Customer-Oriented Digital Strategies for B2B
Business-to-business can achieve greater success rates through effective digital transformation of their customer experience.
- Oct 21, 2019
- 15 min read
There is an increasing number of business to business companies emphasizing on digitization to be competitive with customer-oriented strategies.
Customer-focused strategies have been prevalent mainly in the business-to-consumer (B2C) sector, but changing trends in the complex business environment can change the business-to-business (B2B) sector as well. For example, a major chemical manufacturer has produced a product with so much demand that it has been allocated instead of sold to consumers. Furthermore, the company’s top management mentioned that they would offer an upgraded customer experience transformation that encompasses all functions.
Major business to business companies are coping with increasing market competition by developing strategies focused on customer-oriented experience. This approach results in a change in the business model. For example, an agricultural product manufacturer is transforming their business through an online platform, graduating from a mere supplier to a productivity partner, helping with a wide range of topics such as product selection, sowing techniques, harvesting periods and others. Similarly, an equipment manufacturer developed a similar platform to assist consumers with equipment selection, acquisition, procedure and upkeep.
In various industries, many B2B organizations face challenges due to the increasing impact of customer experience approaches and the drastic measures taken by customer-oriented executives. Successful B2B companies in order to win needed to be in the right markets, deliver superior services and products or offer the most low-priced products. Due to increasing global competition, many companies are now investing in the path of functional excellence. These advantages are important but they dissolve quickly as competitors exploit the highly flexible labor markets as well as improve their accessibility to information.
Hence, it is a safe assumption that B2B companies will need to integrate non-digital and digital approaches to enhance customer experience and gain competitive advantage. An all-inclusive, cross-functional conversion of an organization’s structure and culture supported by digitalization will provide important opportunities for competitive edge, specifically in the view of new digitally savvy competition entering the B2B sector. The key is to achieve a suitable equilibrium between human and digital interface within complicated customer relations in B2B sector.
Challenges in Superior Customer Experience – An Opportunity
Investment in superior customer experience results in profit. Companies can significantly improve customer satisfaction scores by achieving substantial enhancement in functioning performance. Such enhancements can reduce customer complaints, improve success rate and reduce overall costs. Simultaneously, customer experience elevates, and employee satisfaction rises as direct association with customers provides more gratification to employee’s performance and bear witness to customer satisfaction.
There is an existing want of better experience among B2B customers. Decision makers in B2B sector view slowness of interactions with supplier as a major challenge, even more than price. According to executives, digital solutions are an effective approach to improving standard tasks. They consider self-service platforms to be more effective than the sales representative.
However, the situation in B2B organizations is different. Many organizations require considerable periods to provide quotes, need customers to complete intricate order forms and delay to update customers on their order status.
In order to improve customer experience, few organizations have devised customer apps or portals. But, in many cases, however, these efforts are limited in effectiveness, as core problems remain unresolved, such as the lack of data or the technology used proves to be too complicated. The central issue is that although customer journeys are key to both B2B and B2C companies, their importance and incidence for B2B are different.
Relationships are more intense in the B2B sector. Development of products in collaboration with suppliers is a prevalent practice and an important input of innovation in B2B companies, which is not the case in B2C sector. Additionally, B2B associations are often long-term as it involved repetitive sales. Reordering, therefore, is a vital journey in B2B while in B2C products are purchased on transactional basis.
Lengthy and complex B2B journeys require more personnel. In B2C environment, supplier choice is largely influenced by accepting or rejecting a standardized offer. In B2B, however, several engineers are required to examine the product and certify it, modifying a process or design accordingly. Customer-service processes and logistics are, therefore, forced to wait in order to organize deliveries as cost, quantity, terms of delivery and other aspects must be finalized first. The entire procedure can involve a considerable number of personnel to allow the transaction to take place.
Customization is relatively more common in B2B as oppose to B2C. The suppliers working in B2B sectors modify their products and processes to cater to meet customers needs and expectations. In order to remodify customer experience, it is essential to comprehend this variability– to what extent is it value generating to fulfill requirements of important customers or what degree has emerged as flexibility is a norm. For example, in container transportation, most customers value the flexibility that suppliers provide them in fulfilling customers’ special requirements when it comes to deal with customs or accepting cargo shipments. Mapping a standard journey can result in multiple alternative routes that customers can take when interacting with shipping companies.
The stakes in B2B sector are relatively higher. For major players, individual customer associations can value at millions. Companies will make great gestures and go to extraordinary lengths to maintain satisfaction of a good, profitable customer. Losing a customer can be detrimental to the business. On the contrary, B2C businesses focus on increasing customer numbers instead of individual customer’s value. In order to reap maximum benefits from an enhanced customer-experience system, organizations must recognize the profitability potential of customer segments and resolve headache causing issues faced during customer journey through appropriate strategic and financial solutions. Organizations with target audience comprising of few major clients can employ different journey process than those serving a large number of minor customers. Organizations must design journeys capable of handling either extremes of customer segment size. For instance, a chemical manufacturer serves customers who spend millions of dollar annually on their products but also provides services to smaller stores with an annual spending limit of a few hundred dollars. Hence, the strategical goal for most of these companies is to design and implement multiple journeys and methods for monitoring satisfaction.
