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The complete guide to B2B customer experience

22 min read
B2B customer experience (CX) management is often inspired by the B2C market. However, there are B2B nuances that require a more personalized approach. Learn how to create the ultimate B2B customer experience with our best practice guidelines.

In this best practice guide, you’ll find tips for each stage of a Customer Experience program from gathering customer feedback to reporting on the results and turning them into action. These best practice tips have been brought together by CX practitioners at leading B2B organisations, including Change Healthcare, Johnson Controls, and Tetra Pak, as well as some of the most respected academics and consultants in the field.

What’s in the guide:

  1. Understanding the B2B buyer journey
  2. B2B customer retention & churn
  3. Gathering B2B customer feedback
  4. Measuring & benchmarking the B2B customer experience

To see the full findings of our B2B panel and more detailed recommendations in each of these areas, please download the full B2B whitepaper.

What is the B2B customer experience?

We’re all familiar with customer experience (CX) — how businesses engage with customers at every point of their buying journey, from marketing and sales to customer service and everything in between.

Put simply, the B2B customer experience (CX) encompasses every interaction a customer has with your brand — whether digital or in-person — but the customer, in this case, is made up of many stakeholders instead of just one person, which is common in B2C.

Why does B2B CX matter?

The fact is that we live in the age of the experience economy: customers demand and expect more than ever before.

And the brands and businesses that can deliver seamless experiences sit at the forefront.

By closing gaps across B2B CX, brands and businesses can reduce customer churn, improve customer satisfaction, increase retention, bolster awareness and perception and ultimately, grow their operations.

A good B2B CX strategy accounts for every stage of the buyer’s journey, from awareness and consideration to decision and post-sale evangelism. It ensures that those at the start of their journeys can find the information they need, when they need it, and that current customers receive support in real-time. Ultimately, best-practice B2B CX ensures that the expectations of both prospects and customers — wherever they are in their journey—  are met.

Of course, no two experiences are the same. There are nuances to every business and audience — and across B2B and B2C, every organisation has a fundamentally different approach.

B2B vs B2C: How does the customer experience differ?

While people expect B2B experiences to be more similar to B2C than ever before, brands still need to have different B2B strategies to be successful and not just copy B2C approaches.

The B2B customer experience

For B2B organisations, the “customer” is often made up of multiple stakeholders, all with different needs when it comes to creating their ultimate customer experience. This can be thought of as the overall “Account”.

All stakeholders play a crucial role in the client’s decision-making for renewal or expansion. We often articulate that it’s important to understand that the account’s overall health is an aggregate, there’s no longer just one person you shake hands with to make a deal.

It’s also important to note that various departments within your customer’s business might have different goals for their interactions with your brand, or different expectations of the time it takes to complete the purchase journey.

Therefore, your touchpoints will need to be tailored to the experiences and preferences of your customers, rather than liberally applied across the whole buyer journey.

The business customer experience will likely be built over time, with multiple touchpoints and interactions with several key individuals. This means that the uniformity of this experience – and the meeting of various needs – is vital.

The B2C customer experience

In the B2C market, customers are individuals or those who represent small groups such as families. Creating experiences will likely require an exercise in segmentation — understanding how to target multiple similar customers to provide an excellent experience across a broad range of individuals.

Customer experiences are often shorter as touchpoints are tailored to the majority, rather than individuals (as is common with the B2B market). This leads to quick, convenient interactions — a direct contrast with the B2B approach of building long-term relationships.

Digital CX for B2B: Getting out in front

Digital innovation, differentiation, and providing seamless and enduring customer experiences are essential for getting ahead of the competition. For most of us today, we expect to have a variety of options (both digital and physical) to support the way we buy.

According to Gartner, almost half (43%) of B2B customers would prefer to not interact with a sales representative at all.

The reality is that as B2B buyers move away from traditional approaches to purchasing — both virtually and in-person — the best brands are those that realise and adapt to these changing behaviours to support digital and buyer-first experiences.

