KS&R Blogs

jkraus@ksrinc.com

There has been much written about the customer experience over the last few years. During this time I've noticed two things:

First, very little attention has been paid to the customer experience in business markets – undoubtedly many of us have heard about, or experienced for ourselves, the pleasure of a Zappos, Apple, or Southwest Airlines "experience" when purchasing, using, or receiving support for their products and services. But far fewer of us it appears, have been as cognizant of these types of experiences in our business lives. My personal opinion is that this is because companies that sell products and services to other businesses are just now waking up to the importance of delivering an outstanding customer experience – more on this in a minute.

Second, there has been a significant amount of debate as to the definition of the customer experience. While this may be regarded as semantics, it is a foundational step for B2B companies that are yearning for new ways to differentiate themselves to drive growth and improve customer loyalty and are starting to look at building outstanding customer experiences to do so.

Defining Customer Experience

So let's address the definition of the customer experience first as developing a well grounded definition that is both understood and embraced across the organization is critical. Loose, or worse, inconsistent definitions can lead to confusion, wasted efforts, lack of buy-in, and ultimately failure (or diminished returns) in relation to any customer experience improvement efforts.

Webster defines an ex•pe•ri•ence as "something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through". By extension, a "customer experience" is that which your customers experience when interacting with your brand:

  • At the broadest level, this includes the totality of all touch points your brand has with its customers including 1) exposure and reactions to advertising, marketing, and public relations, 2) two-way interactions with your organization's sellers, customer service reps, business partners, website, etc., and 3) engagement with the products and services you offer, i.e., use of them.
  • At a cognitive level, this means that which your customers recognize and associate value with in their interactions with your brand. For example, interacting with a knowledgeable sales representative that fully addresses all of your questions, anticipates other needs you may have, and proactively makes thoughtful suggestions for how his or her company's products and services can meet them is undoubtedly a source of value recognized and appreciated by many customers.
  • At emotional level, this means the attitudes and feelings a customer has interacting with your brand before, during, and after "experiencing" your brand through these touch points. A customer that encounters a highly competent sales representative, as previously described, is likely to feel a heightened sense of comfort in their purchase decision and in the brand overall – both highly desirable outcomes.

One of the most useful ways to think about the customer experience is to think about your own interactions with one or two different brands used in your personal and/or business lives – exposure to advertising and other forms of communications, interactions with employees and business partners of the firm, usage of their products and services, after sale support received, etc. This is a simple and highly useful way to stay grounded from a definitional standpoint and provides the right mindset when thinking about the experience of your own organization's customers.

The Importance of an Outstanding Customer Experience in Business Markets

While more and more B2C companies are starting to understand the importance of delivering an outstanding customer experience across key brand touch points, fewer have yet to embrace (or at least fully realize) its benefits in business markets. There are minimally two reasons for this:

  • First, the consumption of business products and services is just beginning to change in many industries. One example is cloud computing in the technology industry. Traditionally, if a company needed additional processing power or data storage capacity it would purchase its own servers. Today, many companies purchase this capacity as a service from another provider that owns and manages the servers and delivers this capacity to its customers through the Internet (or "the cloud"). The ability to offer a great customer experience in how these providers sell, provision, and support their cloud computing customers is more important then ever before in order to remain competitive. Conversely, a bad customer experience can significantly jeopardize future cloud computing sales.
  • Second, business markets are just beginning to realize that a great customer experience can be a formidable source of competitive advantage. It is increasingly getting difficult to separate from the pack based on product features, price, or service alone. Delivering an outstanding customer experience – in totality across all key touch points – is still a relatively new concept and difficult (but definitely not impossible) to achieve. As a result, it is just starting to be recognized as a viable source of differentiation in business markets.

Notably, while B2B companies that are on the forefront of delivering an excellent customer experience view it as an opportunity to drive growth and claim leadership in key markets, fear is also a powerful motivator. Cumbersome purchase, implementation, and support processes that were tolerated in the past won't be in the future leading to lost customers and bad word-of-mouth.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing to remember about the customer experience is that, with enough forethought and focused effort, it can be: 1) well defined, 2) tightly choreographed throughout the organization, and 3) ultimately delivered to customers on a consistent basis to provide them with outstanding experiences when interacting with your brand. This in turn will result in increased sales, improved customer retention, and positive word-of-mouth that might otherwise be difficult to attain.


Jim Kraus
Principal

Jim Kraus

Jim has Account Executive responsibilities for the firm's Technology and Financial Services practices. Jim has over 20 years of marketing experience, holding senior-level research positions at IBM, Prudential Financial, and Guardian Life Insurance prior to joining KS&R in 2006. Jim's focus over the past several years has been on global B2B markets where he has deep knowledge of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. Known as a consultative, result-oriented researcher, Jim is very adept at applying proven methodologies in creative ways to improve his clients' business performance through development of market insights that lead to more informed decisions in the areas of brand strength and performance, value proposition/message development, product/service development and forecasting, price optimization, buyer behavior, and client satisfaction/loyalty.