Kerry Bodine is a customer experience consultant and the co-author of Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business. Her ideas, analysis, and opinions have appeared on sites like The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Forbes, USA Today, and Advertising Age.
Aldwin Neekon: It sounds like all of what we’ve covered so far would apply equally in a B2B or B2C context. What’s different when you’re dealing with an enterprise or B2B situation, when you’re selling to companies instead of individual consumers?
Kerry Bodine: What you need to do to change your B2B organization is for the most part the same as what you need to do in a B2C company.
Here’s what is different:
B2B companies not only have their direct customers, but they also have their customers’ customers. And sometimes they even have their customers’ customers’ customers, depending on how deep the value chain is. So B2B companies need to focus not only on the experience they’re providing to their immediate customers, but also on how they’re enabling their customers to provide a better customer experience to their customers.
This is important, because a recent Gartner report says that 89% of the companies it surveyed will be competing primarily on the basis of customer experience by 2016. If that’s really the case, and you’re a B2B company, you can suddenly make yourself an incredibly valuable partner by helping your customers drive a better customer experience for their customers. That can be by directly providing customer experience products and services, or by thinking through how your company contributes to that customer experience ripple effect we talked about earlier.
Aldwin: What should someone at a B2B company who’s interested in investigating and bringing some of the benefits of competing on the basis of customer experience to their company do after they read this interview?
Kerry: I always go back to gathering and sharing customer insights. That’s the foundation for everything else. So many companies have blind spots and incorrect assumptions. If you’re a business person, and you’re designing an interaction for another business person, it’s easy to think that your clients or customers is like you, that their pain points are the same as you pain points —and therefore to design for what you want or need. But that’s the most dangerous thing that you can do.
Especially in the B2B space, you have to do multiple kinds of customer research and bring those insights into the organization. The great thing about customer insights like that is that they’re infectious, and people want to share them. They’re both a bunch in the gut and energizing at the same time. I think customer insights are the best drivers of change.
Aldwin: I’ve held a lot of roles where customer knowledge is critical to success, everything from product design and development, product management, marketing, sales enablement. What about companies that are thinking “We already have these customer insights inside our organization, with people inside all of these teams. Why do we have to go out and get them again?”
Kerry: Well, how up to date is that knowledge? If the company did research several years ago when they first started developing a product or service, how valid are those insights to the way their customers are using the product now? How valid are they to how their customers are using their website or other digital channels? Customer behaviors and expectations are evolving at a rapid pace.
I’d also think about how the data was collected. For example, a lot of marketers rely on survey data as their primary (or only) way of gathering customer insights. Surveys are good for some things, but they’re only one piece of the puzzle. Again, any single data point is just one data point. Did they also do social media mining, and listen into customer calls, and conduct usability testing, and so on?
Also consider the source of the data. Customer-facing employees can be a great source of information, but even their perspectives can be biased or contain blind spots. Think of a B2B customer who has issues with her account manager, but doesn’t feel comfortable discussing those issues—and so the account manager believes that everything is fine with that particular relationship.
Companies shouldn’t ignore their existing customer data. But they also need to tap into broader data sets and ask, “What story makes the most sense?”
Aldwin: What’s implicit in all of that is that understanding your customers better is an ongoing effort, not a once in a while thing. But if you do that, the insights can help all of your people do their jobs better, not just the customer success officer.
Kerry: Absolutely! That’s a really nice summary.
Aldwin: Thanks for sharing your insights with us, Kerry.
Kerry: You’re welcome! It was fun.
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