As consumers, we understand that a positive service experience provides competitive advantage for the companies who deliver. Until recently, this has not translated into a similar urgency for business-to-business (B2B) companies. In fact, earlier this year we tested with a number of B2B business leaders the notion of customer experience as a strategic imperative and we heard mixed results about whether it should really be a priority. Today, not many months later, the tide has shifted.
In a recent series of 50 interviews with leading Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) and Chief Information Officers (CIOs), we found that more than 85 percent of their companies are struggling with the question of how to innovate their current customer experience models. Part of the challenge is expressed well by one CMO who said “we know this is critical to the future of the business, but we also know it requires a formal business process and figuring out where to begin is overwhelming.”
The interviews we conducted point to a consistent need among CXOs that are embarking on client experience transformation journeys to have some place to get started. Earlier this month, we conducted a discussion with one of our Customer Advisory Boards to learn more about the challenges and opportunities in driving a client experience strategy forward. The Advisory Board served as a great place to begin the discussion with a set of executive leaders on how to get started with a client experience strategy and also will serve as a very effective testing ground as these strategies progress and gain momentum.
Below are some learnings that we gathered from our conversations with executive Board members about their customer experience journeys:
- It’s not about budget. While many cite budget as the key barrier to getting started on customer experience work, the business case can be made in phases and your clients will make that business case for you if you bring them in early to co-create on the approach.
- Employee morale matters. According to ClearAction’s research, 49% of B2B leaders cite low employee morale as the big inhibitor to evolving a client experience program. This obstacle is significant and while morale may not seem to be your inhibitor it will be if you don’t bring employees into your client experience strategy early as well.
- In the war of culture and strategy – culture wins. Culture change was the most important step that most B2B businesses felt they were least prepared for and needed the most of to deliver on a new client experience model. This makes sense given the amount of change happening in how our customers want to be engaged – this is going to require a new way of doing business and ultimately a new view of culture from the inside out.
- Leadership is mandatory – client experience has to be led from the top-down. The executives we worked with stated this clearly from the start – if the client experience work is not sponsored by the CEO and lived daily by the C-suite it will fail.
- Long term thinking required – it’s not enough to engage your clients in a discussion about what is broken, or what the signature experience might be. Systematic engagement and follow-through wins the day on this work and it is a multi-year, multi-faceted program for most large enterprises that has to planned and invested in accordingly.
Using the above principles has enabled many companies to lead a holistic customer experience design that is tailored to optimize the service experience and align to customer needs and values.