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What makes B2B customer experience different?

Thirty to forty years ago people used to go to the same place for their holidays, year in and year out. People used to eat at the same restaurants. They would go to the same pubs week in and week out. There was a time when people wore the same suit day after day. People were happy with their holidays, pubs, restaurants and the clothes they wore. Things have changed. It's not that loyalty has disappeared; rather it is that people are searching for new experiences. New experiences are easier to find nowadays. In a snap or an instant, experiences are shared by Snapchat and Instagam. Technology has become a vital component in customer experience.

Things are different in business to business markets. Of course the same technology exists but it isn't used in the same way. It would be rare for a business buyer to Snapchat a mate saying "hey, look what I've just bought!". For a start, it wouldn’t be very exciting. Few mates would be interested in a photo of a box of widgets. Secondly, stability has a value in B2B markets. B2B buyers like things to change slowly and carefully. Fast change may be a recipe for disaster.

There is no doubt that technology has changed business to business markets, but mainly it has affected processes. For example in B2B markets:

  • Technology has enabled just-in-time purchases. Stocks can be kept to a minimum; product is available exactly when needed. Manufacturing efficiencies have improved enormously.

  • Telemetry enables automatic ordering. When stocks fall below a certain level, an order is automatically sent to replenish the supply. Time and money are saved.

  • New suppliers can be found in an instant. It doesn't mean to say that new suppliers will be used in an instant because it will be necessary to test products and delivery promises. That said, technology has broadened the scope of new suppliers and turned it into a buyers’ market.

  • Information can be stored and retrieved more easily than ever before. Customers’ needs can be better served because their predilections can be unearthed in an instant.

These changes have influenced efficiencies in processes. The result may well be faster, cheaper, better products (or services) but it doesn't mean relationships with suppliers are improved. Certainly buyers appreciate immediate confirmation of their order but if the delivery date is three weeks longer than was hoped, they won't be happy. Customers may be able to communicate in three or four new ways with the supplier but if the supplier is never available when they are called, it will surely create dissonance.

In business to business surveys we frequently ask buyers how many years they have used the same supplier. It is not unusual for the answer to be at least 5 years and often it is more than 10. In B2B markets people do not move suppliers in the same way Joe Public flits between new restaurants. B2B buyers do not usually act alone. A bunch of them are required to approve a change in suppliers. B2B buyers are concerned with the total cost of ownership. Changing a supplier puts that cost at risk. The new supplier could fail in so many ways and B2B buyers are risk averse. They know that a new supplier may promise, faster, cheaper better, but words are cheap and can’t be guaranteed.

B2B markets are different to B2C markets. They are more complicated. They have different levels of buying authority. They have a requirement to keep delivering in a dependable way. But this is no excuse for believing that B2B customer experience doesn't matter. It matters more than ever because the loss of just one important customer can be devastating for a supplier. Of course B2B suppliers must make as much use as they can of technology but at the end of the day, B2B customer experience depends on helping customers make money through a deep understanding of their needs. It is relationships not technology that counts.


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