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B2B Customers Want a Good Experience, Too
Products and pricing alone won't cut it; B2B vendors need to deliver valued experiences
For the rest of the January 2016 issue of CRM magazine please click here

B2B vendors across insurance, pharmaceutical, high-tech, and other indirect sales markets are increasingly stressing customer experience (CX). That may sound odd given that most of these companies have channel partners between them and the end customer, but many B2B firms face big demand for more "consumerized," B2C-style customer experiences. Digital access to data and influencers fuels the demand, causing B2B customers to continuously evaluate vendors and the promises they make about their products.

With products and pricing becoming less effective as differentiators, leaders are turning to CX as the backbone of sustainable growth. But how equipped are vendors to drive both return on investment in CX and growth?

According to Accenture's recent B2B Customer Experience Survey, not well at all. Organizations that did CX right enjoyed higher-than-average revenue growth—around 13 percent. But the results suggest that fewer than one quarter of businesses globally are delivering experiences that customers truly value. What’s holding them back?

Not lack of interest or funding. Eighty-six percent of B2B sales and customer service executives continue to view the overall customer experience as "very important" to their strategic priorities, and that figure will only increase. This interest translates into funding, with 92 percent of companies investing at least as much this year as last.

It's also not complacency about competitive threats in the "platform age" of Uber and Airbnb. Sixty-six percent believe new digital market entrants are better equipped to deliver highly valued customer experiences than incumbents. The executives surveyed think their organizations lack the skills, tools, and resources needed to deliver stronger experiences. Many also point to a lack of C-suite attention and the cross-organizational integration necessary to deliver impactful customer experiences, a timely insight given current debate around who should own CX—the chief marketing officer, the head of sales, the chief digital officer, or the chief customer officer?

The disparity between those focusing on CX and those actually translating it into results points to a deeper issue: Most CX programs have new ideas built on outdated business models. B2B companies should be ready to design and execute a transformative, digitally enabled customer experience, or not waste money investing in CX at all. According to the survey, organizations that didn’t get customer experience right reported an average revenue growth of -1 percent.

The survey shows a clear distinction between the leaders and the strivers. Leaders consistently and significantly outperform their peers in customer experience by having strong CX strategies and execution, by viewing after-sales service as critical, and by investing in both new digital technologies and traditional customer connection points.

Strivers should look to refresh their strategy, using digital tools as the catalyst across the customer journey. Our report uncovered these keys to success:

1. Start from the back to get to the front. Many B2B companies still believe that customer service is the final stage of the customer life cycle. But service channels are becoming just as important as sales channels and must be thought of from the outset, not as the finishing touch.

2. Create a seamless experience, regardless of channel. To deliver meaningful ROI from customer experience investments, B2B companies must commit to delivering exceptional end-to-end experiences across all channels. Whether the customer interaction is digital or not, it must be part of a seamless experience.

3. Double down on investments in digital capabilities. B2B companies that achieve the greatest ROI from their customer experience programs are those that 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.

These principles are valuable lessons for B2B organizations looking to make the necessary strategic and execution changes to drive growth through enhanced CX programs. Customer experience leaders are interested less in reducing costs or keeping up with their peers than in capturing new revenue with products, services, and business models that customers notice and value. They understand that they can achieve better revenue growth by helping their customers achieve better business outcomes.

Robert Wollan is the senior managing director at Accenture Strategy, Sales, and Customer Services.

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