For example, technology can elevate your offering by expanding your customers’ opportunities to connect with your brand and rapidly engage with your services. Digital platforms (e.g. email, chatbots, knowledge bases, live chat, and your website), allow your prospects and customers to interact with you through a variety of channels and mediums that they are comfortable with. They can engage at a time that suits them, choose to speak to a person (or robot), and self-serve through knowledge bases to get the information they need.

You should also think about how you can get your best salespeople and product experts to support your prospects’ and customers’ journeys and empower them to make informed decisions.

The main focus is to create a friction-free experience for your customers: one where the cost of effort is low and the value of the interaction high.

What about brand visibility?

As well as providing a friction-free experience, there are also third-party mentions of your brand to consider. Your customers may encounter online reviews or social media mentions that can affect your brand image, changing their perception of your B2B digital customer experience.

In this case, using one platform to manage the digital experiences you create – and to track any third-party mention of your brand – can help you to gain and retain customers, reduce customer churn with lower customer effort, and optimise the customer experience.

Learn about our customer experience management software and how it can help you to create the optimal digital customer experience.

What are the top B2B customer experience trends?

Customer-centric, personalised experiences

With more options than ever, customers expect personalised, human experiences. They don’t want to be treated as another source of funding but as a valued patron; one whom the company reduces complexities and resolves issues for to retain their business.

Self-service options

Though customers desire experiences designed for them, they also want to be able to resolve issues as fast as possible. In some cases, having an effective and well-designed self-service option can help customers to get what they need for a better experience.

For example, providing a detailed knowledge base (or repository of information, including how-to guides and videos) can aid customers who want to manage things themselves. Also, having a chatbot that can direct customers to the relevant collateral can help to reduce friction and provide value.

The right channel for the right experience

Customers are looking for experiences that reflect their changing needs. This requires brands to offer the right channel for the right experience, rather than offering limited channels for all points in the customer journey.

For example, some customers may prefer to communicate via email, while others are more comfortable sending text messages or Tweets. The brands and businesses that succeed are those that take into account the preferences of their prospects and customers and provide the appropriate mediums.

Great B2B customer experience examples

So how do you turn the above into action? What can be done, at every touchpoint, to empower customers and deliver great experiences? Here are a few examples from brands we’ve worked with

Change Healthcare — turning at-risk accounts into top performers

Reducing customer churn while also sparking growth

Change Healthcare needed better visibility into their customer experience — and not just by understanding how each interaction made customers feel, but also how those experiences affected their long-term relationship with the company.

They wanted to develop a system that could identify customers at risk of leaving so that they could intervene and save those accounts. But when they created a new team specifically for that task, the team’s leaders soon realised they needed better tools to carry out their mission.

Qualtrics not only equipped them with the tools to easily identify experience breakdowns with key customers but also helped them to spot opportunities to proactively improve the experience to drive growth.

Using Qualtrics, Change Healthcare has been able to modernise its Voice of Customer (VoC) program, empowering its customer experience team (CX) to provide insights at any level of the organisation, for every customer segment, interaction, respondent, and more.

This new capability has given them a better understanding of customer health across their different product categories and a more nuanced view of customers. The result? Change Healthcare’s ticket-resolution rate for dissatisfied customers climbed from 65% to 95% within a year. They also opened the door for new avenues of interaction with customers and have closed-loop ticketing processes to streamline issue resolution.

Want to find out more about their amazing B2B experience?

Johnson Controls — centring the company’s growth on the customer

Striving for efficiency and a clearer view of critical insights

Johnson Controls supplies the technology, services, and infrastructure required for buildings worldwide to operate at peak performance and efficiency. The company’s 100 brands support structures ranging from schools to sports arenas. When a recent series of acquisitions and integrations added to the organisation’s complexity, they had to innovate to maintain a clear view of their customers and the way they interacted with the company.

