Why B2B CX Strategy Needs to Look More Like B2C

For years, providing positive customer experiences (CX) has been a key part of the business-to-consumer (B2C) strategy. To keep customers happy and loyal, B2C companies have tried to manage the entire customer buying journey, including their digital experiences with the company, to further influence their emotions. In the business-to-business (B2B) world, where business transactions involve organizations and not individuals, companies have been slower to adopt digital CX strategies. Their focus has primarily been on delivering quality products and services and engaging customers on rational business terms, like efficiency and price, instead of creating experiences.

Yet, B2B customers are companies made up of individuals who want to be understood, catered to, reassured, and secure in their business lives. The B2B partners they choose are critical to their businesses and their reputations. Now, more than ever, mammoth enterprises realize that success often hinges on a collaborative ecosystem of partners and vendors beyond the organizational boundaries. Because of these pressures, they can be moved by experiences that don't just solve tactical problems but create real emotional connections and trusting relationships.

B2B is moving toward digital CX.

Digital interactions are central to the lives of both B2B and B2C buyers, reshaping the way companies create experiences. Key players have set expectations, whether purchasing for personal or business reasons. For example, Amazon has set a standard for CX in ecommerce, providing individual shoppers with instant information, abundant choice, rapid delivery, and help with buying decisions.

B2B companies are now making plays to deliver Amazon-like CX to drive revenue and loyalty because of the proven benefits on the consumer side. Studies have shown that customers are five times more likely to purchase from companies with great customer experiences. So B2B brands are starting to address organizations as collections of individuals who can be moved by emotions and are consumers in their own lives.

But it's happening slowly. Currently, only 23 percent of B2Bs claim to have a customer-centric organizational structure versus a channel- or product-centric one, an indication that many are leaving opportunity on the table.

Slower adoption on the B2B side might be due to a number of factors that make CX in B2B uniquely challenging. Customers could exist in many locations, and decision making could involve multiple roles, departments, and people. A given customer might be connected with your organization through multiple channels. But the very factors that make B2B CX unique can be leveraged to your advantage with an effective B2B CX strategy that leverages digital technologies.

With this in mind, B2B brands can make strides to improve CX by following these four practices from the B2C world:

 1) Make customer feelings central to CX strategy: Customer emotions should play a unique role in how you design digital CX experiences. Think about how your service or product can foster emotions related to trust, reliability, and security. Consider emotional factors in how people make business decisions, the pain points you can help solve, their reputational concerns, and what your relationship might be like with them in the future.

2) Consider the unique needs of individuals: Look at the roles of the individuals in the companies you serve. In your service channels, examine how each individual role interacts with your company, their unique needs, their goals, and where they are in the purchase process. Gather this information and make it accessible to your service teams to create highly personalized interactions with the individuals you serve.

3) Enable mobile and omnichannel experiences: Support seamless customer service and support interactions across digital and physical channels, such as mobile-friendly capabilities to support research, workflows ported across platforms, and online requests carried through to in-person meetings. Create consistent experiences across all the channels your customers use, whether it's email/SMS, social, mobile app, self-service, or voice.

4) Seek customer feedback and create accountability: Make it easy for customers to provide feedback. Build a process to gather, analyze, and act on that feedback to understand the state of your customer relationships and their feelings. View this as an iterative improvement process and create feedback loops to see what's working and what's not, and ensure accountability for relationships.

Traditional CX staples used in B2C, such as CRM and contact center platforms, are already being tapped into to drive change in B2B. But there's a new breed of capabilities built on a growing set of next-generation technologies, including the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, and cloud that show even more promise. These new tools can help transform front-office operations and introduce new levels of connectivity, information access, and efficiency to B2B operations.

Analytics, for example, make it possible to measure customer sentiment by listening in on social channels and using voice-of-the-customer to provide insights into service quality and how customers are responding emotionally to interactions or customer service. Behavioral data can reveal customer preferences to create personalized communications, identify preferred contact channels, and analyze service performance.

The IoT has been used in B2B settings to connect service information to back-end solutions, including production, monitoring, and logistics. By connecting parts of the enterprise, insights on activities normally hidden from view can be used to create a richer customer or partner experience.

These emerging technologies can all live in the cloud, which helps organizations deploy and scale with lower costs, shorter timelines, and less risk than traditional on-premise solutions. As companies race to deliver CX capabilities, most of these experiences can now be built leveraging the cloud. It's helping create immersive customer experiences, omnichannel interactions, and insights across the entire enterprise.

Taking the right steps to innovative CX

Taken together, digital technologies are reshaping how B2B customers discover, experience, and interact with companies, changing the reality of what's possible and what's expected for B2B companies. When developing a comprehensive B2B CX strategy, there are a lot of moving parts that come into play: everything from customer feelings and expectations to operational improvements and opportunities in edge technologies. One thing is clear, those companies that make real connections through digital experiences will win more customers today and keep them happy tomorrow.

Sanjeev Kumar is global head of the Oracle CX Practice, which is part of the Enterprise Application Services Unit at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). He leads a team of CX consultants and manages a portfolio that spans the entire spectrum of CX offerings, from advisory services to implementation and niche solution development, to help companies realize their CX transformation journeys.