It is popular wisdom among business managers that you make money by selling more products, increasing prices, or cutting costs. Cutting costs can provide a temporary boost to profits but this raises the threat that the cost-cutting will remove something that is a benefit to the customer. In any case there is a limit to how many costs can be cut in the long-term. Increasing prices can provide a sugar hit. Customers may continue to buy at the higher prices generating a profit boost for the company. However, there is a limit to the toleration customers have for higher prices and it won't be long before customers look around for alternatives. The only sure way of increasing profits is to sell more products. This is easier said than done. If it was just a question of hiring a new sales rep or spending money on advertising and watching the new flow of business, everybody would do it.
We have spent decades researching what makes customers buy more products. This research shows that the most important factor driving long-term growth is great customer experiences. We are not alone in this belief. The Temkin Group, based in the United States, carried out research that says 86% of people receiving excellent customer experience are likely to repurchase from that company, compared to only 13% of those who had a very poor customer experience. Forrester, another market research company, found that customer experience leaders grow revenue at 17% (compound growth), considerably faster than the CX laggards. The consulting group, Accenture, estimates that the business costs of poor customer experiences is as much as $1.6 trillion from US customers who switch their service to a different brand or service provider. There can be no doubt about it, exceptional customer experience is critical to growth.
Emotions and customer experience
So what is a great customer experience? It isn't having the product delivered on time in full. This is a good customer experience but it is what should be normal. It isn't receiving a product that works as promised. Again, this is a good experience but the customer is simply receiving what they expect. Great customer experience is something that may be a single event which so pleases the customer, it is never forgotten. A customer that is short of product and needs an urgent delivery will remember for a long time a supplier who pulls out the stops to solve the problem. A customer that has been struggling with a technical issue that is solved by the supplier will almost certainly repay with loyalty. Great customer experiences can also be good experiences that are repeated time after time. A supplier whose deliveries never fail, whose products never disappoint, who is always available to deal with enquiries and does so promptly, will be thought to offer a great customer experience.
We believe that great customer experiences are built on emotions. Small companies know this. They will work nights and weekends to solve a customer's problem. They will bend over backwards to be nice to customers. They will deal with them promptly and efficiently. They know that without customers they cannot pay the rent. Small companies understand the importance of engaging emotionally with customers and offering great customer experience.
The curse of becoming a corporate
When companies grow, especially business to business companies, they can lose this emotional attachment. Large B2B companies need processes to ensure that their products are made efficiently. Departments are set up to run production, finance, sales, marketing and HR. These departments may be superbly managed but they can also become silos, working independently of each other and view customer requests as inconvenient disruptions to their efficiency.
When customer satisfaction levels are measured among the customers of these large B2B suppliers, the results are almost always mediocre. A score of 7.5 out of 10 is quite typical. This may look good as it is more than the halfway point on the scale, but it should be remembered that a score of 7 out of 10 is considered quite low on this measure satisfaction. If you were to give your dentist a score of 7 out of 10 for satisfaction it is more than likely you will be looking for a new one.
The foundations of exceptional customer experience
In our book, B2B Customer Experience: a practical guide to delivering exceptional CX, we provide a model for escaping from the mediocre satisfaction trap. The foundations of good customer experience are six pillars:
1. Commitment: the most important pillar is to have total commitment to customer experience by the leadership team of a company. This may seem obvious as all business leaders are likely to say that their customers are vitally important. For many large B2B companies their customers are much smaller in size. Over time the B2B corporate suppliers begin to feel that they are the dominant partners. Once this happens, managers of B2B companies believe it is just a question of educating their customers to see things their way. These B2B behemoths need to think like small suppliers with real and genuine commitment to their customers if their customer experience program is to succeed. Customer experience programs are not just for sunny days when things are going well, they need supporting in the difficult times. The customer service desk is easy prey for making cost savings but it is just as important as the stock in the warehouse and the production line.
2. Fulfilment: every company makes a promise, even if only implied. It is assumed that products will work as promised. It is assumed that orders will be delivered on time. All the promises that are made and customers’ expectations of those promises, must be delivered – time after time after time. It is this consistent fulfilment that builds trust in the brand and is an important foundation of great customer experience.
3. Seamlessness: the silo mentality of large B2B companies and their obsession with processes can make them difficult companies to deal with. Customer’s problems shouldn’t be restricted to the sales force. Everyone within the B2B supplier that can solve the problem needs to take ownership. Customers want suppliers who are easy to deal with. Research by Salesforce says that 74% of people are likely to switch brands if they found the purchasing process too difficult. Customers have become used to effortless processes when buying consumer products and they expect the same from their business to business suppliers.
4. Responsiveness: the people who buy B2B products also buy B2C products. In B2C markets being quick and easy to deal with is vital. It is why Amazon has become so successful. B2B customers want the same speed of responses to enquiries and deliveries that they have become used to elsewhere in their busy lives.
5. Proactivity: B2B customers hope that their suppliers truly understand their business. Customers are looking for suppliers that use this understanding to help them gain a competitive edge. A supplier that can offer products that are cheaper, faster or better will be seen to provide excellent customer experience.
6. Evolution: the things that please and excite today soon become standards. Providing great customer experience requires suppliers to constantly be thinking of different and better ways of serving their customers.
Building a CX strategy based on 5Ps and brand
With these six pillars in place it is now necessary to develop a business strategy based on the 5Ps (product, price, place, promotion, and people) and a strong brand. The product needs to be right for the target audience, the price must offer value, the place (availability) must be everywhere suited to B2B customers, the people must be customer orientated and the brand must deliver against its promise. These are all basic components of any good business strategy and each plays a vital role in delivering exceptional CX.
And finally something extra for the emotions
The six pillars provide strong foundations for customer experience and will allow the 5Ps and the brand to build sales. There is one thing left for the customer experience program. At the beginning of this article, it was argued that emotions play a vital part in customer experience. Emotions are affected by little things and they are important. They are the cards or notes sent to customers to celebrate a birthday or an event. They are the unexpected treats that say thank you to the customer for their business. They are the genuine smiles and warm words of thank you when an order is received. A customer experience program isn't simply a question of saying "have a nice day", it is a model based on firm foundations, a strong strategy, and never forgetting the little things that matter.
The only long-term way to increase revenue and profits is to deliver exceptional customer experience.