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There is substantial evidence correlating positive customer experience with business growth.

Most customers spend more as a result of a positive customer experience, and more than half of customers who recommend a brand do so because of the customer experience (versus other factors, such as price or product), research has found.

However, many companies fail to deliver excellent customer experience.

Yet, poor customer experience drives brand switching—typically a key reason for three quarters of lost customers. And most customers who suffer a bad customer experience spread negative word-of-mouth.

Recent research* conducted by B2B International found that only 14% of large B2B organizations are truly customer-centric—i.e., the customer experience is ingrained in the fabric of the company.

That finding indicates that B2B companies have significant work to do to become more customer-focused, but it also suggests a huge opportunity for B2B firms to differentiate their brands by delivering a superior customer experience.

So, what do B2B firms need to do to deliver a differentiated customer experience?

In examining the customer experience of over 500 B2B brands, we identified the six pillars behind B2B customer experience excellence, and then we tested the performance of those pillars in a recent survey* of B2B marketers of large firms:

1. Commitment

The first step in customer experience excellence is to be committed to satisfying customers and making them feel valued. Without that commitment across the company, it is significantly more difficult to succeed on the remaining pillars of customer experience excellence.

Only around a half of B2B firms are committed—again, highlighting the opportunity for B2B companies to differentiate through customer-centricity.

2. Fulfillment

Many B2B firms are guilty of selling products and services that they want to sell, rather than what the customer really wants and values. Rightly, then, the next pillar of customer experience excellence relates to understanding and delivering on customer needs.

It is somewhat worrying that only 38% of B2B firms perform well on this important requirement, indicating a need for B2B companies to better align their offering with customer wants and desires.

3. Seamlessness

A company may deliver valued products and services, but how does the customer perceive the entire journey, from registering the need to receiving the final deliverable?

Across hundreds of B2B brands, a key driver of overall satisfaction and loyalty is ease of doing business with the supplier. Whether it's a manufacturing company, a reseller or a financial services supplier, seamlessness is vital to a successful customer experience.

Seamlessness, therefore, makes it into the top six customer experience excellence pillars, but only 4 in 10 B2B firms perform well in this regard.

4. Responsiveness

Central to customer-centricity is making customers feel that they are the most important customer being served, and responsiveness goes a long way toward demonstrating to customers that they are valued.

Responsiveness is a critical customer experience excellence pillar that spans touchpoints across the customer journey, such as communications, deliveries, and issue resolution.

Failing on this important requirement can increase customer defection, and so it is alarming that only 39% of B2B firms perform well on responsiveness.

5. Proactivity

The more sophisticated customer-centric businesses are those that are proactive in delivering a superior customer experience. Such firms anticipate customer needs and desires, and strive to resolve issues before the customer feels pain. Doing so requires the supplier to walk in the customer's shoes to foresee potential customer needs and pain points and to be fully prepared for them. A mere quarter of B2B firms admit to performing well on proactivity.

6. Evolution

The final pillar, evolution, describes the totally customer-centric firm that recognizing it must always make improvements to the customer experience because customer needs, attitudes, and behaviors change over time.

Just 27% of B2B firms say they perform well on this continual-improvement process; nearly three-fourths of B2B companies therefore acknowledge their weakness in not addressing the customer experience on an ongoing basis.

* * *

Interestingly, knowledge-based companies (such as those in IT, financial and professional services, healthcare, and education) tend to rate their customer experience performance higher than do companies in trade and services (such as wholesale, telecoms, and utilities) and companies in manufacturing and construction.

Knowledge-based companies entail more customer interaction and so there is arguably more opportunity to build strong customer relationships, which is essential in driving customer experience excellence in B2B markets.

*A survey of 266 B2B marketing professionals was conducted in the last quarter of 2015. The research spanned North America and Europe and surveyed large firms serving businesses (the average respondent business size was $6 billion in revenue).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Julia Doheny (Cupman)

Julia Doheny (Cupman) is president of North America research at global business-to-business market research agency B2B International (a gyro: company), which serves a wide range of sectors. Reach her via +1-914-761-1909 or email: julia.doheny@b2binternational.com.

LinkedIn: Julia Doheny (Cupman)