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:
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:
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.