Customer experience discussions often focus on consumer-facing (B2C) companies, but what about those organizations that sell to businesses (B2B)? Our research shows that customer experience is extremely important in the B2B environment because it drives loyalty, each relationship can be extremely valuable, and business customers increasingly have consumer-like expectations.

To understand how B2B firms can best tap into the power of customer experience management, Temkin Group surveyed about 100 B2B companies and interviewed dozens of others. In the report "Best Practices in B2B Customer Experience," we identified two critical areas of concentration for B2B customer experience:

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1. Client-oriented mindset. Organizations have a natural tendency to operate from an internal perspective, focusing on the needs of their functional silos more than on their clients. To offset this tendency, B2B firms need to build repeatable and systematic processes for gathering, analyzing, and taking action on customer insights.

2. Client-centric relationship management. Once companies gain a deeper and more widely shared understanding of their clients, they need to infuse that knowledge into how they manage client relationships. Today, account management functions tend to be oriented around sales generation and firefighting. To build stronger, longer-term ties with clients, B2B firms must head towards a more client-centric model of account management that uses client insights throughout the relationship management continuum.

Here are some best practices for building a client-oriented mindset: 

  • Develop Closed-Loop Voice of the Client (VoC) Programs. Having a reliable flow of customer insights across the organization is critical to driving customer-centric actions. The law firm Becker and Poliakoff staffs a dedicated client care department and uses those same specially trained employees to proactively contact 2,500 randomly selected clients each year. This continuous feedback process gathers input on the attorney and other service providers involved with the account, along with an open dialogue on how the firm's professionals are serving them and what the firm could be doing better.
  • Use Journey Maps to Better Understand Clients' Needs. To better understand how clients see their experiences, B2B organizations can use a tool known as customer journey mapping. Genworth Financial's U.S. Mortgage Insurance Division conducted over fifty internal interviews with employees from across the organization to develop its journey maps, which were then validated through another 40-plus leadership reviews. The company uses the completed maps to guide ongoing measurements of each priority touch point and it uses the maps when developing marketing campaigns to keep the offering and message on point for the intended audience.
  • Tap Into Virtual Client Advisory Boards. Client advisory boards (CAB) and councils provide the opportunity to acquire more insight into customer needs and expectations. Technology solutions provider CDW has engaged clients through a private online community for over seven years. Using open-ended questions or short surveys, the company can gather a significant amount of feedback on a variety of topics including new product offerings, marketing messages, and customer technology usage—in less than a week.

Here are some best practices for building a client-centric relationship management:

  • Account-Level Experience Reporting. To acquire, retain, and grow B2B relationships, account managers need to understand what's working and not working for each of their clients. Through the company's CRM system, Oracle account managers have a complete view—across all teams that interact with that account—of feedback from traditional relationship surveys, product panels, and transactional and other targeted surveys. They also can see primary account issues, root causes and corrective actions, and what specific customer contacts are saying anecdotally in executive boards and councils they participate in.
  • Insightful Business Development. B2B organizations that gather and use the right customer insights during this early stage will create a differentiated experience from the start of the relationship. . To assist with keeping its reference program supplied with fresh participants, Verint examined its existing customer survey and identified three screening questions to use to identify potential references. If the questions are answered positively, the customer is shown a brief description of the reference program and asked about his or her interest in talking to the reference team.
  • Collaborative Account Planning. By taking a structured and collaborative approach to developing in-depth account plans, companies can tap into their enterprise knowledge. Stream Global's Executive Sponsorship Program uses senior leaders to establish peer-to-peer relationships with senior executives from one to three of its largest clients. The goals of this program are to extend the relationship beyond the sales team, to better understand the customer's business direction and goals, and to ensure the customer is receiving the value it expects from Stream.
  • Proactive Intervention and Support. B2B organizations need to use customer insights and feedback from account managers to intervene in service experiences gone wrong as quickly as possible with well-defined, robust recovery procedures. VMware has a dedicated Customer Advocacy Team, which is tasked to contact severe detractors within 48 hours of a survey response. This team pulls appropriate members of the account and support teams into the resolution process and retains responsibility for ongoing customer communication and monitoring internal progress.

Yes, customer experience is critical for B2B. If you want to build strong relationships with business customers, then your company should build a client-centric mindset and develop client-centric relationship management.