What Is the B2B Customer Experience (CX)?
Best Practices to Improve B2B CX
Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify have built their entire reputations around engineering experiences derived from customer expectations, wants, habits, and needs. In exchange, customers have rewarded the brands with exceptional loyalty, which is a surefire way to achieve success in today’s ecommerce subscription economy.
Accenture’s recent report calls the phenomenon ‘an experience renaissance,’ a reprogramming of customer experience philosophy into ‘the delivery of exceptional experiences.’ According to the agency’s report, companies that organize their operations around the delivery of such experiences are “twice as likely (55% vs 26%) to say they have the ability to translate customer data into actions.”
Even though companies like Amazon and Spotify target the B2C sector, B2B companies are increasingly following the trend and are looking for ways to provide such elevated experiences for B2B customers whose expectations have changed dramatically in recent years. However, B2B CX is much more nuanced and goes beyond the sheer simplicity, helpfulness, and personalization often associated with B2C. Improvements in B2B CX require more than investments in digital, but also energy, mind shift, and strategy. These straightforward, actionable guidelines will help you get started.
- What Is the B2B Customer Experience?
- Why Customer Experience Is Important in B2B
- Evolution of B2B Customer Expectations: What Has Changed Since the Pandemic?
- How To Improve the B2B Customer Experience: B2B CX Best Practices
- 3 Main B2B Customer Experience Strategies
- How Virto Commerce Helps Build Better B2B Customer Experiences
- Example of a Great B2B Customer Experience
What Is the B2B Customer Experience?
The B2B CX is the entire experience for B2B buyers as they interact with providers of B2B goods and services. In other words, the B2B CX encompasses every interaction a B2B customer has with your brand.
Differences between the B2B and B2C Customer Experiences
In B2B, a “customer” is not just a single individual but an account, often made up of multiple decision-makers and stakeholders who tend to have different needs and expectations of their interactions with a B2B ecommerce platform.
Since various departments have different desires, goals, and expectations, your touchpoints need to be tailored to the preferences of your customers’ stakeholders at particular points in their purchasing journeys. Meeting diverse needs is vital to delivering a good B2B experience.
On the contrary, customer experiences in B2C are often simpler, more straightforward, and shorter, which lead to quick and convenient interactions.
Oftentimes in B2B, shopping is someone’s job and responsibility. In B2C, however, shopping is practically synonymous with entertainment. Keeping this in mind, rather than making someone’s job fun, your goal as a B2B store owner is to help your customers assemble their orders quickly and accurately. Providing real-time inventory information and relevant recommendations for substitute parts when the original is not available are among a few things you can do to help your B2B buyers arrive at a purchasing decision faster and, therefore, do their jobs more efficiently.
Important insights on B2B vs. B2C
There are several things to keep in mind when talking about CX in B2B versus B2C. Below are some important insights to consider before you start developing a B2B CX.
- The B2B customer journey comes with added complexity. Besides multiple decision-makers behind an account, a B2B purchasing journey has different layers of added complexity, such as complicated purchasing patterns, long supply chains, a longer sales cycle, frequent change of priorities, and so on.
- Different and unbalanced B2B customer revenue mix. In B2C, a company can do well with broad customer loyalty segments. A B2B company, however, derives a large portion of its revenue from just a handful of customers. Moreover, each of those customers can demand a different type of experience. All those nuances should be accounted for in a B2B ecommerce platform that is sufficiently flexible to accommodate different types of business scenarios.
- B2B CX maturity is still low. Although B2B brands are catching up, they still lag behind B2C companies. In fact, research shows that 80% of B2B organizations only fall into the first two stages of CX maturity, out of a total of five stages.
Why Customer Experience Is Important in B2B
When thinking of the importance of developing modern experiences in B2B, one can’t help but remember Steve Jobs at the World Developers Conference in 1997, when he famously said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”
Indeed, we live in an “experience” economy where customers demand and expect more by the day; brands that continually adapt to satisfy increasingly evolving customer expectations rise to the top.
In fact, both B2C and B2B companies that continuously invest in CX are three times more likely to meet their business goals.
According to McKinsey & Company, improvements in CX lead to reducing customer churn by as much as 10 to 15%, while increasing win rates by almost 40% in some cases.
Moreover, 75% of CX leaders register a positive impact on their companies’ financial performance from implementing best CX practices.
