Customer Experience: What it is and isn’t
We often hear the term customer experience (CX), but we also hear multiple interpretations of what it means.
Our definition is that CX is an overarching approach and philosophy where leadership sets a culture that is customer-centric. This means that a every single touch point a customer makes, from interacting with a person wearing your logoed shirt, to placing an order, to calling in for support is simple, delightful, and expresses to the customer that you acknowledge and respect their time and their business.
In the B2B world, there are many customers at a given company:
The CIO is a customer in terms of approving of the way your solution fits into her or his overarching tech strategy.
The IT department is a customer in that they are typically responsible for deploying your solution and making it work.
The Line Of Business manager is a customer in terms of determining the best solution for solving their specific business problem.
The procurement manager is a customer in that they need to make sure your solution can physically be ordered and purchased.
Why does this matter? As Cathy Engelbert, CEO of Deloitte has said, “No matter what technology and shiny new tools we use in our business, we should always come back to relationships.” CX is the ultimate measure of your multiple relationships at each stage of your customers’ journey with you.
What Customer Experience Isn’t
I’ve seen the destructive nature of price and feature wars over the course of my career. This “race to the bottom” has happened since the dawn of technology, and seems to be the norm whenever there are at least two companies going after a target market. I first saw this with PCs at Hewlett Packard, and most recently saw it with smartphones at Samsung.
You might think the customer wins if they get the lowest price or the most features, but in my opinion it’s a pyrrhic victory since this reduces the conversation to two characteristics that are not very meaningful to the long-term success of the company making the purchases.
Let’s use the example of smartphones, when Samsung recently introduced their Galaxy S10 model. We can already expect that Apple will announce a smartphone that will be slightly less expensive, with one more Mb of storage, another camera lens, or another feature improvement. The ball is then back in Samsung’s court to drive costs down even further, and create yet another new feature at their next launch.
One downside of this strategy is that customers may delay their purchases since they’ve been “trained” that lower prices are just around the corner. And when feature upgrades are minor, customers may delay purchasing since they are not compelled to make the change.
When vendors focus on price and features, they miss the salient point of value. The reality is that few B2B customers buy based on incremental features or price differentials. They buy from the vendor who demonstrates that they understand their needs and can solve them.
How do B2B Customers Make Purchasing Decisions?
When we meet with customers at advisory meetings or in their offices, they tell us that they ask themselves the following questions when making a strategic purchasing decision:
Does the vendor understand my needs?
Can the vendor demonstrate how their solution will add value and help my organization achieve our overarching goals?
Is my team’s experience in working with the vendor simple, effective, and delightful?
Can I expect a B2B experience?
Can I trust that the vendor will be there for me in the long run?
You can see that none of these deal with the nuances of price or features. It’s all about the value the solution will deliver, and that value can only be understood through the relationship between the vendor and the customer.
The obvious people involved from the vendor are the sales team and the service and support staff. However it’s critical to understand that customers form opinions based on every single interaction with a vendor, which goes so much more deeply than sales and support personnel.
Every touchpoint sends a message to the customer about how you value them.
Building an Outstanding Customer Experience
These touchpoints all add up to the customer experience. And how do you create an outstanding CX? Here’s what we did.
We took a disciplined approach to analyzing and addressing our customer experience. Our process started with mapping the stages for our B2B customers.
Step 1: Map the customer experience across the customer journey
We started by analyzing the experience we provided at every step of our customers’ journey. There are many customer journey models to follow, but we typically followed the framework below. Since many of these elements will vary by product, we created a separate map for each major product, for example you might have a journey map for each of your software and hardware solutions.
In a nutshell, if you have high awareness at your target customers, that means they know who you are. High consideration means that you are in their selection pool. A good example Kevin Gilroy uses is: while I’m aware of Ferraris, they are not in my consideration pool.
The purchasing step is the actual financial transaction. The time and process between when you physically receive the product and when you can actually use it is the implementation or installation stage.
The use stage is the customer’s experience operating your solution. And service and support comes into play if you have any issues or problems with the solution.
Step 2: Identify who is Best in Class at Each Stage
Once we had our mapping framework, we looked at who we considered to be “best in class” at each stage. We examined the experience they provided, the emotions they engendered, and the quantitative and qualitative items that represented why they are considered world class.
No matter what industry these companies come from, it’s key to determine what they do well that you can adopt.
