B2B Companies Have Increased Spending to Improve Customer Experience, but Majority Waste Investments

The overwhelming majority of business-to-business (B2B) organizations are spending more on initiatives to improve their customers’ experience but many are not getting the most return on those investments, according to a new survey from Accenture.

Accenture’s research indicates that executives believe their business customers increasingly are exhibiting consumer-like behavior in terms of how they view, interact with and buy from their suppliers, including their knowledge of the market, higher expectations and greater price sensitivity.

Eighty-five percent of B2B supplier executives said that they consider the overall customer experience they provide in sales and service to be ‘very important’ to their strategic priorities, and 70 percent recognize that, over the next two years, customer-experience related considerations will play an even larger role in the overall corporate strategy.

However, more than half the respondents admit that their customer experience programs had achieved little, flat or negative return in terms of retaining customers (55 percent) and building global revenues (52 percent).

“The relationship between company and supplier has changed,” said Robert Wollan, global managing director of Accenture’s sales and customer services practice, in a statement. “Business customers are acting more like consumers. They know more about the services on offer, expect more customized solutions, and are more price sensitive.

“Companies say they recognize this but the majority are not designing and executing the necessary changes effectively. This creates a drain on profitability and missed opportunities. Getting B2B customer experience right increasingly determines market success, but too many companies are ‘playing not to lose’ rather than ‘playing to win.’”

Accenture’s study shows that B2B companies can typically be grouped into three broad segments according to their ability to plan and execute customer experience programs that deliver annual revenue growth:

  • Masters: This group prioritizes customer experience and excels at both defining and executing a customer service strategy, which helps them generate an average 13 percent annual revenue growth.  Only about a quarter of the companies represented by the survey – 24 percent – would qualify as Masters, according to Accenture’s analysis.
  • Strivers:  Characterized by moderate customer experience performance, across either strategy, execution or both dimensions, Strivers are represented by nearly half the companies represented by the survey – 48 percent.  According to Accenture, the results achieved by these companies in customer experience help to deliver an average of 6 percent annual revenue growth.
  • Laggards: According to Accenture, companies in this group, which represents 28 percent of the survey sample, produces a negative average annual revenue growth figure of -1 percent, partly due to large performance gaps in their customer experience strategy and execution capabilities.

The study found that Masters are more aggressively investing time and money in improving their customers’ experience than Laggards, and outperforming Laggards in several ways:

  • More than nine out of 10 Masters companies (92 percent) have embedded customer experience delivery as a formal end-to-end business process that connects how customers interact and engage across sales, marketing and service functions, compared to just under half (46 percent) of Laggards.
  • Masters are more likely to make the customer experience a central element of their strategy and day-to-day operations. Ninety-one percent of Masters link performance reviews, compensation and bonuses to customer experience outcomes for their sales and service workforces, compared to less than half (42 percent) of Laggards.
  • Masters are also more likely to place responsibility for delivery of the customer experience in a centralized function that directly manages several other functions – 64 percent versus 36 percent.
  • Executives in the companies categorized as Masters were nearly four times more likely than Laggards to say that they will increase their customer experience budget by more than 6 percent in the next fiscal year – 78 percent vs. 20 percent.

“The performance gap between the Masters and Laggards is more dramatic than you would expect, given both groups cite customer service as a strategic priority,” Wollan said. “One place to get back on track is giving customer experience leaders control over or close proximity to the P&L; as well as fostering true collaboration across internal and external sales, marketing and service stakeholders, and external partners. Our analysis indicates that proximity to the P&L is one of the predictors of customer experience performance.”