Last week, marketers came together at the annual B2B marketing conference to explore a topic that is looming large and increasingly making its way onto the boardroom agenda - customer experience.
So what is customer experience? Is it just customer service rebranded and if not, who should own it, who should deliver it and what role does marketing play? Before trying to answer these questions, it’s worth defining what is meant by ‘customer experience’.
Listening to the views of leading industry players speaking at the conference, it is clear that customer experience means something different to everyone. The Harvard Business Review provides a useful descriptor, suggesting that customer experience is “the many critical moments when customers interact with the organisation and its offerings on their way to purchase and after.”
If ‘critical moments’ of interaction are indeed the new competitive battleground on which business is won or lost, surely the focus for organisations must be on understanding and owning the entire buyer journey from awareness right through to sales and advocacy. But isn’t that easier said than done?
Customer dynamics are changing. Decision-making authority is moving away from individuals in familiar roles – often those with whom B2B sales teams have long-standing relationships – to a less predictable purchasing path of multiple touch points. This has necessitated a change in how B2B firms market and sell themselves.
Where once ‘the customer was always right’, today we talk about the customer being ‘first’, a movement that Forrester Research has dubbed the ‘Age of the Customer’. Never before have customers been more connected, more empowered or more knowledgeable. This places pressure on organisations to focus efforts on delivering a consistent quality experience throughout the buying journey.
So if we agree that the customer should be central to our thinking and that we need to organise our business and marketing strategies around their needs, who should take charge of delivering customer experience? Some speakers at the conference suggested responsibility for owning customer experience should sit with the marketing department, as it has always taken a holistic approach to connecting the customer to the business.
For me, the marketing department should play an instrumental role in organising and delivering customer experience across departments, but ultimately, the customer-first mandate needs to come from the top.
This said, there are three key areas B2B marketers can support when it comes to delivering quality customer experience:
Great customer experience demands an engaged and motivated team to deliver consistent and quality interactions at each stage of the buyer journey.
From embedding shared company values to exciting teams with powerful campaigns they can champion and rally behind, marketing must act as the thread to pull departments and job functions together to deliver a customer-first service.
Ensure the brand promise – that excites and inspires customers to want to work with you – delivers against the reality. If not, consider re-evaluating what is promised, while you work with the business on delivering (and exceeding) on the needs and expectations of customers.
The relationship power between customers and suppliers has shifted. It is easier than ever for them to ‘fall out of love’ with companies if they don’t feel they have their best interests at heart. With the increasing fickleness of customer relationships, communications will play an important a role in winning customers as well as retaining and growing those relationships.
And with the B2B sales cycle increasing in length, with up to 90% of the decision process complete before a B2B buyer even engages a sales representative, marketers must work harder than ever to control the journey by generating magnetic content that is aligned to the problem you solve and pulls customers towards your brand.
If you are embarking on your own customer-first journey and would like to explore how marketing can support in shaping and delivering a consistent experience, then get in touch.
Alternatively, if you would like to understand how to map your content to the buyer journey, download No Contest.