New technology is driving much of today’s channel shift in business-to-business sales and marketing as it speeds information exchange, product discovery and order entry online. But customer-facing technology built around the demands of systems rather, than the actual needs of the customer, can negatively affect a company’s brand, reputation and loyal following.
“No matter how complex the business, customer experience always boils down to a human being trying to accomplish a goal,” says Megan Burns, CEO of consulting company Experience Enterprises. “Eighty-four percent of customers say being treated like a person, not a number, is important to winning their business.”
Burns will deliver a keynote address, “Great Customer Experience Isn’t Magic: How Systems Drive Smiles at the World’s Most Customer-Centric Companies,” at B2B Next, to be held in Chicago Sept. 30 – Oct. 2. An expert on customer experience management with two decades in the industry, she has an inside view of how leading companies earn loyalty from the people they serve.
In an interview with B2BecNews, Burns shared where she sees B2B companies thriving, or missing the mark, in the online customer experience they provide—and what they can do to improve, right now and in the future.
Q: What’s the most important thing that B2B companies underestimate about creating a world-class customer experience?
Burns: B2B companies underestimate how often they de-humanize customers by referring to them as “users” and “buyers” or in terms of function such as “procurement” and “IT.” De-personalization is a problem because you risk ignoring—and thus failing to meet—customers’ social and emotional needs—which are just as important, sometimes more, than their functional needs.
You also risk wasting time on aspects of the experience that no one cares about. In dozens of B2B research projects, I’ve found customers’ functional goals almost always turned out to be much simpler than expected, while their emotional needs were significantly more nuanced. A mix of qualitative and quantitative customer research gives you the most complete, balanced, accurate picture of the humans you’re trying to serve.
Q: What role does emotion play in fostering a compelling B2B customer experience?
Burns: Emotion links the customer’s past experience and future behavior. When someone is choosing a supplier or deciding which channel to use, they think back to similar past situations. If working with a company or channel gave them negative emotions—for example, caused them to miss a deadline—they won’t want to risk feeling that pain again. But if you made them feel good, they’ll be more inclined to give you another try.
Not all events from the past matter equally, though. Humans remember strong emotions more than mild ones, like a really bad experience that turned someone off forever or a really great one that made them loyal for life.
Q: What are the key elements of constructing a leading B2B customer experience?
Burns: Three things:
♦ First, a clear sense of what the customer is trying to accomplish. Take onboarding. Few customers would say their goal is to be “on-boarded”—they’re trying to reach a point where they can use your tools to solve their problems.
♦ Second, a design process where you iterate with customers toward a final design. Customer experience design isn’t like math—there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s more like a game of “you’re getting warmer, you’re getting colder.”
♦ Third, criteria for evaluating the experience once you’ve implemented it. Some aspects can be captured with numbers, but deciding whether it’s good or bad is a more complex, nuanced and subjective process.
Q: How do B2B companies use journey mapping most effectively to identify customer pain points?
Burns: Base your journey maps on input from front-line employees, who deal with customers every day, for the most accurate view of what people go through—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Too many journey maps show what’s supposed to happen, or what executives think happens. You may find out that employees have been absorbing the brunt of customers’ pain for them through workarounds or coordinating things behind the scenes to hide just how broken your internal processes are.
But don’t focus only on what’s wrong. Employees have a wealth of insight into what’s working and can help you turn pockets of best practices into a new, more effective standard for serving customers.
Q: What’s the biggest upside that B2B companies miss when considering new investments in improving customer experience?
Burns: Some leaders think that to get results you need a mammoth overhaul of some system or process. Others feel that if a change won’t show an immediate impact on revenue, it’s not worth doing. Both views are short-sighted. In B2B, it’s rarely a big disaster that sends clients to the competition. It’s “death by a thousand cuts.” Small, fixable hassles chip away at the perception that your brand is helpful and easy to work with.
Leading firms take a parallel approach. They work on a package of small changes at the same time they figure out the big issues. The result is a constant stream of improvement, little bursts of delight that show customers you know you need to improve—and are working hard to do it.
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