Modifying Business to Business Companies for Better Digital Experience
The starting point of a customer-experience program should be a customer inventory of needs, a leadership pledge to good governance, and classification of journeys according to the most relevant to customers, potential impact on satisfaction of improvement and the associated delivery cost. Companies must be vigilant to avoid common downsides. Although companies have their own unique formula to success, there are five crucial factors that emerge in successful B2B companies.
Concentrate on Customer Experience Impacting Six Journeys
Business to business companies should start by focusing on the most important customer journeys. Based on customer interactions in B2B industries, six major journeys have emerged. In most industries, these journey processes can shape customer experience and span over customer life cycle – end to end.
Identification of Products or Services Capable of Fulfilling Need
It is a challenge for customers in the B2B sector to determine the most suitable product/service. Strengthening this journey is particularly important for organizations with split customer groups and non-essential value-generating products. For instance, an agrochemical organizations expanded its customer pool by designing a “soil analyzer” app, which enabled farmers to remotely obtain indicators about potential yield surge. The application goes through an optimized procedure of soil sampling, crop planning and the option to purchase yield-enhancing products. Subsequently, the company used digital marketing tools and sales networks to create awareness, which in turn resulted in significant increase in orders.
Selection of Supplier and Doing the First Purchase
On this journey, buyers attempt to compare suppliers in a timely manner across a wide range of criteria. In order to reduce the complication, some companies opt for supplier with the lowest price (without examining their service performance) or undertake length process of in-depth tendering. In pursuit of enhancing the journey experience, supplier can customize their bids and quotes precisely to the phase of buyer’s journey and generate substantial value by enabling them in making quick and informed decision. For instance, a wind turbine manufacturer has designed a website to assist its potential customers. Customers can enter their desired location and obtain information on the projected energy production, installation costs, likely maintenance requirements, expected profits and financial options for the company’s products. With detailed information in hand, customers can make quicker, more efficient decisions based on total ownership cost.
Collaborative Product Development with Suppliers
In innovative, oriented industries, this journey is important, but many research and development professional and sales manager point outs the challenges in maintaining project effectiveness and schedule as they perform in vacuum governance. In order to tackle the problem, a textile corporation developed a platform for B2B comprising of virtual vendor-managed inventory, e-library and e-production, all combined on a single platform to enable fast information access for customers and suppliers.
Management of Unanticipated Events
There are always unexpected events associated with any kind of business or industry. Dealing with unforeseen issues in the purchase process – equipment malfunctions or missed deliveries, can result in the success or failure of a journey, as these are times when customers feels most vulnerable.
Utilization of Product and Obtaining Service
Maintenance is also an important journey, particularly for capital goods and machinery clients. For instance, a building equipment manufacturer improved its customer satisfaction index and minimized customer service complains through enhanced maintenance journey. The company used remote diagnostics to schedule an appropriate repair period, provided all relevant data to the technicians and made materials available through a specifically designed application and kept managers informed with a tracking-and-tracing framework based on text messaging.
Reordering of Conversant Products and Services
The efficient and error-free reordering of raw materials or components is a major concern for customers. A steel manufacturing company designed a quotation application to assist the sales agents to fix prices based on provided policies instead of waiting around for manager. As a result, they minimized average quotation delivery period dramatically while sustaining a high level of centralized control.
Overcoming the Main Reasons of Customer Dissatisfaction to Promote Digital Interaction
Digitalization is an important tool in gaining competitive advantage and minimizing issues like irrelevant data or substandard interaction performance. But many major B2B organizations face difficulties in generating value outside the conventional business model. As journeys are long and complicated, complete automation may be ineffective or uneconomical. In most high-risk scenarios, B2B decision makers deem the system undesirable, they favor individualistic interaction. Hence, improvement of customer experience, whether digital or nondigital, requires changes in the working method for the majority of employees in the company. Effective customer-experience enhancement cannot be operated as minor, stand-alone journey optimizations. System management and a wide range of initiatives are needed to promote fundamental changes that focus on organizational issues, personnel attitudes, operational management and potential skills gaps that arise during the design phase.
An industrial company designed a sophisticated and appealing process for the upcoming journey, highly automated with prompt order confirmations, single step reordering, status updates for orders and upfront order altering implications. When the process was presented there was a lack of enthusiasm. Upon investigation of the causes, potential product owner expressed doubts about the ambitiousness of the method – expected results that can not be achieved because too many things had to be changed outside their immediate control. Further discussion highlighted a comprehensive list of modifications, such as IT systems, operational architecture, training requirements and attitude. The team did not view these changes as one major obstacle, but rather segmented them allocating responsibility of each modification to one person, thus transforming them in a wide-ranging initiatives that laid the foundation for the modification of the organizational core.