Efficiency is one of Johnson Controls’ primary brand promises, owing to its suite of intelligent, automated building management tools. But with 20 different business teams representing more than 500 distinct brands, each with its own system to collect customer feedback (and using 13 different vendors in the process), consolidating and achieving a company-wide view of the customer journey was a challenge.

With the Qualtrics XM platform and industry best practices, however, Johnson Controls was able to produce powerful new insights that were easy to act on. They were able to develop a more structured approach to collecting data and producing critical insights, allowing them to build a visual journey map that identifies 20 key touchpoints along the customer journey.

This broader perspective has empowered teams across the business to understand the customer’s end-to-end interaction. They can now identify points of friction in real-time and the engagements that customers find most satisfying.

As a result of using the Qualtrics XM platform, Johnson Controls has established a strong correlation between CX performance and business-unit revenue, increased their budget by 30% after seeing the link between CX and customer spend, and saved 25% from consolidating CX vendors.

Tetra Pak — making it easy to turn customer responses into actionable insights

Closing the experience gap for customers

Tetra Pak, an Enterprise-size manufacturing B2B brand, is a leader in the field of food packaging and processing, with a mission to make food safe and available everywhere.

However, in delivering their food processing and packaging solutions, they found that their customers were unhappy — even when the deadlines were met.

Upon investigation, they found that it took too long to translate customer responses into actionable insights. They decided to use both X (experience) and O (operational) data as part of their daily routine to help enhance customer experiences.

They found that this approach helped them to make better decisions. One team member said that it provided them with actionable insights and precise analytics that allow them to focus on what matters most.

In addition to this, the company set up triggers to send out customer satisfaction surveys at points during the customer’s journey. These surveys were also much easier to complete (taking only two minutes), increasing the speed of research by 300% and allowing Tetra Pak to discover that quality, not speed, was the most important factor to their customers.

Tetra Pak turned around B2B sales by ensuring their employees were committed to the new customer-centric culture, from frontline staff closing the loop with dissatisfied customers to head office analysing Net Promoter Score (NPS) alongside revenue.

Want to find out more about their story?

And if you’re looking for more examples of incredible B2B customer experiences for inspiration, check out our blog.

Designing a B2B CX strategy

Your B2B experience requires a strategy made to exceed consumer options. According to our research, 65% of B2B customers say their B2B experiences don’t match their customer experiences – and with 96% of customers saying their experience affects whether they’ll repurchase, it’s key to get your strategy right.

Creating a Customer Experience Strategy that works is a multifaceted process. Your B2B customers are discrete, making your understanding of them essential for a CX strategy that will pay dividends. In-depth research – and bespoke action – will help to flesh out a CX strategy that can adapt to challenges and new requirements.

So, where can you start?

1. Establish your customer health benchmark score

Benchmarking where you are now – and where you can go – is important for optimising your customer experience.

Though you may be using several metrics for measuring your relationship with your customers, distilling all the metric-based data you collect into a cohesive, easily understandable score can take your customer relationships to the next level.

For example, you could look at the length of time someone has been a customer plus how many times they’ve been sold a new solution. This could give you an indicator of their appetite for new products and services, as well as their likelihood to purchase.

You could then contrast this information against new customers and/or those that rarely upgrade. What can you do differently to engage these customers and drive positive change?

Learn how to develop a highly useful customer health score with our customer health score guide.

2. Collect feedback

A successful B2B CX strategy focuses on quality, not quantity. Feedback needs to be collected and analysed correctly to build a full picture of how your customers want to experience your brand.

Key steps to focus on include:

  • Contacting customers for feedback with a bespoke approach
  • Surveying your customers at an optimised frequency
  • Identifying your response rate and improving it
  • Incentivising your approach to get customer data in the right way
  • Closing the loop and taking action

Find out the best practice for collecting feedback in our dedicated guide.

3. Understand the B2B customer journey

Knowing how your customers arrive at purchase decisions is vital for adapting and evolving your CX strategy.

And it all starts with the buyer’s journey.

