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Feb 23, 2022

How B2B companies improve customer experience

As a result of the digital transformation, customer experience (CX) is also becoming increasingly important in the B2B environment. In their quest for the optimal customer experience, B2B companies usually lag behind the consumer business. But can B2C even serve as a blueprint? Only to a limited extent, says Dr. Jan Seifert of UID. In an interview, the CX expert explains why and how B2B companies should rather focus on their own strengths instead.

Successful companies have always focused on the needs of their customers. Nevertheless, customer experience management has continued to gain importance in the last few years. Why is that?

Digitization is fundamentally changing information and buying behavior: Today, customers can find out about a company, its services and products on numerous digital channels. This opens up new opportunities – both for companies and for their customers. To capitalize on this, companies need to provide a positive experience for their customers along the entire customer journey – whether it's on the website, social media, talking to customer service, or an on-site visit. Important keys for more customer orientation are big data and automation. This way, individual measures can be personalized to the needs of potential customers. Customers are thus always reached at the right time at the right touchpoint.

B2C companies in particular are pioneers when it comes to customer experience. It is not surprising that, according to a study*, 81 % of business customers even explicitly wish for a customer experience similar to that in the B2C sector. But is B2C at all suitable as a model for B2B companies?

B2B companies are confronted with entirely different conditions than in the B2C sector. B2B companies are generally aware of this for the first time. However, when companies discuss specific solutions for customer experience management, this quickly fades into the background. Usually, the first impulse here is to copy B2C best practices. Firstly, it is underestimated that certain solutions cannot simply be transferred one-to-one. And secondly, B2C solutions do not consider the strengths of B2B companies, in some cases they even undermine them.

Of course, B2B customer experience management can learn from consumer business. But it is important to reflect on one's own situation, analyze one's strengths and question what is taken for granted. This hurdle should not be underestimated.

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What exactly do you see as the main differences between B2C and B2B? What are the challenges of B2B?

Different products and services, different customer relationships or a largely de-emotionalized purchase or investment decision – the differences between B2C and B2B are many. A significant difference: B2B companies have a much smaller and more differentiated customer base. This is naturally reflected in the topic of “data”: Customer experience management in the consumer environment is known for its enormous amount of available data and for the research opportunities it offers. For example, Google once tested how 41 different shades of blue affect users. With the number of users and the infrastructure that Google has built over the years, such a study can be conducted quickly and cost-effectively. Even if shade of blue no. 6 performs only 0.1% better than shade of blue no. 38, this can make a big difference in Google's number of clicks and sales figures. We have not yet experienced such research approaches in the B2B environment.

As in B2C, there is not the one and only type of customer, but many different target groups with different roles, interests and skills, needs, customer journeys, etc. To arouse and maintain interest, companies must address them individually. Unlike B2C, however, the B2B environment usually lacks the data volumes to identify, segment, and address these different stakeholders.

How should companies deal with these different requirements?

B2B companies have multiple sources to gain information about their customers. However, they typically make insufficient use of them. They need to integrate the exchange or management of knowledge about customers and users into the DNA of the company. The digital and analog channels would have to be thought of as a unit to a greater extent than in B2C. This requires a holistic approach that coordinates digital and face-to-face communications and blends them into a consistent experience.

Specifically: What exactly should B2B companies do to improve their customer experience?

First, companies should consider customer experience management as a "pure" marketing topic and place it there. In my view, this is also an undesirable development for many B2C companies. But, for the time being, this can still be tolerated. However, such an approach would be disastrous for B2B. Instead, all customer-related competencies must be included – from marketing to sales, service to product management and development. Together, they need to design a customer experience strategy that is right for the company. This should reflect on the strengths mentioned above and make the best possible use of them. This does not mean that all processes must necessarily be digitized. Analog processes have their place/justification – wherever they are superior to digital ones.

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Do you have a specific example that shows when and why digitization doesn't always make sense?

One of my customers is aware that their core digital product has some quality deficiencies. Of course, these are also perceived by the company's own customers. One remarkable thing about this is however: Service and sales rely almost exclusively on interpersonal channels, providing customers with a comfortable "air cushion". In the future, the company must position itself better digitally. But personal relationships and outstanding service quality can prevent the customer base from quickly turning away.

Building such personal customer relationships is difficult. But that's precisely what many B2B companies already bring to the table. A strength they should build on. Because interpersonal customer relationships are many times more robust and create trust. Digital relationships, on the other hand, are fast-moving: The market competitor is just a click away. It is more difficult and slower for companies to react to dissatisfaction and frustration in the customer relationship: It is usually only noticed when the customer does not return for a long time.

Interpersonal customer relationships are therefore an excellent source of information. For successful customer experience management, B2B companies need to find ways to utilize them.

In return, do you have an example from a B2B company of how customer experience management works in an exemplary manner?

Customer experience management is still in its infancy – if not in a much earlier stage – at most mid-sized companies. But I know numerous companies that can build on excellent capital. With the right measures, they are able to make great leaps forward in terms of customer experience.

Our CX expert

For more than 10 years, Dr. Jan Seifert has been working as a Lead User Experience at User Interface Design GmbH (UID). He has extensive experience in all phases of human-centered development. Depending on the project requirements, the qualified psychologist carries out the process himself, guides it or implements it. His focus is on the enterprise, industry and automotive sectors. Jan shares his comprehensive knowledge and practical experience in presentations and lectures. He is an active member of the User Research working group of the German UPA, the professional association of German usability professionals.

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