us to write the book.
From the many surveys we have carried out we see that there is a key requirement for excellent customer experience. The leadership team has to believe in it. The leadership team should be totally committed to it. We can almost hear words of protest as we suggest that this commitment is lacking. Of course we know that leadership teams understand the importance of customers - but only to a point. The commitment to CX often goes by the wayside if the B2B supplier has to choose between investing in customer service or a new machine for the production line. Customer experience is compromised if the B2B supplier has to accommodate customers’ needs by changing the way it does things. The leadership team in B2B companies may simply not get the link between healthy financial returns and providing great CX.
Commitment is therefore the starting point for delivering excellent CX and this requires a special culture within an organisation. With true commitment, the other pillars of CX fall more easily into place.
Next the B2B supplier must excel at fulfillment. By this we mean they must have a great promise and by hell or high water this promise should be delivered – every time. We see this regularly in B2C companies where names like Amazon, John Lewis and Zappos show how it can be done. B2C companies make it easy for customers to do business. B2B companies find it more difficult. The bigger the B2B company, the more likely it is to have its processes and ways of doing things. There will be lots of justifications for these procedures but they nearly always get in the way of great customer experience. Departments are run efficiently but don’t speak to each other. In fact, the customer is treated as if it is a privilege they are being served by the company. They do not feel valued. B2B suppliers are not renowned for being easy to deal with. They do not provide a seamless service.
The worlds of B2B and B2C are increasingly becoming blurred. The people involved in selecting B2B suppliers also spend money in the High Street. They have got used to questions being answered immediately. They expect fast deliveries because that is what they get everywhere else. It is the way of the world nowadays. Responsiveness is a key requirement and, unfortunately, it is not a strong suit of B2B companies.
Customers buying from B2B companies do not order products or services for personal consumption. Their purchases become part of something else which may well be another component in the value chain. B2B customers do not buy widgets, they buy solutions to problems. If a supplier can fully understand the business of the customer and eliminate the widget or make one that is faster, better or cheaper, it will be a customer champion. This requires the B2B supplier to be proactive, all the time looking for ways they can better serve customers. Innovation is really important to B2B customers.
Research among large B2B companies in Europe and the US show that more than half acknowledge that they fail on the six pillars of customer experience. In our book we explore how a focus on these six pillars will help B2B companies improve their profitability, customer loyalty and gain a competitive edge.
Where do you sit on these pillars - are you in the red or the green? These are the foundations, the starting point, of great customer satisfaction. If you fall into the red on any of the pillars, take a look at our page on CX steps on this website and see how improvements can be made.