Mixed design of journeys leveraging human and digital interactions
The extent of investment in digitalization of distinct journeys differ substantially but there are few common trends. Organizations with streamlined products and segmented customer base may prefer to invest more in customer journeys involving identification of required products and services, undertaking initial procurement and reordering to improve productivity. On the other hand, organizations engaged in the business of customized products to a limited number of customers may benefit from investing in collaborative journeys with suppliers and managing unpredictable events.
The chemical manufacturer reinvented and digitized the ordering journey with multiple concepts for digital self-service, but has discovered that major customers are hesitant about lack of a relationship manager when problems arise. The company redesigned the process and modified the design experience. They restored the role of the relationship manager, providing clients with an opportunity to communicate with the manager and the self-service feature. They designed the process in such a way that the manager and the customer would have access to the same platform to compare information. Additionally, they built a co-browsing and video conferencing function to enable fast and individual resolution of issues.
Valuable redefined journeys should intentionally shift between digital self-service, automated human interactions and enhance offline solutions to meet customer priorities and support the extent of transactional and standardization capacity that requires digitalization investment. Customers in B2B sector often prefer digital self-service feature for straightforward, repetitive interactions such as reordering to improve time efficiency and flexibility. But, in situations with high stake or new, complicated interactions, many customers favor human contact – though digitally supported.
Every journey and interaction can have multiple options for intervention. For example, the journey of managing unpredictable events can be improved by automating it with self-assistance manuals or a tracking model for problem resolution. The journey can be further enhanced by digitally enabled human interactions such as high-definition virtual goggles to support technicians ‘ productivity or visit-planning platforms to ensure sufficient time and provision for technicians to complete their work. In addition, there can be offline enhancement options, such as training technicians in identifying issues with customers, providing upfront information and clarifying measures to avoid future occurrences. Appropriate interventions will be influenced by customer preferences, financial travel feasibility, prevalent market trends and internal frameworks, culture and procedural accessibility.
Develop Tracks to Manage Modifications
Journeys in the B2B sector is becoming increasingly complicated as it is necessary to meet the customized requirements of a small customer segment. These interactions require explicit customization, additional features or additional monitoring. Dissecting the journey in distinct and specific tracks can reduce complexity for most customers, which in turn can simplify journeys and reduce costs.
The corporate bank segmented its customer journey into three parts, enabling employees and customers to better understand the complications of global financial dealings. Express procedure was devised for simpler deals with lower stakes, lesser checks, compact teams and condensed timelines. On the other hand, a progressive process was developed for relatively complex cases involving in depth auditing, additional experienced employees in the team, and greater customer interactions. The third track reserved for tasks outside these categories. Loan officers were responsible for evaluating the proposal and selecting the appropriate track with a conformist approach to the completion of the agreement.
Adopt an Agile Methodology to Reduce Complexity
Customer journeys are characterized by complexities. Primary processes are rarely perfect. Hence, designing efforts do not cease at the conclusion of specific design stage. In order to support development, a cross-functional team including journey proficient personnel from information technology and business units must work in collaboration from the design phase to ongoing operation process.
As the team continues to learn and improve experience and design, unpredictable issues, classical project planning with a specific timeframe and milestones set at the start of the project turn out to be irrelevant. Therefore, journey leaders must have enough power and authority to make timely decisions and revise priorities periodically. Priorities should embody the essence and advantages of the concept, but without any intricate details, and therefore there is room for modification on the basis of learning during application. At the end of each phase, teams can reassess the enhanced journey based on feedback from customers and obtain valuable input from key participants. These agile methodologies and scrum processes involving compact skilled teams, frequent alterations and repetitive customer testing can effectively interpret the human interaction aspect of the journey.
A utility corporation digitized its journey such that consumers were able to connect directly to the grid. The front end team, dealing with customers, reduced the programming period by using dummy screens to experiment with new concepts with actual consumers on a periodic basis and modified designs after receiving feedback. In order to materialize the vision of the customer experience, the back-end team modified the physical procedures, including thousands of electricians, a dense system of heavy-construction organizations and resident municipalities. The team followed the footsteps of the front-end unit by testing processes, collecting reactions from all participants and developing a new model for live testing in a specific region. Testing and learning methods, coupled with frequent modifications, produce faster results for the company’s long-term improvement efforts and extensive up-front preparations.
In the B2B sector, there are increasing challenges in improving customer experience. There is a similarity in the work of B2B and B2C organizations in developing strategies for understanding customer journeys, while the complication associated with B2B interactions provides a unique status for digital transformation. Therefore, the critical factors of success include deep examination of intricate customer relationships, balancing digital and human interactions and sustaining a flexible approach in managing complex customer networks.