Ensuring a positive experience in a B2B relationship delivers improved engagement and, ultimately, a better financial result. So if you’re responsible for a B2B relationship and you’re not already considering B2B customer experience, it’s time to get on board.
When getting started, however, many folks are overwhelmed with the idea of creating an experience approach between businesses. But there’s no need to be overwhelmed — the B2B relationship can be distilled into one key element:
Every “B” in B2B is simply a collection of humans.
While each business might experience different specific needs, your collection of humans (your business) is simply trying to create a great experience for their collection of humans (their business).
Use that insight to build your customer experience. Start with humanity, and build a great experience for your customers by following these four simple tips.
1. Get to know your customers
It’s your customers who determine how successful you are at delivering a great experience.
Don’t assume you’ve figured everything out just because you have business customers who are paying your invoices on time. While B2B relationships are often (but not always) “stickier,” if you’re not delivering a great experience, then they’re actively looking into, or at least pondering, replacing you.
Consider what the customer needs. First, consider it from the overall customer perspective. They have engaged your company to solve a particular need or problem. Understand why they haven’t been able to solve it without your company, and use that to build your best experience.
A second consideration reflects a key difference in B2B versus B2C: Realize that in most cases, the human with whom you are interacting isn’t spending “their” money, so what they value will have a different flavor than a traditional B2C relationship.
What is it they value most? Low cost? Speed? Quality? Consider what “capital-I-Incentives” (money, promotion, etc.) and “lowercase-i-incentives” (status amongst peers, achievement of key metrics, etc.) drive your customer. Think of the relationship from their perspective and drive your experience to meet their wishes.
2. Restore relationships when things go awry
When things go awry (and they will, as no relationship or experience is perfect), how you address your B2B customers’ concerns delivers an outsized impact on their perception of experience.
There’s much that is the same in both B2B and B2C when something goes wrong. The customer feels disappointment, frustration, betrayal, and they want things fixed. Both B2B and B2C will thrive off a key principle from Disney:
Don’t just fix issues, restore relationships.
With your business clients, don’t simply address the specific concern at hand. Go deeper and understand the depth of what they feel about the issue — the “why” behind their concern — and address it in a way that restores the overall relationship. That includes elements of empathy and going above and beyond the initial need.
The dividends returned from focusing on relationship restoration over issue fixing will vastly outweigh the cost.
Differentiating B2B from B2C, however, is the multi-layered impact of a service failure in B2B. When you fail a business customer, you fail their customers. Your service failure impacts multiple layers of customer experience.
Following this through, the way you restore the relationship with your business customer impacts their ability to deliver great experiences for their customers. How you react in order to restore the relationship is magnified across their entire customer base.
Understanding the downstream impact to your customer’s customers and building your restoration plan accordingly will help you create great B2B experiences.
3. Know your customer’s customers
That same view of your customer’s customers in a “break-fix” environment applies across the overall customer experience. Too often, B2B providers focus on just the “B” with which they interact. They know all the elements I described above but fail to consider the reason why their customer’s company exists.
You’ll see two effects. First, you’ll make things easier and more successful for your customer as you set your business delivery to benefit your customer’s customers. Second, it’s an opportunity for you to stand out and deliver on a deeper level to your customer, further cementing your relationship with them.
4. Enjoy familiarity
In a B2B relationship, we typically find more familiarity and connection. You’ll have human relationships on both sides of the “2.”
Leverage them. Benefit from them. Don’t hide behind a corporate veneer. Get out there (to whatever degree “get out there” means for you, your company, or the current state of the world) and build relationships.
It sounds simple, but it’s too often forgotten — or it’s wrapped up in a muddled “sales-driven” relationship. Build the relationship solely for the humanity of it.
As an added benefit, you can use the relationship equity you build when there is the need to do relationship restoration. It also builds your B2B customer’s perception of the overall experience.
Improving B2B customer experience
The ideas above can be summarized in one word: humanity. Realize that your B2B relationships are human relationships:
- Get to know your customers.
- Restore relationships.
- Know your customer’s customers.
- Enjoy familiarity.
Build from these principles, and you’ll be well on your way to being a leader in B2B customer experience.