The bottom line is that seamless customer experiences are essential for retaining your existing customers and attracting new ones. Without providing those experiences, getting ahead of your competition or expanding your market reach is nearly impossible.
Evolution of B2B Customer Expectations: What Has Changed Since the Pandemic?
Even though B2B purchasing was steadily moving online, the pandemic massively accelerated its digitization so much that almost half (49%) of all B2B purchasing is now conducted via digital channels. This is certainly an enormous leap forward in the evolution of B2B ecommerce, and it presents both opportunities and challenges for B2B players.
One of the very first steps in addressing a shift to digital is understanding what exactly has changed and how B2B buyer expectations have evolved.
Looking at recent survey data, it’s clear that a lot more buyers in B2B are now willing to purchase online. In fact, McKinsey research shows that 70% of B2B buyers are now open to making digital purchases of over $50,000 and 27% are ready to spend more than $500,000.
As B2B buyers are getting increasingly comfortable navigating and spending in remote environments, B2B sellers must provide for corresponding virtual experiences to capitalize on multiple opportunities the remote world offers. For example, migrating smaller buyers to online environments and providing self-service options will greatly reduce costs related to serving those customers. For one thing, it will allow salespeople to concentrate on higher-value activities and customers who require assistance. Not to mention that, according to Gartner, almost half of B2B respondents say they would prefer to not interact with a sales representative at all.
The bottom line is that there's greater scope than ever for increasing revenue and expanding market reach by shifting to digital – if you can get the digital experience right.
How To Improve the B2B Customer Experience: B2B CX Best Practices
Ultimately, developing a good B2B CX from scratch or improving existing experiences means ensuring expectations of both prospects and customers are met, wherever they are in their purchasing journey. Now, let’s break that down further.
Know your customer
Designing personalized experiences requires understanding your customers by listening to their needs (through research or feedback) and analyzing what they are doing.
Acquired data should be used to map out optimal journey paths for products and personas, where customers encounter a combination of unique touchpoints, messaging, and support resources based on their preferences and desired outcomes. Ideally, customers should be given an opportunity to steer their journeys in their preferred direction by selecting from a variety of optional paths to arrive on a seamless journey that is uniquely theirs.
Thankfully, every business has a wide array of data to analyze, starting with operational data on how well a company performs and ending with experience data that explains how the experience looks and feels to customers. Below we’ll look at a few more suggestions about where to look for data.
- Begin with data you already have. Integrating operational data with the right experience data will help you understand what issues you're currently facing and what needs changed.
- Collect customer feedback. There are plenty of ways you can listen to your customers, starting with asking them directly to conducting anonymous surveys or holding focus groups. Collecting feedback is extremely important in determining some of the experience metrics such as CSAT (Customer Satisfaction), Customer Effort Score (CES), Net Promoter Score (NPS), Net Value Score (NVS), Customer Churn, and so on.
- Use internal intelligence and the voice of the customer through employees (VoCE). Customer-facing employees can be one of the best sources of truth about customer experiences, including their pain points, needs, and expectations. Asking your frontline workers to collect as much information, both qualitative and quantitative, about your customers can supply you with an enormous pool of data, which you can then use to improve customer experiences. A lot about interactions can be learned from "immersive experiences, " in which one of your frontline workers "rides along" with your customer, observes how he or she uses the platform, and identifies obstacles they encounter. Using data from those experiences can help you identify make-or-break touchpoints and define customer perceptions more objectively.
- Generate account health dashboards. Combining feedback sources for each account into a comprehensive dashboard can help you organize, structure, and store data to refer to whenever required.
- Connect with customers in real time. Giving customers access to information like technical documentation and FAQs is critical. However, sometimes it's easier for you to talk to them directly via a messaging board, a chatbot, or telephone. Providing various means of communication ensures small issues don't escalate, and customers resolve their pressing issues quickly.
- Map the customer journey. A customer journey map is a powerful tool that visually plots all the interactions customers have with your business. Mapping helps you analyze specific customer journey phases, and identify and address all broken experiences.
- Host design-thinking training. Design-thinking events should be aimed at understanding the user and changing assumptions about user behavior. By analyzing historical data and considering alternative strategies and solutions, your team can enhance its understanding of customer perspectives and design better experiences in the future.
