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Are you a B2B company struggling with customer experience challenges?

When I go to customer experience conferences, B2B companies are under-represented, both in attendees and speakers. When clients look for benchmark data, B2B reports are few and far between.

Those are just a few examples of why I wanted to revisit a question I posed in a post I wrote two years ago: If you work for a B2B company, is customer experience still an important focus? In short, yes.

Clearly, there are differences between B2B companies and customers and their counterparts on the B2C side. There are other differences, too: different challenges, different approaches, different personas, different stakeholders, different customers (partners vs. end-users), and different desired outcomes. The B2B customer experience proves to have its complexities. But that doesn’t mean we should throw our hands up and ignore this important business type and its customers.

I think B2B companies clearly need more guidance than they’ve been getting about how to address the customer experience challenges and how to become customer experience leaders. It can be done! So it was interesting to see the findings of some research that Accenture published in their report, Managing the B2B Customer Experience. They’ve got some thought-provoking findings, starting with some of the outcomes they uncovered…

  • Only 23 percent of B2B companies achieve strong returns from their customer experience initiatives.
  • 20 percent (despite stating customer experience’s importance) generate low or even negative returns.
  • 57 percent are in the middle, idling in customer experience mediocrity. They lack a sound customer experience strategy and/or the ability to execute well.

Something’s missing here. They know that: B2B companies that consistently and significantly outperform their peers stand apart by having both strong strategies and execution capabilities.

What’s the strategy? And can you execute? Accenture has identified three key areas on which B2B companies need to focus:

1. Start from the back… to get to the front
Leaders don’t view service as a separate and final phase of the customer lifecycle. They combine product and service to drive outcome-based growth.

For B2B customer experience leaders, the customer service touchpoint is the most important point in the customer experience lifecycle. They also know they will need to redesign and reinvent the service and support experiences to keep up with customer expectations. Accenture notes that, for customer experience leaders, service has been repositioned as: (1) the gateway to the outcome economy, (2) a channel for proactive engagement, and (3) the new sales.

2. Over-invest in traditional
Leaders invest twice as much as their peers in offline capabilities such as contact centers, field 

service processes and tools, and legacy CRM systems.

Leaders understand that traditional, offline channels are critical. They invest double their peers in traditional post-sales capabilities, e.g., contact centers, field service processes and tools, service talent development, etc. And they believe they need to have the right people, tools, and resources to achieve their customer experience objectives.

3. Over-invest in digital
Leaders devote two-thirds of their customer experience budgets to digital. But these investments aren’t made in isolation. Digital augments physical experiences to deliver omnichannel customer experiences that customers notice and value.

B2B customer experience leaders believe their digital investments will positively affect customer interactions and translate into a competitive advantage.

Accenture wrapped up the report with some key differentiators of B2B customer experience leaders:

  • Rather than improving experiences to reduce costs or to keep up with  peers, they capture new revenue with products, services, and business models that customers notice and value. 
  • Rather than taking a broad approach to investing or allocating resources, they identify, understand, and continually improve their strengths and spend wisely.
  • Rather than waiting to be disrupted, they use customer experience to produce disruption and growth.

Definitely an interesting report. If you work for a B2B company, which of the three key areas above has your company adopted?

In the age of the customer, executives don’t decide how customer-centric their companies are — customers do. -Kate Leggett