Woman writes on a wall filled with sticky notes.
PHOTO: Andrey Popov

Customer experience is about designing the right experience, actively working to understand customer needs before they tell you, and supporting the back-end processes and employees who deliver those experiences.

That is oversimplifying customer experience, but for the sake of a definition, it works.

Customers tell us they want more accessible, easier, more convenient digital experiences, and this isn’t just B2C. In B2B customer journeys, the digital experience is not keeping up with the needs of B2B buyers and customers:

  • 60% of B2B customers prefer not to communicate with sales as their primary source of information. In fact, 68% of B2B customers would rather research independently online, according to a report from Forrester.
  • 99% of B2B buyers report they will purchase through a completely digital self-service model, as reported in a McKinsey survey.
  • The vast majority of B2B buyers reported in that same survey feeling “very comfortable” with $50,000 purchases or higher entirely via digital self-service.

Time to Step Up the CX Game, B2B

Why, then, do so many B2B customer journeys insist on the “call us during business hours” model to get basic things done?

I’d argue this is because customer experience, in general, is often treated as a reactive tactic, instead of a proactive strategy. And this is especially true in B2B organizations. I’ve heard the words “we can’t be Amazon” as if that’s a logical explanation.

Yet Amazon themselves brought their customer-centric approach to their Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud services, and have been steadily claiming more and more of the cloud services market by working to reflect their winning B2C customer experience. (They currently own 33% of the entire market.)

Is your organization guilty of reactive customer experience? Could proactive digital experiences serve your customers better?

Related Article: CX Decoded Podcast: Building a Customer-Centric Approach in B2B

Reactive CX: Customer Journeys Are Defined From the Past

My son’s preschool teachers always stressed the idea of “process over product.” They encouraged parents to avoid focusing on the outcome of an activity. The act of finger painting, for example, wasn’t about a completed painting. The outcome wasn’t what was teaching the children. It was the process that was critical to a child’s growth.

The same rules apply to understanding the customer journeys and journey mapping. The process is the power.

Your customer experience is in constant evolution, even if your products or services aren’t currently evolving. B2B customers report wanting to have partnerships, guidance and leadership from their suppliers. They want their providers to understand them and the marketplace overall.

Think of all the ways proactive digital experiences could provide this type of leadership in any industry:

  • The marketplace changes — supply chain disruptions, fuel limitations, and workforce shifts have all had major impacts on the B2B customer journey. Yet these disruptions are often only addressed AFTER the fact. What digital tools could help both the organization and the customer feel more in control? Digital supply chain management is certainly one way to do this.
  • Customer expectations change — B2B customers are B2C customers in their lives. That means the expectations they have as customers remain. For example, they are used to seeing where the car they ordered on the app actually is in real-time. They expect to see their delivery trucks in this same way.
  • Heck, the whole world keeps changing pretty dramatically from one quarter to the next! If your customer journey is defined based on reality from 2019 or even last quarter, it’s time to revisit what is actually happening in the real world. Fuel costs, transportation issues and even the stock market are all roller coaster rides right now. Get proactive about communicating with your customers in honest ways that don’t shy away from these realities.

Customer-centric organizations need to take proactive steps to deliver in this ever-evolving world.

Proactive CX: Journey Maps Live, Work and Grow With You

I’m a big fan of journey mapping, but not because I consider myself an archeologist. I’m not interested in artifacts.

Instead, I’m a fan of the process. And that means creating a way to update, learn from, and experiment with journey maps. Because the best journey maps are used to create better experiences, understand specific customer segments, test new products and services and ultimately deliver more for customers.

That’s not to say it’s easy.

In a roundtable discussion, 25% of customer experience leaders reported challenges keeping journey maps simple enough to manage, maintain, share and use. It’s a delicate balance of creating a tool that is simple enough to use and detailed enough to provide real insights.

But therein lies the beauty of a living, breathing tool: You don’t have to get it perfect the first time. By committing to revisit and refine your customer journey maps over time, you free yourself to create something that can serve your organization today and continue to serve you better in the future.

Proactive CX means leveraging what’s learned in journey mapping and applying those insights to innovation. Journey maps can be powerful communication tools. Proactive leaders use journey maps to tell the story that leads to action.

Related Article: B2B Supply Chain Issues? Consider These CX Solutions

Proactive CX: Weaving Customer Service Into the CX Leadership

CX leaders need to connect with customer service to hear directly from customers, understand the trends agents are seeing,and provide proactive solutions for customer complaints.

This is more than just the right hand knowing what the left hand is doing. This is about a cycle of communication and ideas:

  • CX leaders who are designing new processes or parts of the journey need to communicate proactively to the customer service leaders.
  • Customer service leaders who are hearing specific feedback need to communicate directly with CX leaders.
  • By collaborating to focus on the customer, these teams can create more efficient and effective processes.

Proactive CX: Be Your Own Disrupter

CX leaders know that if they aren’t the industry disrupter, then they’re about to be disrupted! Don’t wait for someone else to introduce better digital experiences. Disrupt the market by focusing on ways to drive more B2C-like experiences in the B2B journey.

I like hosting a Disrupter Day. This is done by inviting in a team or cohort to define the dream journey for a customer of the future.

Throw out the rules of engagement for today’s marketplace. Instead, consider what customers really want, then wave a magic wand. Disrupt your own industry. What experiences could be more digitally accessible, transparent or fun?

Instead of a traditional journey map, you have a disruption map. While some ideas might be too ahead of their time, there are usually quite a few that are worth exploring. For example, creating an app for delivery drivers to get more accurate time estimates might not be that heavy of a lift. But it could solve one of the biggest complaints customers in your industry have.

Proactive customer experience drives better results. To get there, leaders need to, well, be more proactive about practicing proactive, strategic thinking and execution.

What’s Your Plan to Be Proactive?

Proactive customer experience means connecting dots throughout the organization and the customer’s journey. The above examples are just some of the ways customer experience can end up being a reactive fix instead of a proactive design. But there are many more opportunities to focus on proactive CX.

There are a lot of things to think about when it comes to customer experience. Without a plan, it’s easy to slip into a place of doing but not necessarily acting on behalf of the customer.