Customer Experience is the Most Powerful Competitive Advantage for B2B Companies
by Jeb Blount,
author of People Love You: The Real Secret to Delivering a Legendary Customer Experience
Customer experience is just as important for B2B companies as it is for B2C companies. Here's why.
This is a reality check. Every touch point, every time you or someone in your company engages a customer, it creates an experience, something they remember. When people have positive emotional experiences, it anchors them to your brand, your product or service, and to you. When they have a negative experience, they tend to vote with their feet and their wallets and head straight to your competitors.
The focus on customer experience has traditionally been centered on business-to-consumer (B2C) transactions. It makes sense. It is much easier to draw a straight line between, say, your experience staying at a Marriot Resort and your propensity to spend more money, become a repeat customer, and tell your friends, and the investment by Marriot to make that happen. That linkage is much harder to make if you are a company selling mundane industrial products to the oil and gas industry or providing document management services or uniform rental programs.
When the phrase customer experience is mentioned to corporate executives running business-to-business (B2B) companies, it is not uncommon to see eyes roll. B2B executives have a hard time seeing how the strategies used to deliver customer experience in the B2C environment relate to them and rightly so. Business-to-business relationships are different and often far more complex than consumer-based relationships. For instance, most buyers in the B2B relationships are not spending their own money. B2B relationships may involve large sums of money, contractual agreements, strategic relationships, layers of influencers and end users, and relationships tend to be long-term rather than transactional.
However, the one thing that skeptical business leaders ignore is that in B2B relationships, customers are still people: emotional, irrational humans who make buying decisions based on emotion. Not companies, departments, org-charts or CSI scores. People. Research studies indicate that more than 50 percent of a customer’s experience is emotional. As humans, emotions drive virtually all of our behavior and cause us to act. Yet B2B businesses and account managers have mostly relegated human emotion in the buying equation to the back burner.
The concept of delivering a great customer experience is simple and intuitively we all know it makes sense because, of course, we are all customers. As a customer, when you feel happy, important, cared for, and respected, you have a tendency to buy more and tell other people about your experience. But for some reason, as soon as we put our B2B hat on, we abandon what we know to be true and ignore human emotion in our business relationships. This is one of the reasons companies continue to delude themselves with customer satisfaction indexes and drone on and on about customer loyalty rather than focus on improving the emotional experiences of their customers.
These days, competitive advantages derived from unique products or services are short-lived because competitors are able to quickly and easily duplicate or match your offering. In our hypercompetitive, global marketplace where virtually every product or service looks the same when compared with competitors, in the eyes of your customer, customer satisfaction is worthless and loyalty to your company is fleeting at best. Even if you have an offering that is truly unique, how long will that last until someone matches what you have or convinces your customer that they have done so?
Since most products and services, when compared to competing products and services, are perceived to be the same to today’s savvy buyers, delivering an extraordinary customer experience has emerged as the single most important competitive advantage for B2B companies across all industries. Real competitive advantage in the business-to-business marketplace is created through human relationships. This is where the rubber meets the road for creating long-term revenue and profit streams. Account managers, sales professionals, and customer service professionals must become adept at building unique and enduring connections with their customers. Likewise companies must pursue strategies designed to improve their customers’ emotional experience through the entire buying process. This will require organizations to invest in training and cultural change that emphasizes interpersonal human skills; because, in this “experience economy” it is not what you are, but who you are, that matters most.