While consumers are getting the majority of the attention, business customers have become just as demanding of the companies they deal with, and that will drive major changes in corporate selling and service over the next two years, according to a new survey of business-to-business executives by Accenture (News - Alert).
Our survey indicates that business customers have higher expectations, want more customized solutions, are more price-sensitive, and have greater knowledge of the product than ever before, which demands that B2B companies sharpen their focus on improving the customer experience. However, the research indicates that, while many companies realize how important it is to satisfy their customers’ demands, too many don’t have a clear idea whether or not they are just throwing money at the problem without creating significant and tangible business results.
While B2B companies are spending more to improve their customers’ experiences, our research indicates that a majority – 76 percent – are wasting up to half their investments on ineffective customer experience initiatives. In fact, more than half of the executives surveyed say their investments in customer service improvements have resulted in little or no return when it comes to retaining customers and building global revenues.
So what is a business supplier to do?
Here are the top five ways B2B companies can get smarter about how they invest in the customer experience, and ultimately get more from their investment.
Assign a leader close to the P&L.
Ensure the leadership for customer experience initiatives is either the business leader most impacted by their success or reports directly to that person. Having someone in charge who is close to the profit and loss – and ultimately the business success – of the company will make sure that investments in customer experience are strategic and will be prioritized on their merit and results – not just improvements around the edges of the business.
Check your foundation.
Any good house begins with a strong foundation – this is also true when it comes to building an effective customer experience. In an age of pilots and existing programs, too often companies try to build new capabilities based on an outdated selling/operating model. But the way people – and companies – decide to buy something today has changed dramatically. With the increasing prevalence of digital technologies such as mobile, analytics and cloud, companies need to adapt to a sales and service model for the non-stop customer, in which the journey toward purchasing a product is much more fluid and continuous.
Be digital, but don’t ignore traditional (analog) interactions.
B2B customers increasingly expect a digital experience – not at all unlike retail consumers who use digital for everyday purchases, like buying something online. Suppliers too need to offer their business customers a seamless digital experience, instead of forcing them to interact in non-digital ways. But let’s not forget these analog interactions, which include things like seamless integration across call centers or field sales; they remain important parts of the mix, and a complement to digital capabilities.
Update how to choose investments.
The next step is to develop a framework for funding the right customer experience investments. A key part of this is putting a mechanism in place to determine which investments are both noticed and valued by the customer. Successful companies take care to align their customer experience efforts and metrics with those areas that matter most to their customers, instead of making improvements that may seem important, but don’t clarify which customers will notice the change or how much they value them. This is perhaps one of the most important steps to fix.
Strengthen the experience.
Customer experience operations should be constantly measured and evaluated. What’s more is that customer experience interactions need to be executed consistently and measured accurately, the results of which should be shared widely across the organization to encourage real-time improvement based on performance and feedback from customers.
Will these initiatives make a difference to your business? Our research found that the companies successfully implementing the above best practices yield, on average, up to twice the return on their customer experience investments.
So, what are you waiting for?
Robert Wollan is global managing director of the sales and customer services practice at Accenture (www.accenture.com).
Edited by Maurice Nagle