- Use predictive data analytics tools. Sometimes using historical data is not enough. Predictive analytics helps you create experiences that anticipate what customers need at any given point on their journey. With predictive tools, you can offer your customers renewal contracts before services expire or send an upgrade offer for added scale.
Focus on ease
Customers universally desire simplicity and intuitive experiences when they research, purchase, and access services.If you’re not sure where to start when designing a B2B customer experience, then look for ways to make it easier, especially if your product is complex.
- Try to reduce friction. Consider the workflows for different user and business scenarios, organize your catalog into logical taxonomies, make navigation simple, and provide a robust search functionality so customers can find whatever they are looking for within a handful of clicks.
- Find the human-digital balance. While many customers increasingly appreciate self-service options, others might still struggle to navigate digital experiences and would rather reach out to another human for help. The best strategy is to seek the right balance for human and digital interaction and opt for a gradual and organic user adoption whenever possible.
Create personalized experiences
Personalization is very different in B2B. It doesn’t mean, however, that B2B customers do not want custom, personalized experiences.
As mentioned above, a user’s account in B2B is essentially a business account that belongs to an entire organization. However, as companies do not operate as abstract entities, but are managed by individual users, your platform’s corporate account management module should account for an organizational structure that incorporates multiple users with different access levels.
However, as those individuals work on behalf of a single entity, the prices they see are not personalized individually, but represent the prices contractually agreed upon with the entity as a whole.
As discussed earlier, unlike B2C customers, B2B buyers are not shopping for entertainment. Irrelevant recommendations are considered distractions and can result in customer dissatisfaction and erosion. Instead of trying to upsell, provide recommendations that help buyers assemble their orders faster and more accurately. Recommendations can also be based on buyers’ previous orders, since most orders in B2B tend to be reoccurring.
All those B2B CX nuances should be incorporated in your B2B ecommerce platform. Your ecommerce solution needs to be flexible and API-driven so it integrates with third-party systems like AI, ML, and analytical engines, as well as have essential out-of-the-box features like corporate account and user management, catalog, and order management modules.
Allow customers to self-serve
Having well-designed self-service options can help customers get what they need for a better, easier, and faster experience. While it’s still the case that many B2B customers rely on humans to manage the complexity of B2B relationships, they increasingly expect at least a handful of self-service options (such as tracking an order) that allow them to do parts of their job on their own.
Start by providing a detailed knowledge base, including how-to guides, FAQs, technical documentation, and videos, which can help prospects arrive at a purchasing decision faster and enable existing customers to find the information they need without talking to someone in person. Having a robust search functionality and a chatbot that can direct customers to a relevant section on the site will help reduce friction and save customers valuable time.
Create omni- and multichannel experiences
Customers interact with a company through a variety of departments (sales, accounting, and support) and channels (email, app, and website). Although channels are different, customers expect a unifying, omni-channel experience that provides consistency throughout the life cycle. To develop such an omni-channel experience and enable the seamless flow of information between different systems, integrate your B2B ecommerce platform with crucial internal and third-party solutions. For example, at the fulfillment stage, your B2B platform needs to seamlessly integrate with shipping and fulfillment providers to allow customers to get updates on their order status.
Accelerated digitization has significantly increased the number of different touchpoints that have already been taken for granted in B2C and should be now incorporated in B2B.
The areas of immediate concern are mobile, video, and online chat.
Consider the following statistics: 80% of B2B executives report researching products and services on their mobile devices, while 62% of B2B buyers say they like to use a dedicated smartphone app for purchases. Mobile use in the workplace will only continue to grow, so optimizing your website for mobile experiences is crucial.
During the pandemic, B2B commerce saw a 41% increase in the use of video chats and a 23% increase in online chats. Although the numbers are likely to decrease slightly by the end of the pandemic, the demand for digital channels will remain strong.
Internet of Things (IoTs), smart devices, voice platforms, and virtual and augmented reality are not far behind as we see some digital disruptors already adopting and utilizing the latest next-gen technologies.
Because of the complexity of B2B workflows, the best way to build those experiences in B2B is composable commerce. Composable commerce allows businesses to adopt a modular approach and compose their digital platform from individual modules or packages, unlike monolithic bundles, which try to cover every aspect of commerce in a single solution. Each component is integrated with and connected to a single platform, which allows organizations to develop more intuitive experiences. So, when you're ready to incorporate an IoT device, you'll just add another module and incorporate it into your existing solution.
