B2BxCX—Common Challenges and Recommendations (Part 1)
A recent article from McKinsey seems to be pointing to a widening gulf between the expectations and preferences of B2B customers and the experiences that many B2B companies are offering.
This is not surprising. Consumer experiences continue to evolve, becoming more and more intuitive, personalized and high-tech, setting precedents for interactions that people expect to cross over into professional settings. And B2B sales are a lot more complex than B2C, from credit to negotiated pricing to invoicing, compounded by more complex priorities and the purchases.
According to McKinsey’s The new B2B growth equation:
At best, this is neutral news for the B2B companies that have invested in exploring and meeting their customers’ needs and preferences. B2B companies that haven’t, however, will find themselves at a bigger and bigger disadvantage as they get further and further behind.
I’ve been working with (and within) B2B organizations as an experience strategist for more than a decade now, and have noted some trends that might be helpful to B2B leaders as they consider their own customer experiences. These trends specifically apply to the B2B commerce space, although some of them may also resonate in the service space, and even in B2C.
This article is Part 1 of a 3-part series. In this article, I’ll share some of the themes I’ve noticed with respect to customer experience friction points. In Part 2, I’ll share themes across CX-related business challenges. And in Part 3, I’ll share themes across customer experience recommendations I’ve shaped with and for B2B organizations.
Part 1 of 3: Customer Experience Friction Points
A quick disclaimer: these themes manifest differently across industries and individual companies. They may not apply exactly as expressed here for your customers, if they apply at all.
Common B2B CX Friction Points:
- Customers find the process of accessing the information and expertise they need to choose products or solutions that will work in their contexts frustrating. B2B organizations have the information and expertise that their customers and potential customers want access to, from simple details like product availability to detailed consultations, but they are often only available to customers by way of a salesperson. This introduces administrative bottlenecks and the potential for miscommunication, and it costs customers valuable time. Related to this, when customers access expertise digitally, some provide false contact information, anticipating calls from salespeople when they are not interested in or ready to make purchases. And, while not specifically a friction point for customers (they can’t know what they don’t know), this can result in customers not finding the right solution for their needs with a preferred vendor as quickly as they could have, or even at all.
- Once beyond initial sales-related interactions, customers find the experience of working with B2B companies fractured and inconsistent, and themselves frustrated by the extra work this causes. The processes and technology that B2B organizations have in place were often implemented independently by individual departments, using separate data sources, and many remain this way. When customer interactions with these departments were mostly person-to-person, and likely distributed across multiple individuals in the customer organization, inconsistencies were less noticeable, and were likely resolved behind the scenes. But as B2B organizations make self-service, digital interactions available—and person-to-person interactions less available—the disconnected natures of their internal systems become apparent externally. This frustrates customers as they work to resolve inconsistencies themselves, whether updating something as simple as incorrect contact information or reconciling data sets or reports. Beyond this, the interfaces for individual self-service tools (commerce, marketing services, invoicing), having been developed independently like their behind-the-scenes counterparts, often offer very different user experiences, from look and feel to navigation to account details, requiring extra effort from users to interact successfully.
- Commerce tools available to customers are outdated and difficult to use. B2B organizations have been slower to introduce digital channels for customers than B2C, and they’ve done so with mixed results. For many B2B organizations, digital interactions represent a very small percentage of their interactions with customers, particularly when it comes to order management, and therefore aren’t their highest priority. And, if digital commerce channels aren’t set up to be advantageous to sales, sales will often actively dissuade customers from using them. Additionally, when many B2B organizations began introducing digital channels for commerce purposes, they borrowed heavily from B2C patterns. These patterns aren’t generally a good fit for B2B interactions due to the complexities—both supplier- and customer-side—associated with purchasing from B2B organizations, and the nature of the purchases being made.
- Tools and support for installation/implementation and maintenance partners are limited. B2B organizations that sell only to service providers they’ve established partnerships with (as opposed to resellers) generally provide good training materials and documentation to these partners, but they are only just beginning to make the tools they have available internally available to their partners. This requires more administrative work and training time for these partners to offer the organization’s products, which takes away from time they could be spending selling and completing more work (and in turn, selling and installing more of the organization’s products).
- Customers (or service partners) may not have the ability to take advantage of digital capabilities and innovations as they are offered. Even when B2B organizations have established digital solutions with their resellers or partners in mind, there are resellers and partners that cannot easily or always take advantage of them. This is, in some cases, because they lack the technological sophistication to do so, and, in others, because the solutions haven’t taken into consideration their contexts. For example, when digital solutions are only available to users with access to the internet, those who work in remote areas cannot always use them.
While I suspect none of these themes is completely surprising, collectively, it is a lot of customer frustration to acknowledge. In Part 2 of this series, I’ll turn my focus to common challenges within B2B organizations that often contribute to these frustrations.
The good news is, despite all of this, another theme I’ve noted is that B2B customers generally feel really good about the relationships they have with their salespeople and others they interact with at the B2B companies they work with. They feel known and supported, and often rely on these relationships to find success. The recommendations that I’ll outline in Part 3 of the series are all in service of better empowering your salespeople and other team members to continue supporting customers in this way.
Outside of the common challenges and recommendations I explore in this series, I’ve also learned that 4 key deliverables form the backbone of any compelling CX strategy. For a deep dive into each one, and how they all work together, be sure to check out our CX strategy webinar.
Photo Credit: Alexander Grey | Unsplash
Kat Kollett is the Director of Customer Experience Strategy, leading the CX Strategy team. She brings a multidisciplinary, user-focused approach to innovations in brand, digital, analog, environmental, and interpersonal experiences, and helps clients apply those innovations to meet their strategic objectives.
When I was little: I wanted to be a math professor like my dad (turned out not a good fit), and then an architect. The built environment still calls to me.
Creative outlets (other than work): Homemade Halloween costumes and birthday cakes for my kid, and making toys out of cardboard boxes.