Step 3: Identify your Processes and Experiences Under Each Stage
We next put ourselves in our customers shoes, and we asked customers to determine how well (or not) we were doing in each phase of the customer journey. The goal in this step is to document exactly what the B2B customer goes through when they purchase our solution. Here are some questions we asked at each stage
Are we present where our customers find information (websites, which social media platforms, influencers)
Are we communicating a consistent value prop?
Are we using language that our customers use and expect and can relate to?
Is our brand clearly understood to our target customers?
Is it easy to configure our product?
Is it easy to find pricing?
Is it easy to find requirements?
Is it easy to get a demo unit to test the solution?
Is it easy for customers to place an order?
Are our contracts simple or do they require the customer to hire lawyers to buy our solution?
Do we offer flexible financing options?
Can customers purchase through partners?
Are installation and implementation intuitive and simple for the users and the customer’s IT team?
How long or how many steps does it take to go from opening the box to being able to use the solution?
Does the customer need additional personnel to install the solution?
Is the installation so difficult that the customer’s users will bypass security measures?
Are the User Experience and User Interface intuitive and delightful?
Do the customer’s users love using the solution and would they recommend it to others?
Is the customer’s IT department happy with our solution or does it require them taking on an additional burden to keep users productive?
Can the B2B user easily get their job done with our solution?
Is there a dedicated B2B service and support team and process?
Can the customer easily reach and get service and support?
Do we offer an appropriate B2B response and turn-around time?
Repeat this process for each major role at your customer.
In the B2B world, you need to keep in mind that you have multiple stakeholders at your customers. It’s hard to make a blanket statement on Installation as an example. It might be easy for the end user, but only because the IT department had to spend hours creating a special fix for your solution.
You might have more personas or roles you need to map, but we typically would map at least two constituents: The IT department and the actual user.
Step 4: Look at your competitors
This step will help you when it comes time to prioritize each item you will address. We examined our major competitors so we knew the stages where we were at parity with our competition, where we felt we had a leadership position, and where we lagged.
Step 5: Prioritize the areas to be addressed
Now that you’ve mapped the stages and graded yourself on the experience you’re providing, and know your strengths and weaknesses relative to your competitors, it’s time to figure out where to begin to improve your CX.
Ask your customers
We listened to customers every chance we got. Data can be gathered on a sales call, at conferences, or through social listening. We also made a point to host Customer Advisory Councils where a small group of executives across many industries were invited to share what’s working and what’s not. This was our dedicated focus group for testing hypotheses and prioritizing potential areas of improvement.
Focus where you have the biggest gaps relative to your competitors
If your B2B ordering experience is roughly the same as your competitors, this might not be a top priority. But, if your support process is painful for your B2B customers while your competitors provide an excellent B2B experience, you should concentrate on the Services & Support phase.
Prioritize each area by your ability to make an impact and the impact itself
We typically would plot our items on a 2x2 box of IMPACT and ABILITY.
For example, if you know your contracting process is complex, but it’s designed at headquarters and mandated, then even though the impact would be HIGH, your ability to make the change is LOW.
Another example could be if your B2B out-of-the-box experience is overly complex, and your customers tell you that a video instruction guide would make a big difference, then you might have a situation with a HIGH ability and HIGH impact.
In fact, we’ve had customers tell us they won’t upgrade to a new product because the installation takes too long, and if we could solve for that, they would upgrade more often.
Step 6: Monetize the Impact
Our experience is that it will take senior leadership support and budget to simplify any of the processes to be more attractive to your B2B customers. One way to gain support from leadership and for budget is to monetize the impact that you expect to generate. We would create a business case to outline the impact of the change in terms of customer revenue and satisfaction to support our ask for resources.
If we go back to the video instruction guide example, let’s assume that the typical B2B customer spends two hours from the moment they open the box to the time they can actually use their new product. This could be time spent in configuring, setting up the company’s security policies, copying over old apps and photos, etc.
Let’s also assume it will cost your company $1000 to create a 5 minute video. After watching this video, the customer can now install your product in 20 minutes, saving the customer (either the user or the IT department) 1 hour and a half for every unit ordered.
By simplifying the installation process, we anticipate selling 10% more units. Multiply the annual unit cost by 10% to get the additional units you’ll sell, which you can now compare to the $1000 investment to see if it will pay off.
Step 7: Create a Process to Track Progress
After we identified our priorities, we assigned owners, specific deliverables, and due dates. Depending on the extent of the project, you might have weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly checkpoints. The goal is to keep making progress in delivering improvements. Once you solve for the first few areas, you can move on to the next.
My personal philosophy is that there is always something more you can do to improve the CX for your B2B customer, so it’s important to take a disciplined approach and to make a commitment to listening to your customers.