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PHOTO: Erik Brolin

Business to business (B2B) customer experience has long lagged behind business to consumer (B2C) customer experience, in spite of the established importance of both. The two share the same basic premise and desired outcome, the same language and often the same tools. 

But while B2B customer experience has shown some signs of improvement in recent years, there's still room for more. 

Bigger Stakes, But Remember the Human Need 

“One of the biggest differences between B2C and B2B is the big variety between customers,” said Ottomatias Peura, head of growth for Speechly. “If you are selling mobile phone subscriptions, for example, a good B2C customer might spend $150 a month, but a good B2B customer could be spending a million every month. This means you should tailor the customer experience as much as possible. If winning or keeping a big customer requires you to change your processes, do it (but don't overdo it).”

Remember that even in B2B relationships, you are still dealing with a human (or more often, a team of humans) as your customer, Peura added. The customer is never a Fortune 500 company with their well-defined process. It is someone who wants to make their life easier by purchasing your service. If you can't build trust with that individual, you will never have a good B2B customer experience. A good B2B customer experience is never built for a company. It's built for a human.

Related Article: B2B Customer Experience Is Catching Up, But it Still Has a Long Way to Go

CX Starts Before There's a 'Customer Relationship'

Organizations focusing on personalization, speed and outcomes in their commercial workflows are poised to gain market share, according to a new Deloitte Digital whitepaper: Experience Selling: The Future of B2B Sales.

“Identifying the right customers to target, understanding their unique buying processes, and then designing personalized experiences that make those efforts easier to navigate,” wrote Harry Datwani, principal. These customers want interactions personalized to their needs — with simple transactions made easy through digital channels, and larger, more complex purchases from companies that treat them as partners more than vendors — helping them clarify ambiguous problems and demonstrating trustworthiness.

Many B2B organizations are pursuing this path, tailoring web and other marketing content. More than half are tailoring content to individual buyer profiles (e.g., IT buyer, CFO), according to Deloitte. They are also increasing job specialization and collaboration across roles to bring the right expertise forward at the right time, improving the speed of the process.

To improve outcomes, sellers need to stay involved with the customer beyond the initial sale, Dartwani wrote. Sellers need to help their buyers create and deliver end-user experiences that drive adoption and value.

Not only should a company stay with a B2B customer after the sale, the actual relationship should start long before a “customer relationship” is established, said Dan Frohnen, CMO at Sendoso.

“Building good B2B customer experience is all about being intentional with that experience throughout the entire lifecycle of your interactions with a new prospect or company,” Frohnen said. “Customer experience starts before they even become a customer. The ads you are serving (when you only know their persona) to the minute they opt-in and start a relationship with your company.”

Technology has evolved so that a B2B buyer’s digital life is mixed between personal and business, Frohnen added. B2B buyers now have consumer brand-level expectations for all brands, regardless of what they are buying, so it is crucial to connect all the dots to give them an omnichannel experience.

Related Article: 5 B2B Customer Touchpoints You Can't Afford to Ignore

Strong, Consistent Customer Teams Needed

To deliver good CX to a B2B customer, your organization needs a consistent and stable team, according to Eric Fischgrund, founder of FischTank PR. “Clear communications, defined objectives, and a mutually agreed upon process for information/idea exchange is ideal in building and maintaining a strong customer experience. I’ve found that the longer a client/customer account team remains in place, the better the results and the stronger becomes the relationship.”

Any customer/client engagement starts with a clear strategic plan that outlines deliverables and the steps needed to achieve them. The service provider and customer relationship is one that should be built on collaboration, so the service provider needs to be clear about pushing for what it needs to succeed, Fischgrund added.

Related Article: B2B Customer Experience Fundamentals: Listening

Acting on Feedback Sets Leaders Apart From Laggards

The use of feedback distinguishes those B2B organizations leading the way in CX from those that are lagging behind, said Andrea Everett, Medallia head of research. “Leaders are collecting more digital feedback in a wider range of channels, including their websites, mobile apps and social media. This not only lets them learn about their customers’ digital pain points as they’re happening; it also lets customers report on non-digital experiences, like using a company’s physical product, on their own timeframe and through the channels they often use when interacting with consumer brands.”

The next step for leading companies is to act on that feedback, Everett said. Leading organizations are taking more diverse kinds of action on customer input. The actions that most increase a company’s chance of being a CX leader include using customer feedback to innovate on products or services, using feedback to prepare for customer renewal and expansion opportunities, and recognizing employees who provide excellent customer experiences.

Everett also stressed B2B organizations diversify responsibility for customer experience throughout their organizations. One key is to hold a variety of executives (CEO, CMO, COO, etc.) responsible for CX outcomes. If it works for their structure and culture, companies may also want to share CX responsibilities between a central team and their different business units in order to facilitate company-wide coordination of their efforts while also allowing for flexibility and innovation in their different divisions.