When it comes to customer experience, expectations are at an all-time high. With the arrival – and subsequent success – of big players like Spotify, Uber and Airbnb, businesses around the world are racing to match the speed, dynamism and customer-centricity of these digital giants.

However, B2B customer-experience index ratings significantly lag behind those of retail customers. And with one customer intelligence consultancy predicting that customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020, there’s no better time to transform your B2B customer experience and start reaping the rewards.

An appetite for change

As a CX consultant, I’m seeing a renewed appetite from my B2B clients to change the experience not just for customers, but for employees too. Five generations sitting side-by-side in the workplace for the first time has prompted companies to become more human-centric in their approach.

It’s not all plain sailing. B2B involves bigger scale, investment, and prices. Collaboration isn’t always easy and legacy systems can stop change in its tracks. In fact, a recent study by UXPin found that the top UX challenges were improving consistency, testing with customers, clarifying requirements and collaboration between teams.

But, that doesn’t mean improved experiences for customers are out of reach for B2B. In this article, I’m going to outline some first steps to kickstart the process, to get buy-in from senior leaders and to help the rest of your business see the benefit of developing a shared understanding of your customers and laying the groundwork for future CX initiatives.

Making your case

According to 2014 Avaya research, 81% of organisations had seen their CX initiatives fail in the previous three years. To stop this from happening, it’s vital that you start the whole process with the support of senior management. The best way to do this is by communicating some of the key benefits you’re likely to see by improving your CX. These include:

  • Better collaboration between teams, departments
  • Focused CX requirements – you’ll know exactly where to spend your time and money
  • Competitive advantage, thanks to combining your customers’ needs with actionable insight
  • An increased Net Promoter Score due to improving the customer experience where it matters
  • Increased revenue – a study from LSE shows revenue goes up 1% when your NPS increases by 7%

Understanding your customer

The only way to deliver an improved customer experience is by getting to know your customers. Not just getting to know them in an abstract, demographic-based way, but really getting to know them, as people. What motivates them, the moments that mean something to them, and the opportunities to influence their decisions.

I’ve broken the process down into three steps.

Step 1: Get to know your customer’s emotions

To get the rest of the business on board with your CX initiative, you need them to start empathising with the customer. And to do that, you need to make the customer real and human in their eyes. Start by collating any existing customer research you have. If you don’t have any, you’ll need to draw on key people from across the business to be the ‘voice’ of the customer. It’s often helpful to group the customers you’re analysing, perhaps by business value, revenue opportunity or simply by size.

Next think about the different roles involved, from a business director to procurement and on to lower level staff. Then you can start figuring out their emotional drivers. What motivates and influences their behaviour and decision-making? Getting to the heart of the human emotions behind the functional business is the key to unlocking B2B UX and build empathy for customers with your stakeholders.

The next step is to distil all this thinking into the form of personas. These pen portraits are where your customers really come to life.

A good B2B persona should include:

  • The role they play in decision making
  • What’s influencing decision
  • Emotional drivers
  • Digital and non-digital touchpoints they might come across
  • Other people involved
  • Functional elements, like type, size, location of their business
customer-persona

I’d recommend splitting each persona into two as shown in the image, with the functional elements at the bottom and the emotional ones at the top. This ensures you build on your functional understanding with emotional awareness.

The final step is to validate your assumptions by carrying out a small round of qualitative interviews (eight to 18 customers depending on number of personas and business complex), which you can then analyse for key themes and insights before finalising your personas. Unlike B2C, your product might only have a few, large customers, so talking to a handful of customers can glean the insight that you need. If interviewing customers is new to your business, then Sales or Customer Care can help you find customers based on your personas.

Step 2: Map the end-to-end customer journey

Now you have your personas, it’s time to enrich them by mapping out the customer journey. Done collaboratively, across departments, journey mapping based on validated personas gives confidence and clarity to the business by presenting a unified view of the customer journey.

B2B Customer Journey Mapping Canvas

Getting the customer journey right should be a critical part of your B2B strategy – seamless, low-effort and engaging cross-channel journeys are the new minimum expectation for increasingly sophisticated customers.

A good customer journey map visually illustrates what customers do, their needs and perceptions throughout their interaction and relationship with your organisation. They bring insight to life, help understand your customer’s world, tie together data across channels and simplify complexity.

Your B2B customer journey map should cover:

  • Trigger through to cancelation or renew of service
  • Who’s doing what – critical moments and who’s involved
  • How decisions are being made
  • The emotional experience – what the customer is thinking and feeling
  • Key moments in the wider journey, both pre-purchase and in life
  • Pain points – what frustrates them
  • Opportunities to more effectively influence the journey
  • Internal ownership – who within your business is responsible at which point

Step 3: Share what you’ve learned

All your research and insight will be useless unless you can communicate it to the rest of the business in a clear, concise and actionable way. The best way to share your findings is by telling a story. Humans think in stories – it’s how we process, understand and retain information.

The best stories are simple, memorable, authentic and visual. You have everything you need from your research. Create a story that joins the dots between your findings, your personas and your customer journeys. Use the people you’ve brought to life – they are your cast of characters.

Next, think about your medium. A detailed customer interview report is unlikely to do the job. Think about your audience. How can you use visuals and imagery to bring what you’re saying to life? Don’t just restrict yourself to digital – posters on the wall can be a great way of keeping messages front-of-mind.

When you’ve created your story, don’t just send it round and forget about it. Store it somewhere useful and accessible, so people can refer back to it in the future.

What next?

Congratulations – you now have a shared understanding of your customer, and how you can improve your CX to create an end-to-end journey that gives you a competitive advantage, increases retention and revenue.

But your work shouldn’t stop there.

Just knowing what to do isn’t enough. You’ll only unlock the full value of what you’ve accomplished by taking action. Yes, it can feel overwhelming. But by creating your personas and customer journeys, you’ll have uncovered opportunities to improve key moments in your customer journey and begin to deliver on the promises you made back when you presented your business case. Which will lead the way to even more commitment to CX, greater investment from your business leaders and a real return on investment for all your hard work.

Not sure where to start? Enlist the help of a CX mentor and coach. And don’t forget, it’s a marathon, not a sprint and there’s no silver bullet, just an ongoing commitment to observation, insight and improvement.