Personalized experiences, broad digital ecosystems, and a deep understanding of the dynamics of social influence all contribute to keeping B2C brands in front of consumer minds and giving them an easy path to purchase. B2B marketers should take heed: As B2B purchasing evolves and buyers increasingly imitate the shopping habits of consumers, B2B brands ought to rethink their own customer experience, particularly because the latest evidence suggests few are delivering both growth and return on investment.
According to the Accenture Strategy report “2015 B2B Customer Experience,” only 23% of B2B organizations are implementing truly effective customer experience programs and achieving higher revenue growth as a result. The rest–the vast majority–are missing the mark. Those in this group (who we describe as the “Laggards”) report an average annual revenue decline of -1%.
Barriers To Success
Where are B2B customer experience programs falling short? Streamlined digital access to information, influencers, and channels have fueled a demand for more “consumerized” experiences, which has blurred traditional marketing-purchase-service paths. B2B customers are therefore now more empowered to continuously evaluate organizations and the promises they make around their products and services.
Internal roadblocks are also preventing B2B companies from meeting these higher customer expectations, according to the sales and customer services executives we surveyed. Only 32% of executives said they are well-equipped with the skills, tools, and resources necessary to deliver the desired B2B customer experience. Many also point to a lack of C-suite attention and the cross-organizational integration needed to make an impact.
B2B companies overwhelmingly recognize the importance of customer experience to their corporate strategy and bottom line, but the large majority are wasting their investments on changes that are delivering mediocre results. With consumer-like expectations and a substantial threat from new market entrants, B2B companies should be more prepared to design and execute a transformed customer experience.
How Customer Experience Leaders Succeed
The research identified three groups of B2B organizations–Leaders, Strivers, and Laggards–with each group characterized by their ability to plan and execute customer experience and deliver annual revenue growth. With just over one-fifth (23%) of organizations remaining as Leaders since last year, more Laggards have moved up to the Strivers category, increasing the latter from 48% to 57%.
Leaders stand out by consistently and significantly outperforming their peers in customer experience with both strong strategies and execution abilities. These organizations do customer experience “right” and enjoy higher-than-average revenue growth. Comparatively, Strivers achieve an average of 6% annual revenue growth. Leaders also stand out by viewing after-sales service as a critical part of the customer life cycle, as well as investing in both new digital technologies and traditional customer connection points.
To compete, incumbent organizations recognize they need to make a significant shift in their business models: Seventy-eight percent of executives said they think higher customer expectations for tailored B2B solutions will have a substantial impact, and 76% said they believe customers are now more knowledgeable, self-directed, and continually evaluating suppliers.
B2B companies looking to re-energize their customer experience results should refresh their digital strategy, using new digital capabilities as the catalyst across the customer journey. They can do so by following the steps that our research uncovered as key elements to success:
1. Start from the back to get to the front: Many B2B companies believe that customer service is the final stage of the customer life cycle. This outdated belief can serve as a major roadblock on the way to delivering better experiences. Customer service channels have become as–if not more–important than sales channels, and as such must be thought of from the outset, not as the final touch.
2. Create a seamless experience, regardless of channel: In order to really deliver meaningful ROI from customer experience investments, B2B companies must fully commit to developing and delivering exceptional end-to-end experiences across all of their channels. Whether or not the customer interaction is digital, it must be a seamless experience. Customer experience leaders in the B2B space do not cast off, but rather marry, traditional and digital capabilities to deliver enhanced offerings, which result in a seamless experience.
3. Double down investments in digital capabilities: B2B companies that achieve the greatest ROI from their customer experience programs have doubled down on the ability of digital technology to impact customer experience delivery. These companies invest more—and invest more broadly—in a technology-enabled customer experience.
Want to boost your results to match your expectations moving forward? These principles are valuable lessons for B2B organizations looking to make the necessary strategic and executional changes to drive growth through enhanced customer experience programs. Customer experience leaders are less interested in improving experiences to reduce costs or keep up with their peers. Instead, they focus on capturing new revenue with products, services, and business models that customers notice and value.