Mastering 4 Key Customer Experience Competencies

Understanding these four activities can help B2B firms drive customer centricity throughout their enterprises.
Customer Strategy

Discussions about customer experience often focus on consumer-facing companies, but what about those organizations that sell to other businesses? Research by Temkin Group shows increasing CX attention and activity among B2B companies.

We surveyed 148 large B2B/B2B2C organizations and found that they are:

Raising their CX ambitions. While only 4 percent of these organizations see themselves as industry CX leaders today, 57 percent of them want to deliver the best CX in their industry over the next three years.

Coordinating their efforts. Nearly 60 percent of large B2B/B2B2C organizations have significant, coordinated CX efforts underway across their companies, with one-third of all B2B firms having more than 10 full-time employees on their centralized CX teams.

Making the most of listening. More than 70 percent of these organizations report that their voice of the customer (VoC) program has had a significant, positive impact on their CX efforts. They are also seeing positive results from their efforts to report on CX metrics and make customer-focused process improvements.

For B2B organizations, customer experience, and its impact on loyalty, is something they cannot ignore. Given the size of individual accounts, retaining each relationship can be essential for B2Bs; hence why they frequently use retention is a critical success metric. At the same time, clients and prospects are comparing their business interactions with B2B companies to their interactions with personal consumer companies, and these comparisons result in higher expectations for their B2B relationships when it comes to experience elements such as ease of doing business, gaining extra value, etc. Although B2B organizations recognize the importance of CX and have activities underway to improve it, most are still in the early stages of CX maturity. In fact, less than one in eight firms have reached the two highest stages of maturity.

To become more customer-centric, organizations must master Temkin Group's four customer experience core competencies: Purposeful Leadership, Compelling Brand Values, Employee Engagement, and Customer Connectedness. When building these competencies, B2Bs need to consider how they can bolster efforts across a number of key activities: sales and account management, implementation/project execution, support and issue resolution, partner alignment, and product management and innovation.

Sales and account management. To acquire, retain, and grow B2B relationships, sales teams and account managers need to develop a deeper, more coordinated, and more ongoing understanding of what is and is not working for each of their clients. This approach requires companies to continuously collect and act upon insights regarding the critical aspects of their clients' experience. To help account teams work more proactively with their customers, EMC is pulling together its customer experience data in new ways to create a variety of diagnostic and predictive views. One example of this is internally facing dashboards that bring together relevant data to provide account teams with a view of each individual customer's health. For example, the service account manager dashboards show everything from product status to various metrics on EMC performance and service requests.

Implementation/project execution. Because many B2B clients don't realize the full value of their purchases until after long or complex projects, B2Bs can't wait until this work is completed to gauge how well they are delivering their customer experience. For engagements that meet a set of defined criteria, Kronos conducts 30-minute phone interviews as the project passes key implementation milestones. It designed this process both to drive action at the account level and to identify performance and process issues that require improvement across the board. When the milestone interview indicates an unhappy client, alerts are sent to the appropriate engagement owners for follow up. To keep leaders focused on CX improvement, the CX team shares a one-page email summary of each interview with Kronos senior leaders and executives, along with access to the audio recordings of the interviews.

Support and issue resolution. To keep B2B client relationships on track, organizations need to be ready to address "make or break" service issues. These key moments need to be addressed one-on-one with the customer and also made visible across the organization to uncover root causes and implement long-term solutions. At a large B2B/C services organization, cross-functional leaders, including its chairman, receive an update on the most escalated instances of severe customer dissatisfaction. These escalations trigger an accelerated response by a dedicated CX team member who acknowledges the issue, tries to better understand what has happened, and makes an agreement with the customer on next steps towards resolution. After each escalation is resolved, executives receive a summary report, which includes any long-term corrective action or process changes that the company is introducing to eliminate future issues that share the same root cause as the escalation being addressed.

Partner alignment. Even the B2Bs that don't sell directly to their end customers still strive to build loyalty through excellent customer experiences. However, because these companies do not control all of the customer interactions, they must work with and through channel partners. One way to do this is to bring partners in to give feedback directly to company employees, who can then integrate their insights into CX design efforts. VMware uncovered a clear need from customers for strategy and product roadmap information. The company tackled this issue by involving partners. This not only helped the company understand how to address customers' needs better, it also taught VMWare how to help its partners be successful. This collaboration resulted in a corporate-wide program that delivers strategy and product content, along with implementation guidance, on a platform that ensures the information is relevant, consistent, and up-to-date.

Product management and innovation. B2B CX isn't only valuable for strengthening specific client relationships; it can also be extremely valuable for driving new products and more differentiated services that reflect both a company's strong technical expertise and a customer-centric mindset. Innography offers a variety of opportunities for customers to get involved and share their input. For example, it has three customer advisory boards that participate in virtual and in-person meetings and discuss their needs and the trends affecting their businesses. Often the company will take ideas generated by these advisory boards and feed them into its online customer community for broader input. The online community, named Zipline, offers all customers the opportunity to submit, comment on, and vote for ideas. It also asks them questions and enables them to interact with each other and the company in other ways.

When the competition is ignoring something, then it's easy to follow suit. But that's no longer the case with customer experience in the B2B realm. B2B firms must seize the opportunity to use customer experience to drive customer-centricity throughout key processes across the enterprise.