With composable commerce, you can build high-end digital journeys with consistency across every channel and device.
3 Main B2B Customer Experience Strategies
A good B2B CX strategy accounts for every stage in a buyer’s journey, starting with brand awareness and consideration and ending with a purchasing decision and comprehensive after-sales support.
The key to improving CX is getting started. The following suggestions can help you develop a comprehensive approach to tackling the development of a good B2B CX or improving existing experiences.
- Build a solid team. Developing a comprehensive strategy requires leadership and teamwork. There's explicit evidence that companies achieving higher CX maturity levels have a centralized team responsible for managing and executing a customer experience strategy. Therefore, establishing a dedicated team is one of the first and most important steps to developing better experiences.
- Create a customer experience charter. As with any document, a CX charter adds legitimacy to your CX efforts. A charter outlines clear business goals for the customer experience program and provides a structure for accountability and governance. The charter helps facilitate sound decision-making by developing and formalizing the management of a CX program.
- Measure your impact. An effective CX program should include key metrics to monitor your progress. Strive to include both broad metrics, such as customer retention and growth, and specific, narrow indicators that target precise goals around customer service, delivery times, or any other cost-saving initiatives.
How Virto Commerce Helps Build Better B2B Customer Experiences
A well-defined strategy and a dedicated team are absolutely essential for building better experiences. However, if you’re using a monolithic solution that can hardly accommodate any of the modern experiences that B2B customers increasingly demand, then neither a strategy nor a team will amount to much. A robust technological solution is key to building efficient customer experiences
Your ecommerce solution should be flexible, composable, and scalable.
Since it meets these needs and requirements precisely, Virto Commerce is an ideal ecommerce solution for B2B.
Virto considers the flexibility of business account management its top priority – without the relevant account structure, it’s virtually impossible to achieve the desired level of personalization in B2B. With Virto Commerce, you can set up as many permission (and access) levels as you want, directly from the platform’s front end.
Thanks to its robust Pricing Module, Virto Commerce can deliver personalized price lists to specific business units (departments, branches, teams).
Virtual catalogs guarantee your customers only see contractually agreed-on products.
Being a headless ecommerce platform, Virto allows you to create as many front ends (with different customer experiences) as you want.
The solution is also API-based, meaning it can easily integrate with third-party services, like your ERP, CMS, CRM, or an analytical engine.
Moreover, having a dedicated team of professionals behind the wheel, Virto Commerce can help you build custom experiences based on business scenarios of any complexity.
Example of a Great B2B Customer Experience
Below, we’ll look at a specific use case that happened in Virto Commerce practice, which is particularly representative of how an efficient ecommerce platform can change customer experiences for the better.
Zoeller Company is one of the USA’s oldest family-owned manufacturers of submersible pumps, systems, and controls for moving and treating water. Since Zoeller’s B2B ecommerce solution was far from perfect, the company sought Virto Commerce’s help to fix existing problems.
Among the issues that Zoeller experienced were inefficient customer service, lack of self-service functionality, including return merchandise automation, poor catalog management, and lack of important integrations.
During the Virto Commerce tenure at Zoeller, Virto helped the company develop several modules, such as: real-time inventory for the distribution centers; effective contract, pricing, and payment management modules; self-service functionality; role-based access for different roles; and after-sales support.
Thanks to its partnership with Virto Commerce, Zoeller significantly improved its customer experience. Finally, customers can efficiently “self serve” and find their products faster and easier with Virto’s superior search functionality. The addition of regionalized and individualized catalogs by domain and country enable different websites to offer personalized catalogs by country in the region. Finally, Zoeller’s increased search rankings equated to a significant increase in revenue.
The most important achievement was that Zoeller was able to internally implement the solution on its own after just one week of training. In-house implementation allowed Zoeller to massively reduce the total cost of ownership and reliance on expensive implementation partners without sacrificing the solution’s quality, functionality, and upgradability.
B2B purchasing has been dramatically transformed in recent years – from simple, on-site commerce to sophisticated digital commerce that links different systems, channels, products, and people in a dynamic and responsive ecosystem. Experiences are now more important than ever; in fact, some experts believe that experiences have become even more important than products or services. Thankfully, building such transformative experiences has become easier than ever; with the right ecommerce solution, everything is possible. In this brave new world of digital commerce, companies must take advantage of the many opportunities that such technological breakthroughs offer in order to thrive now and in the future.