When asked to describe which brands they’re loyal to and why, these Reddit users rattled off story after story of exceptional customer experiences (CX). Several noted product or service quality, price and the company’s values as well, but many of the thread’s 2,000+ posts center around CX: the helpfulness of customer service pre- and post-purchase, the personalized and customized interactions, and the integrated and seamless touchpoints across channels. Most of these comments come from end users recounting experiences with business-to-consumer (B2C) brands, but it is interesting to consider how just one simple and pleasant customer experience can have such a tremendous impact on brand loyalty and repeat sales.

The Amazon Effect

Although the B2B manufacturing industry has historically been a step or two behind the B2C market with regards to prioritizing customer experience improvements, manufacturing buyers have also grown accustomed to streamlined, integrated omnichannel touchpoints with brands due to the experiences they have in their personal lives. Amazon is often cited as the pioneering, disruptive force behind these changing expectations and demands; thanks to Amazon, online shoppers now expect free two-day shipping, personalized recommendations, complex product filtering options, and prompt, generous customer service from all brands. They think, “Why shouldn’t I have an experience this quick, easy and cheap in all areas of my life?”

While Amazon deserves credit for setting such high standards early on, today the pioneer is in shared company. Similar eCommerce, technology and content personalization experiences are becoming expected and commonplace. In fact, according to a large-scale Salesforce study, 80% of B2B buyers expect companies to interact with them in real time, and nearly 2/3 say they’d find a new supplier if the company didn’t make an effort to personalize communications with their business.

Exceeding these expectations is being heralded by consultancies and research firms alike as the primary brand differentiator of the future, especially in the B2B space where customer experience has been notoriously deprioritized in favor of product innovations or operational and efficiency improvements. Experts predict that quality and price will drop down in the hierarchy of purchase criteria, and an optimal customer experience will drive business growth above all else.

Ways to Improve CX in B2B Manufacturing

“Improving the customer experience” is a relatively ambiguous and complex task; how does a B2B manufacturing company even begin such a project? What does a B2B-specific CX program look like in this industry? It’s well-documented that a B2B purchase is much more complicated than a consumer one, making CX improvements even trickier. Below, we’ve compiled a few common CX activities and enhancements being leveraged successfully by manufacturers today. While some are simpler to achieve than others, each one offers significant value to the B2B buyer and could help your company win lifelong brand loyalty from your customers.

1. Customer Journey Mapping

Mapping each customer journey in a visual way allows marketers and their leadership teams to see precisely where strengths, weaknesses and opportunities exist in the current purchase path. A customer journey map should be omnichannel, providing a truly holistic view of the end-to-end experience pre- and post-purchase.

Customer journey mapping in the B2B space can be quite different than in the consumer market. The journey is typically much longer, highly tailored with each new customer, and includes continuous interactions and touchpoints. Often, the B2B journey involves a customized service or product offering with individualized pricing and contract terms. It’s critical for businesses to understand the entire process from start to finish for each unique persona; customer journey mapping provides the insight businesses can utilize to begin making impactful changes to the customer experience.

Customer journey mapping can be done internally by an existing marketing or CX team, but it’s unlikely for B2B manufacturing companies to have marketers specifically skilled in this service. Customer journey mapping is typically offered by a variety of third-party consultants and vendors, giving manufacturers several options to access this comprehensive tool.

2. Voice of Customer (VoC) Monitoring

Getting feedback directly from customers is an astonishingly underutilized instrument in the marketer’s toolbelt, in both the consumer and B2B worlds. Perhaps this hesitance derives from an ignorance-is-bliss mentality, but businesses serious about making CX improvements must understand that there is simply no better way to gauge customer satisfaction than by asking for feedback directly.

David Ward, Director of Marketing at a UK-based B2B and B2C shipping and delivery company called Yodel, helped launch an award-winning customer feedback program. Ward describes the program’s rocky start:

We initially tried a few ideas to generate customer feedback, issuing fliers and adding options onto our tracking site. What we found was these were dominated by customers who needed additional support and in the main pretty negative,” Ward begins.

“I wanted to start conversing with a much wider customer sample and we unlocked this by putting a simple link onto our delivery notifications (both SMS and email). The results were immediate; we started getting tens of thousands of responses every week. This was fascinating, as we had previously held the belief that shoppers wouldn’t be bothered in telling about their individual experiences – except of course, if they need additional help or had a reason to complain. We couldn’t have been more wrong.”

The insight demonstrated clear areas for improvement, which allowed Ward and Yodel’s leadership team to prioritize and enact over several years. The company’s Net Promoter Score rose 21 points between July 2017 and February 2018, driven primary from satisfaction improvements with retailers.

VoC monitoring is an activity that could potentially touch several disparate business departments: marketing, technology, customer service, and sales. Beginning with a simple customer satisfaction survey on the website is a good first step for most B2B manufacturing companies just dipping their toe in the CX pool, something that can be easily created and implemented with a SaaS solution like Hotjar.

3. B2B eCommerce

While it’s true that B2B buyers want the option to make purchases online, the differences between consumer and B2B eCommerce requirements are striking. The table below lays out some of the primary differences between the two experiences:

CX manufacturing

The complexities of B2B eCommerce are not impossible to overcome, however. Software companies are capitalizing on this growing trend by creating out-of-the-box SaaS digital commerce solutions that integrate seamlessly with other systems, like ERP, PIM, POS and marketing automation. Similarly, technology and development partners like Falls Digital are becoming specialized in this niche area as well.

Evidence shows that ecommerce in B2B is becoming the expectation, not the exception to the rule; the industry is expected to grow to $1.3 trillion by 2020. If they haven’t already, B2B manufacturers would do well to consider implementing an eCommerce solution sooner rather than later.

B2B manufacturers that prioritize the customer experience in coming years may find themselves disrupting their own industry, as there is ample room for improvement amongst the competition. As customer expectations continue to grow, the B2B companies that figure out how to provide scalable, satisfying and simple experiences to their customers are the ones that will grow and win long-term.

For help developing a customer experience program for your B2B company, contact Falls Digital today.

Topics: Customer Obsession, B2B Manufacturing, Digital Disruption

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