Customers now expect the same, high-quality experience at work, as they get in their home life. How can B2B business rise to these new expectations, and why does that present a big opportunity for those willing to grasp it?
"When creating a marketing strategy for a B2B or B2C environment, businesses need to think about the unique person they want to reach and cater to that individual's needs."
"Customer expectations are at an unprecedented high” is a familiar refrain. As customers ourselves, we may feel the truth in that. We are faced with more choices than ever and can switch from one competitor to another with ease. And when considering these choices, price is no longer the driving priority. Instead, loyalty tends to hinge on a consistent, personalised customer experience. Indeed, evidence suggests that businesses do recognise the importance of customer experience. In a survey of 1,920 business professionals about their priorities over the next five years, 45.9% identified customer experience as their top priority.
However, this focus on experience and engagement is often discussed in the context of business-to-consumer (B2C) transactions, when it should be applied to all customer relationships. Harvard Business Review reports, “As [business-to-business] B2B offerings become ever more commoditized, the subjective, sometimes quite personal concerns that business customers bring to the purchase process are increasingly important.” In other words, purchases by both individuals and businesses have a critical human element.
B2B purchasing decisions are still ultimately made by people
Most people have come to expect that, in their personal lives, they can buy something with two clicks, receive tracking updates until the item arrives at their home and consume this information seamlessly on multiple devices. Indeed, what was once considered to be advanced omni-channel capability is now the bare minimum expected of a B2C brand. However, when a person moves into their work life to make a purchase that is significantly more valuable, they are increasingly underwhelmed by the experience that B2B businesses provide. So often there are forms to fill in, repetitive hurdles to jump and a lack of transparency in the buying process. This experience is no longer considered acceptable, and as the impact of COVID-19 continues to blur the boundaries between our home and work lives, this difference becomes even more marked.
The convergence of customer expectations in B2C and B2B environments is not a new trend, but neither is it to be feared by B2B businesses. Yes, the bar set by consumer-facing organisations is high, but this also presents more channels with which to engage customers. For example, buyers are increasingly likely to engage with potential business suppliers online, just as they would for their own personal shopping. Forbes posits this can be a positive change for B2B marketers, encouraging an “emotional touch” and the creation of “zero degrees of separation from you and your audience through sharing life online.”
Brand awareness and fit are important elements of value, whether someone is making a purchase on behalf of their company or their family. We are more likely to choose a brand that is used by businesses or people that are like us because it feels less risky. The B2B Institute, partnering with Les Binet and Peter Field, argue that businesses “need brand activity to create demand…and they need activation to convert the demand efficiently into revenue”. Their belief that the optimum budget for B2B marketing is 46% brand and 54% activation contradicts the old theory that brand is of little importance in B2B transactions and reinforces the more recent concept that all purchasing decisions are made by humans. Human behaviour is remarkably similar whether we are in work or play mode.
Think about person-to-person marketing
So, what can B2B businesses do? These changing attitudes present a huge opportunity for those that can grasp it. B2C businesses have paved the way by investing in the technology to make stunning experiences possible, such that the costs of the tools required to achieve this have dramatically reduced in recent times. At the same time, as businesses continue to demonstrate what good customer experience looks like, the available pool of knowledge and experience has increased significantly. All of this makes change achievable for B2B businesses. Of course, there are still major hurdles to overcome, not least for those businesses who continue to carry significant legacy technology estates. However, these are almost universally problems that have been well known for some time, and it is increasingly recognised that now is the time to do something about them.
However, it takes more than just technology to improve a customer experience, and traditionally B2B businesses have been very good at managing personal relationships and key customer accounts. If those real, human relationships can be augmented with an understanding of what customers now expect, it would only take a relatively modest improvement in customer experience for a B2B business to really stand out from the competition. To do so requires a shift in the mindset of an organisation, recognising that customers now expect more for their loyalty. B2B businesses need to think beyond account management and consider the entire customer journey from start to finish, identify where it fails and work towards a B2C standard when considering customer experience improvements. Ultimately, when creating a marketing strategy for a B2B or B2C environment, businesses need to think about the unique person they want to reach and cater to that individual's needs.
A customer service transformation for a global aerospace manufacturer
Oaklin has experience with making every customer experience a great one, regardless of whether it occurs in a direct B2C transaction, with a government or with another business. We led a customer service transformation for a global aerospace manufacturer with an ambition of becoming ‘customer obsessed’ across all customer types.
Our team used quantitative and qualitative user research throughout the customer experience design process to understand the context of each customer and then identifying and prioritising customer experience improvements. By creating customer personas within each customer type and mapping unique journeys, interactions and behaviours to those personas, we were able to create an optimised end to end design.
The key to success of this piece of work was not just changing customers’ experiences, but also upskilling our client’s customer service teams to support ‘customer obsession’. We also provided the customer service teams with a ‘Customer Playbook’ that outlined new processes and behaviours that enabled our client to deliver the best possible experience at every part of the customer journey. A customer playbook was created outlining the new process and behaviours that would need to be exhibited across each part of the journey to ensure the best experience was delivered.
Erin is an accomplished change management expert with 14 years of experience helping businesses understand how people are impacted by transformational change and deliver lasting results.
She blends empathy and knowledge of human behaviour to guide people through uncertainty and prepare them to succeed in the future via continuous sharing, open communication and tailored learning. Her approach to change leads to a holistic approach to employee engagement and customer experiences.