A Call for B2C Treatment in a B2B World

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How did you shop for gifts this past holiday season? If you were like millions of Americans, you did at least a portion of it online. A Forrester online retail report said U.S. holiday online sales were expected to exceed $68 billion—up 15 percent from 2011.

The big difference is that in 2012, many of you did that online shopping from a tablet or smartphone, as opposed to waiting until you were in front of your personal computer. You may even have been standing in a retail store, examining the product you wanted to buy; price-checked it on your mobile device; and purchased it online before reaching the parking lot. You may have purchased additional items offered by the retailer that matched your needs and spending habits based on your current preferences and purchase history. And you may have chosen to have your digital purchases stored in a central repository—gigabytes in the cloud—for downloading or streaming later.

Although this may sound familiar to you, this may be the first time you are thinking of it in the context of designing your own customized business experience. You are harnessing the power of mobile, big data, and cloud-based services to fulfill your specific needs.

As a customer, you regularly interact with retailers in multiple ways. You see an advertisement that drives you to the location. You may speak to a sales representative in the store. Perhaps you research the product and price by scanning a QR code using a smartphone app. Or you know exactly what you want and go straight to the retailer's e-commerce site to make the purchase from your tablet. It is the sum of these interactions that defines your perception of a single buying experience and ultimately your relationship with the brand.

These expectations, created in your consumer life, translate to your business life. You expect—and demand—the same treatment, the same ability to customize, the same unique experience. Companies seeking to meet these expectations find it increasingly difficult to keep pace with that change.

The synergy created by the advances of mobile technology, big data, and cloud computing has a profound impact on how companies and customers interact. For years, companies aspired to deliver a consistent, branded customer experience. Few achieved it. Today that aspiration is a business imperative.

How can companies keep pace with increasing expectations without eroding their bottom line? They must develop the discipline to engineer end-to-end business experiences just as they engineer products and services. Engineering end-to-end business experiences at scale requires leadership. There are four actions leaders must take to achieve superior performance:

1. Prioritize longer-term investments over short-term gains. Building a better working company means taking a lifetime view of the customer and recognizing that the relationship is the sum of multiple experiences over time.

2. Develop an end-to-end business process perspective. Companies need to consider every aspect of the enterprise to create end-to-end experiences that are consistent with the brand promise and enhance satisfaction.

3. Adopt an engineering-like discipline. Business experience engineering requires the same respect, resources, critical thinking, and scientific rigor as product engineering.

4. Inspire action across the entire organization. Outstanding experiences require companies to engineer every interaction for a positive outcome. Aligning organizational culture, measurement, and priorities with the customer experience brand promise can no longer be an afterthought. It has to be an imperative.

We are at a tipping point, where the confluence of mobile technology, big data, and cloud computing enables companies to afford to personalize experiences that they previously could not. A new discipline is emerging to engineer the end-to-end business experience—one that blends new technologies with more traditional disciplines, such as marketing, anthropology, and psychology.

Leaders who embrace experience engineering can deliver consistently satisfying customer experiences that improve performance and drive profitable growth.

Woody Driggs serves as the global advisory customer leader for Ernst & Young. He is a principal in the firm’s Advisory Services Performance Improvement practice and is based in Washington D.C.

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