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Relevance, trust and timing are key in B2B customer experience

By Shimon Ben Ayoun, spotONvision

MBanksBioPhotoWe hear a lot of buzz around the term ‘customer experience’ but for a lot of marketers it’s still not clear what it means and especially what it means for marketing. I am interviewing Matthew Banks, Global Customer Experience Management Lead at Oracle, and he gives me his take on customer experience. Matthew will be one of the keynote speakers on the theme of customer experience at the B2B Marketing Forum on March 17th. Broadly speaking, the textbook definition of customer experience is the sum of all interactions and impressions that a buyer or consumer has with an organisation over the duration of their relationship with that organisation.

How does your buyer or customer remember you?

Matthew has his own view on what customer experience means: “What customers remember about your brand is how you make them feel. And customer experience is about how people feel about you. This matters, because it drives the bottom line: experiences influence attitudes which drive behaviours which deliver results. So the experiences we create, and the stories we tell, are at the core of profitability and success. They need to be designed and managed, because that is what people will remember and what sets you apart. But do not make the mistake of seeing customer experience as a veneer on top of traditional operations, a sort of shop window for the digital age, a fluffy luxury. If your airline is always late or your shop is always out of stock, this is a terrible customer experience – however friendly the staff or however slick the website may be. So the story must balance execution with engagement. Both are important in the digital economy.

For marketing and for marketers it’s about understanding who your story is for and what sort of things can set you apart. You exchange impressions and interactions, and at the end of the day you want people to remember you, to turn to you first.”

B2C versus B2B customer experience

b2b b2cMost times we hear about customer experience, we’re talking B2C. Being a B2B marketer myself I wonder whether it is relevant for B2B in the same way as it is in B2C.

Matthew: “Customer experience is all about the dynamic in how you make people feel. In B2B this may mean longer relationships, a different attitude to trust and risk, complexity of decision-making, and the whole attitude to money and the responsibility of spending it. This is all different in a B2C versus a B2B buying process, but in end people are still people. They need to hear your story and make their decision; and they have a limited amount of time and trust and money to invest. Why invest it in you?

If you look at customer experience from this angle, the process in B2C and B2B is similar. The challenge is walking a mile in your customer’s shoes so you can meet your customers where they are at. This way you respect their time, earn their trust and meet their needs far better.”

The link between customer experience and customer centricity

Customer centricity is all about taking an ‘outside-in’ perspective, putting the customer’s worldview first (not our own). And we tend to find that very hard. I guess the problem originates from the dawn of the industrial revolution… we design things and we organise things to streamline the means of production and distribution… not them means of consumption. Companies produce something and then take it to market.

But of course the world has shifted. We all know that today’s challenge is to understand (or create) the market need and then streamline our operations to meet that need. But this is easier said than done, when our hearts and minds are constantly drawn back to internal questions, internal capabilities, internal constraints. What we need is simple, high impact techniques to walk a mile in our customers’ shoes, to understand their needs and their experiences as they buy our products or services.

This gives us insights into their emotions and to what really matters to them. And insight into our relevance and our value as brands. Getting serious about managing customer experience is part of becoming a customer-centric organization. It means having the commitment and the clarity to design ourselves from the ‘outside-in’ – and sometimes the courage to realize that a lot of what we focus on from inside-out is irrelevant.”

Mapping a buying journey drives you to re-think and to innovate

journey mappingMatthew tells me he is a passionate ‘journey mapper’: “I love this stuff. It is so simple and yet so radical. Mapping a customer journey is just taking an outside-in perspective: What is it like to be the manager of a complex construction site or what is it like to be a hospital executive trying to deliver on tight budgets? How does your heart and mind work at the critical moments, and how do you perceive my goods or services? These are big questions. And, by the way, they have nothing to do with conventional (inside-out) process mapping.

To create a journey map you ‘walk’ through the specific steps of your customer’s life and identify how and when they touch you. So maybe you’re providing a B2B service or selling complex equipment. You need to describe and inhabit their decision-making world. You want to understand and analyse their needs and attitudes, the risks they are taking, and who they trust, and where do they go for information, and so on. And then you can start looking for the moments that matter, where you need to deliver the right experience, tell the right story, set yourself apart.”

Implementing a buyer or customer centric approach is not easy

I ask Matthew what the main challenges are for companies who want to implement a customer centric approach. How do we make it happen?

“Research shows that customer experience is a key driver of organisational performance and it is no wonder that over 90% of boardrooms, worldwide, whether B2B or B2C, and across industries, cite ‘improved customer experience’ in their top 3 strategic goals. However research also shows only 16% of organisations are doing much about it. Why is this? I guess the challenge seems too big and too vague! Companies do not know where to start, and they cannot easily quantify the value. So (often after a lot of expensive talk!) they end up taking no action.

outside in inside outBut it is understandable in a way. Over the years we have streamlined and specialised our organisations from inside-out. When you start to think from the outside-in perspective, it can seem horribly complex and disruptive. Trying to centre your company on customers and markets which are moving SO fast… it seems unrealistic to many.”

Start small and with actionable moments

This is why Oracle runs digital disruption workshops and customer experience workshops. It is about helping people to drive to the point of action. The workshops are done in a very quick, collaborative, constructive and fun way.

Matthew explains: “When we create a journey map, we try to find ‘moments that matter’ and put together practical actionable interventions that will make a difference. Meeting customers in those moments. Then testing those experiences, to learn, and then orchestrating those moments, to deliver value over a lifetime. If you keep it simple, it is very rewarding. And great fun.

The key to success lies in the fact that you start with actionable moments. Things you can understand, test, and measure. Pragmatic initiatives you can sell to the boardroom, hungry for change, but frozen by complexity. That’s how we do it at Oracle.”

The role of marketing: The clue is in the word

In transforming to a customer centric company, I wonder how Matthew sees the role of marketing: “Marketing plays a fundamental role. The clue is in the word ‘marketing’. It’s about the outside-in perspective, it’s about the market, and it’s about understanding the market and where we need to go. We need to represent the voice of customer. Marketing is the obvious function to take a leadership role in this. Marketing is the right discipline to test, control and validate initiatives.”

Matthew’s story on March 17th at the B2B Marketing Forum

Matthew: “I will use a story and journey mapping techniques to get the outside-in perspective on customer experience. How can we relate our stories and the way we tell them to the needs of an individual.”

Do you want to hear the story about customer experience and customer journey mapping live and have Matthew to answer some of your questions?

Matthew Banks is one of the keynote speakers at the B2B Marketing Forum on March 17th in Utrecht – The Netherlands.