A typical B2B buyer journey broadly follows three main stages:

  • Awareness: the buyer becomes aware that they have a problem
  • Consideration: the buyer defines their problem and considers options to solve it
  • Decision: the buyer evaluates and decides on the right provider/vendor to administer the solution

To establish a desirable customer experience, you’ll need to gather data, segment your customer base and optimise your buyer journey. You’ll also want to create content for every stage of the buyer’s journey to nurture prospects to a point of conversion and then purchase.

Tailoring each stage to your prospects, especially in a B2B environment, leads to better value and the likelihood of generating customers.

Read our full guide to the B2B customer journey and learn how to cultivate moments that matter.

How to improve the B2B experience

Create an omnichannel approach

Your strategy will need to take into account all the channels your customer – and their stakeholders – will prefer to use. Offering a one-size-fits-all solution for purchase or issue resolution could be off-putting for customers who have different contact preferences.

Customer journeys may involve a variety of interconnected channels with in-person and digital interactions, making a comprehensive, agile CX strategy critical for success.

Develop data-driven, automated strategies

Creating an effective omnichannel experience requires a strategy that transforms data and feedback into actionable insights.

As B2B customers are often distinct with multiple stakeholders, customer profiles need to be bolstered by data to ensure you deliver the desired experience. Collating feedback from your customers regularly allows you to quickly adapt your strategy, with automation giving you the added benefit of speed when creating subsequent actions.

Bring personalisation to the fore

Each B2B customer – and their stakeholders – are unique, which means that their customer experience needs to be personalised to hold their interest. Rather than providing a stock experience that isn’t memorable, offering a tailored customer journey through preferred channels can help keep your customers from finding a better experience elsewhere.

Identify the factors behind customer churn

Figuring out why your customers are tempted to leave can help you to raise your customer retention rate and lower your customer churn. Using feedback, adapting to customer needs, and offering flexibility alongside loyalty programs can help you to develop stronger customer relationships and gain a competitive advantage.

Understand how best to incorporate customer retention strategies in your CX program in our handy guide.

Break down silos and equip your team for success

Breaking down silos by creating a CX strategy with input from across all your teams makes your customer experience more holistic and connected. Offering your team real-time, automated, and role-based insights helps your frontline employees, sales teams, and more to align their strategy, develop more tailored products and services and provide a memorable experience.

Analyse your closed/won deals and take action

Proactively analysing your wins and losses as a business can help you establish a specific methodology for better customer relationships.

Techniques for better understanding the reasons why your brand wins or loses customers include:

  • Understanding your customer relationship health
  • Finding opportunities for gathering feedback throughout the deal cycle
  • Evaluating CRM data
  • Hosting post-decision interviews
  • Calculating your closed/won deals

Learn more about optimising your win/loss ratio in our detailed guide.

Put customers at the heart of everything you do

In the experience economy, the brands that win and continue to stay at the forefront are those that listen to their customers and improve processes based on their feedback.

With the tips outlined in this guide, you should be in a position to start turning your customers into fans.

If you’re still unsure of where to start — we can help.

With our software, you can hear every customer’s voice, fix every broken experience, and increase customer loyalty and spend. With Qualtrics CustomerXM, you get the ultimate listening machine, predictive intelligence and analytics, and closed-loop reporting capabilities.

But as well as having the right platform, you also need the right approach to account management to create a successful program that improves your win rate.

Account managers are often the custodians of good customer relationship management and the keepers of the keys to wins and losses. A successful account management strategy is an ongoing process at every stage. It doesn’t end at the final sale or renewal.

In our eBook, B2B account management best practices: how to create a successful program, we cover:

  • Creating a successful CX-driven account management strategy
  • Common challenges, opportunities, and benefits of CX
  • Establishing the health of your accounts
  • How to improve your win rate
  • Identifying and retaining at-risk customers (as well as rewarding loyal ones)
  • And how to improve the B2B customer journey

Get your free copy using the link below and start improving your CX today.

Take your B2B CX strategy to the next level with our B2B account management best practices guide