B2B customer experience – a guide for marketers

Q&A with Sue Duris, M4 Communications

This month we’ve kicked off our interview series called ‘To Be B2B’. We’re interviewing different B2B marketing experts for their perspectives on key aspects of the job. In this first post we’d like to introduce Sue Duris, an expert in B2B customer experience (CX) and customer marketing.

Sue has created and implemented customer success and customer experience strategies for several SaaS start-ups in the US and UK. She’s also Head of Customer Experience for a fintech start-up in Edinburgh, where she built the customer experience program from the bottom up. Sue also runs a useful CX chat on Twitter every Wednesday at 7pm GMT. You can find it at #cxchat.

It goes without saying that the customer is king in B2B, but do organisations always ensure their customer experience is aligned across the organisation, and what role should the B2B marketer play? Here’s what Sue told us!

What distinguishes B2B CX from consumer CX?

There are similarities and differences. Regardless of sector CX should focus on:

  • Customer value – do customers get what they want out of the product or relationship?
  • Reduced friction and effort – is it ‘easy’ for customers to do business with a brand, whether that involves purchasing, service delivery, enquiries, or other interactions.
  • Positive emotional connection – does the customer feel good about interacting with the brand?

What’s different in B2B is the focus of your customer effort. In B2C you’re more likely to be dealing with mass market products. While there’ll inevitably be segmentation, in comparison, B2B is much more niche-focused, and your messaging and how it’s communicated is much more relationship-driven. Understanding those personas inside out and back again is critical.

Also, in B2B you’re typically dealing with longer sales cycles and more complex customer relationships. It’s essential to take a long-term view.

How do these distinctions impact the way B2B organisations should approach CX?

Longevity and the ‘nicheness’ of the customer audience mean that relationships must be at the core. Transactions come second, even when the customer experience is based on a physical product purchase. It’s the ‘wrap around’ that matters – the opportunity to interact with the customer and build a positive relationship or dialogue to establish trust.

Where do B2B organisations commonly go wrong in their approach to CX?

A lot of it comes down to maturity. There’s a great maturity model published by the Temkin Group which focuses on 6 stages of customer maturity. It’s worth looking at this.

I think because B2C is more focused on brand, more gets invested in understanding the customers’ relationship with, and attitude towards the brand. Those brand relationships obviously exist in B2B just as much, but the visualisation, monitoring and improvement of those relationships is often unmapped territory.

What I most commonly find is a desire to refocus the business on the customer, but a lack of drive to put it into practice, or a limited understanding of how to do this. Obviously the CEO must be bought into it, but must also lead the business, not just delegate CX as a budget line. The CEO is the CX champion, which goes way beyond mere support.

Another common oversight is the need to align all employees around CX. CX is not a departmental job; it’s a company-wide ethos. The first success factor is caring for employees as you would like them to care for the customer. If you’re not doing that, you won’t achieve your goals.

Is CX a marketing job?

No! Or, at least, it shouldn’t be left to marketing to do the whole job. As I said, it needs to be a company wide movement towards customer centricity. The CMO’s alignment and collaboration with other business functions is very important. It’s common for marketers to be handed the customer experience chalice because they are naturally focused on ensuring the customer is happy. They also own the brand and want relationships to be maintained to pave the way to generating leads.

However, marketers often find that they are on a different customer axis to others. Customer experience is ultimately about retention and repeat business. Often the CEO or investors will score this less important than customer acquisition. Collaboration irons out these differences of focus and ensures there is a single-minded approach.

CX also needs good governance, and that’s why in the best scenarios it is a ‘cross-party’ initiative that is monitored and overseen by a dedicated CX team or individual.

If a CMO is tasked with improving customer experience, what should they do?

Firstly, don’t confuse B2B customer experience with other areas like customer advocacy programmes or installed base marketing. These things should align but they are not the same. If the CMO is leading CX, my best advice is to keep this activity separate from the rest of marketing and look to build a cross-functional CX team. The head of marketing should adopt a ‘second persona’ – e.g. acting head of customer experience – if they are given this job.

What difference can marketers make to a CX initiative?

You know the brand and understand it better than anyone in the business. This is what you bring to the CX table. CX needs to look at how customers relate to the brand so there needs to be a symbiotic relationship here.

Marketing also tends to have a longer view of the customer relationship than, perhaps, sales or finance. They’re also privy to lots of data relating to customer interactions, through an increasing use of martech and inbound lead data. The CMO can bring that to bear and ensure that CX initiatives cover the entire customer journey in equal measure.

What measures should and shouldn’t be used to assess the effectiveness of CX?

I’m a great believer in combining three types of metric:

  • Perception metrics – things like NPS and CSAT; that measure what the customer perceives you are doing for them as a brand.
  • Actual/descriptive metrics – things like contact centre first response resolution time, average call handle time, website dwell times; that provide insight into the actual interactions with the customer and what has happened.
  • Outcome metrics – things like demo bookings, downloads, sign-ups, reviews, social engagement; that demonstrate positive actions the customer has taken as a result of interactions.

A CX dashboard is essential for monitoring and sharing results across the organisation so that people can see quickly where they have had an impact, as well as where gaps exist, showing them where they can improve.

Do you think the current crisis is making B2B organisations rethink their CX approach? Will it change anything?

I think we’re seeing a lot of what I term ‘fake empathy’ – they are being empathetic because they see other brands doing it. But why are they doing it? And once we are out of the pandemic, will they abandon empathy? Empathy towards others only works if it is engrained in the culture. Organisations should ask themselves – is this what customers want from us and part of who we are? If yes, great, everything’s aligned. If no, there’s a difficult decision ahead about when that empathy should or will be turned off. B2B customers are smart cookies – businesses shouldn’t think they can improve relationships and based on short-term empathy.

What’s your best example/anecdote of CX success and what made it so?

Amazon has some great thinking around CX. Jeff Bezos talks about the concept of ‘always be on day 1’. On day 1, you’re fresh and keen to spend time looking from the outside into the business, and your hunger to win over the customer is front of mind. But when you get to day 2, complacency sets in and you lose focus.

The moral of the story? You need to keep repeating day 1 and stay customer obsessed. In the digital world that’s more crucial than ever. Complacency can creep in and become apparent to customers in a split second.

Summing up in one sentence, what one piece of advice would you give a B2B marketer involved in CX?

Actively listen and be curious, always, so you can continuously improve the B2B customer experience.

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