Anna Soisalo
Anna Soisalo 16 May 2018

If you think Customer Experience is just for B2C projects, it’s time to think again

Anna Soisalo, Strategy VP at Smart Design, explains how customer experience is now an urgent priority for B2B engagements — not just B2C — in every sector of modern business and innovation.

Global leader for Interactive Experiences at IBM, Paul Papas, memorably commented that “the last best experience that anyone has anywhere becomes the minimum expectation for the experiences they want everywhere.” Of course, this is sound advice — and words that are sure to ring true for anyone working on Customer Experience (CX) for a consumer-facing product or service. But recently I’ve noticed a growing concern among service designers and strategists: are we applying the same CX rigour and user-centred thinking to our B2B engagements as well? Or are we missing opportunities to apply the best and most powerful service design thinking to these projects?

With less than a fifth of B2B organisations achieving a CX that’s on par with the best B2C experiences, it seems very likely B2B CX is being systematically neglected by clients and agencies. That’s something we should all be looking to change.

We are used to thinking in a certain way, and we’re now familiar with the need to create additional value around the brand by solving a bigger problem for the consumer, rather than merely supplying and marketing a one-off product or service. But does this thinking translate to B2B projects, when the end-user, customer, client and stakeholder are all different people, with different needs? What can we do to address the difficulty of bringing joined-up CX thinking to an organisation throughout all its B2B contexts?

Creating revolutionary, innovative CX solutions for businesses involves breaking down the barriers between B2C and B2B thinking. This is a simple point, but also a difficult problem to manage in the real world.

The challenges of designing user experiences as part of B2B projects — and how to overcome them

Mastering B2B CX is certainly a more complex undertaking than conventional service design. Just like everything else, it comes back to understanding your customers — but what does that process look like when you have a whole ecosystem of customers, influencers, decision-makers and budget-holders to understand?

The core of understanding and improving the CX approach for B2B customers still relies on understanding the emotional and people-centric aspects of what you’re doing. The complexities of the decision-making process still form the heart of good CX design, even when your customer is rarely the end-user. However, when your customer journey becomes more complex to map out, and at each point of interaction your engagement may need to be tailored to each of those constituents, it’s easy to lose track of who and what you’re aiming for.

At Smart Design, we start to address this problem within a company by creating a CX vision and strategic framework. This crucial step involves distributing CX knowledge and relevance throughout the business.

For any organisation, a successful CX project will affect governance, process tools and methods. Establishing a core team is essential, and it must be drawn from different parts of the business, not siloed within traditional CX-friendly areas such as marketing. Again, this simple point is more difficult to act on within a B2C context than a B2B project, for cultural and financial reasons.

To successfully complete a customer experience project, you need to pull together a committed team from various parts of the business to make it work, rather than following the usual emphasis on marketing or brand. It’s also key to use customer data at the beginning, and not just the end, of the process: there is a strong tendency for some companies to rely too much on a Net Promoter Score (NPS) at the end of the process. NPS data is obviously a key measure for businesses today, and as a measurement of customer satisfaction it can highlight if there are mistakes made in CX — but not always why those mistakes are made.

That’s why, if you’re only looking at it at the end of a project as a measurement rather than an input tool, you’re missing out on a lot of its effectiveness and power. Careful CX work makes it essential to use NPS and other customer data at the beginning of the process, and then all the way through. This circular, focused attention to NPS ensures you capture — and act on — every point at which your team could improve CX for multiple, diverse users.

Applying CX thinking to business problems that have multiple end-users is a tough challenge, but one that a focused company with a strategy should be rising to meet.

Every company is different, and every company is changing 

When I work with teams to implement CX thinking and change throughout a company, I always learn how important it is to be confident.

Don’t worry too much about what your competitors are doing: be your own case study for a change. This may seem strange. But although using a powerful case study of successful CX might well help you get buy-in internally for your organisation, it's not going to help you much in the long run.

All companies are different: sometimes we need to stop looking at other people, be brave and take the leap. Stop thinking about it — just do it. The rewards will be out there.

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