B2B companies looking to create and sustain superior customer experience need to master four competencies -- purposeful leadership, compelling brand values, employee engagement and customer connectedness. A new insight report from Temkin Group, “Best Practices in B2B Customer Experience,” reviews these competencies as well as the rising importance of customer experience in the B2B marketplace.

According to the Temkin Group report, customer experience is growing in importance for B2B marketers for several reasons:

  • Business Loyalty -- Customer experience is an important driver of loyalty for B2B industries. Among IT vendors, Temkin Group data shows that Net Promoter Scores depend more on account management than products and services.
  • Crucial Customers -- Individual customers have a much greater impact on the success of B2B companies than they do on B2C companies.
  • Consumer Expectations -- B2B customers compare their B2B customer experience to their B2C customer experience and are disappointed if the quality is not the same.
  • Bandwagon Jumpers -- B2B companies are increasingly “jumping on the bandwagon” when it comes to providing a B2C-like customer experience, meaning B2B companies that don't follow suit are at increased competitive disadvantage.

Despite the growing importance of B2B customer experience, Temkin Group finds that the B2B vertical in general is not doing a good job of providing quality customer experience. Major impediments in the space include a lack of proficiency in the aforementioned four key competencies, significant internal silos and failure to translate their brands into specific customer promises, reward employees based on core corporate values, define target customers or integrate customer feedback into business processes.

In terms of building proficiency in the four key competencies, Temkin Group makes the following suggestions:

  • Purposeful Leadership -- Temkin Group says executives must “lead by example,” with top executives regularly interacting with customers and being graded on the organization's customer experience quality.
  • Employee Engagement -- Employees engaged in the customer experience process will try harder to provide high-quality customer experience. Sharing customer feedback with employees who serve customers helps engage them in the customer experience process.
  • Compelling Brand Values -- Organizations need to develop consistent core brand values based on customer wants and needs. These values should drive customer-facing employee behaviors, and employees should be rewarded for successfully enacting these behaviors.
  • Customer Connectedness -- Customer insights must be integrated across the entire enterprise. This includes creating metrics based upon customer insights, making customer feedback widely available on a timely basis and tracking of customer data to determine which types of data are most important to driving customer satisfaction.

The Three Types of B2B Customer Interaction

Temkin Group places B2B customer interactions into three broad categories -- channel relationships, small business relationships and large enterprise relationships.

Channel relationships involve selling through third parties (such as distributors for IT vendors) and require customer experience management for both the middleman and end customers. Small business relationships tend to have customer experience models that are similar to B2C relationships, while customer experience management for large enterprise relationships needs to consider stakeholders such as end users and decision makers in the areas of contracts, finance, purchasing and AP.


Building a Client-Oriented Mindset

Temkin Group advises B2B companies, which often have an internally-focused mindset, to adopt an externally-focused “client-oriented” mindset. This involves three key steps -- developing closed-loop voice of the client (VoC) programs, using journey maps to better understand client needs and using virtual client advisory boards. Following is a deeper look at each step.

  • Closed-loop VoC programs -- These programs should be built around the “six Ds” of detect, disseminate, diagnose, discuss, design and deploy. Specific examples of successful closed-loop VoC programs include letting customers help design customer experience surveys, careful monitoring of all customer interactions and making customer feedback widely available to employees.
  • Journey maps -- Customer journey maps allow B2B companies to visualize customer roles, which touchpoints are most effective at which stage of the process and how internal activities affect customers at different stages of the buying process.
  • Virtual client advisory boards -- B2B companies can easily encompass the viewpoints of a wide variety of geographically dispersed clients by creating virtual client advisory boards. These boards can provide a customer's perspective on customer experience issues such as product development, customer support, technologies customer use to engage with the brand and business challenges customers face. There should never be any direct marketing or selling in any advisory board activities or communications.

Part of the client-oriented mindset should include client-centric relationship management practices. Account teams should be provided comprehensive analysis of all customer feedback, and customers should be offered differentiated purchase experiences based on their feedback. In addition, account teams and customer experience experts should collaboratively design customer-centric account plans and there should be recovery procedures in place so account managers can proactively solve problems and retain customers who otherwise might leave.