Two experts in customer experience consider the future for business-to-consumer and business-to-business companies in fast-changing times
Bruce Temkin, chairman and co-founder of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, says the future of business-to-consumer customer experience is bright.
The 2014 Temkin Experience Ratings found that only 7 per cent of 268 business-to-consumer (B2C) companies earned excellent ratings. On the surface that seems pretty bad. Less than one in ten companies provides great customer experience. So are consumers destined to live in a world of mediocre customer experience?
Not likely. The story changes when we take a longer-term view. Comparing the Temkin ratings from 2011 to 2014 shows that the percentage of companies with good or excellent customer experience has grown from 16 per cent to 37 per cent, while the percentage with poor or very poor ratings has dropped from 48 per cent to 25 per cent. Consumers may not be getting great customer experience, but it’s trending in the right direction.
The outlook is good for consumers. Nearly six out of ten large companies that Temkin recently surveyed are aiming to be the best at customer experience in their industry within three years. They have good reason to be. Temkin Group’s latest return-on-investment research shows that a modest increase in customer experience at a typical $1-billion company can generate an additional $370 million in revenues over three years.
If you’re a B2C company and aren’t focused on customer experience, you should consider these questions:
- Are consumers likely to expect less?
- Are your competitors going to get worse?
- Is technology going to lower the bar?
For most of you, the answers are no, no and no.
To succeed in the future, you will need to know more about your customers, use that information to respond more quickly to their changing needs and recover in lightning speed to any mistakes.
FOUR CORE COMPETENCIES
Improving customer experience isn’t easy. Companies can’t just slap on a veneer of customer experience on top of their complex organisations and expect that consumers will find them easy to work with. To make sustainable improvements, companies must master what Temkin Group calls the four customer experience core competencies:
1. PURPOSEFUL LEADERSHIP
Companies need to (re)introduce a clear purpose for their organisation that is more compelling than increased profits – a raison d’être that aligns the myriad of day-to-day decisions.
2. EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT
Engaged employees are valuable assets for business health plans. They trigger a “virtuous cycle” driving good customer experience and superior business results. Our research shows that engaged employees try harder, engage customers and drive stronger business results.
3. COMPELLING BRAND VALUES
True brands are more than just marketing slogans – they’re the fabric that aligns all employees with customers in the pursuit of a common cause. Companies need to clearly define their brands in terms of promises to customers, and find ways to get all employees to understand, embrace and deliver on those promises.
4. CUSTOMER CONNECTEDNESS
In most companies, decisions are made with woefully little customer insight. People often rely on their “gut feel” or outdated anecdotes about customer needs, desires and feedback. But any company that wants to improve its customer experience needs to embed deep customer insight in every aspect of its operations.
Joel Harrison, editor in chief and co-founder of B2B Marketing, explains why business-to-business brands are waking up to a customer experience revolution.
The experience which customers of business-to-business (B2B) companies have will pretty obviously vary enormously from one organisation to the next and from one sector to the next. At one extreme, you have professional services firms, where key clients are managed by partners and therefore the customer experience is highly personalised; at the other, you have highly commoditised markets such as bulk office, where price is everything, brand counts for very little and ongoing relationships are tenuous.
Clearly both the nature of the customer and the value that they represent to the organisation are key in defining the experience that an individual will receive.
Although the vast majority of B2B organisations exist in between these two polarised extremes, their focus on customer experience has often been conspicuous by its absence.
This has in part been due to the age-old tussle between sales and marketing for primacy – the key question being, “who owns the customer?”
Historically sales has had the upper hand in many organisations, being given responsibility for the bottom, and often much of the middle, of the traditional buying funnel. Marketing was marginalised to top-of-funnel, driving awareness, and sales personnel were reluctant to let anyone else in on a potentially extremely valuable relationship that they had fostered.
But the onset of the digital age is increasingly making the old-fashioned funnel redundant – the notion of the funnel depended on brands being in control of the information exchange, and business customers being contacted at a time and place when it suited the brand.
BUYERS IN CONTROL
Today, Google and the power of searchable content, including videos, slideshares, infographics and so on, means buyers are now in control, and are only willing to engage with sales at a time to suit them, when much of the decision-making process has already been taken place.
This means that sales no longer owns the customer, marketing is now in the driving seat, and is increasingly responsible for all aspects of interaction, both before, during and after the purchase. B2B marketers have never been in a better position to drive and determine their customers’ experience of their brands. Marketers are increasingly waking up to this new level of authority and the consequent responsibilities.
And that’s a good thing too, because increasingly social media is changing the ground-rules regarding customers’ expectations. The “instant gratification” culture of generation Y, those who have grown up with the internet, demands that queries or complaints be answered decisively and immediately, rather than vaguely and after significant hassle. Put another way, the opportunity to call, e-mail or write to an organisation, to receive a response in their time, is laughably unacceptable.