Achieving B2B and B2C Experience Parity

In 2009, when I was running usability research forSkype’s business proposition, I noticed that business customers were starting to ask questions like: “If the websites and platforms I use in my personal life are slick and easy to use, why do I have to struggle so much in my work life?”

That was eight years ago. Unfortunately the question has still not gone away as most B2B organisations still assume that their customers will put up with whatever solution is provided for them.

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With the ever-present and easily accessible SaaS platforms now disrupting a number of industries, ignoring business tools provided by your company is no longer an option. Neither is ignoring the fact that even though you are selling to other businesses, you are still selling to people.

During a recent workshop I gave to a group of Finnish marketing specialists, I found it interesting how many of the B2B marketers struggled to identify their customer or even think of the other company as a customer.

I’ll admit that a whole company can be tricky to view as a customer but there will be a key decision-maker in any client organisation. Understanding why this customer buys from your company will be crucial to ensuring your organisation’s success.

The UK is leading the way when it comes to customer focus so the Finnish example may be extreme, but that does not mean that we have it all sorted when it comes to B2B experiences.

Here’s a few of key points about customer expectations in the B2C sector:

  • There is a proliferation of products and services out there so loyalty to one is no longer guaranteed
  • Customers are moving away from valuing things and focusing more on experiences
  • Ethics and company values (and therefore brands) play a huge role in purchasing decisions

These attitudes will not stay within the B2C space so let’s examine what that means in a business context:

  • With the rise of SaaS platforms, it is easier than ever to build a sophisticated business with very little technical knowledge and a relatively small financial outlay. This means that almost every traditional industry is under threat from disruption.
  • The key way for established businesses to “win” in this marketplace is to leverage the quality of their offering and their experience.
  • Through years of corporate responsibility efforts, most larger companies will already hold ethical values and carry out positive impact projects but very few use this to their advantage. There are also only a handful of B2B organisations that have become household names, partly because of the limitations of the brand positioning and amplification efforts.

Unless B2B organisations are willing to accept lower margins and compete on cost, the only option here is to innovate through service provision, taking a leaf from the books of AirBnB and Uber but not aiming to do the same.

And there is plenty of fertile ground to cover when it comes to service provision. Recent McKinsey research shows that most B2B customers need very little support for repeat purchases and struggle with slow response times across tasks, leading them to look for alternative suppliers.

These kinds of issues have been ironed out within the B2C sector, so even achieving parity with the consumer-facing organisations would be a huge step forward, allowing the B2B industry to focus on what they are really good at, instead of spending time troubleshooting client issues.

This blog post was originally featured in the Customer Experience Magazine.