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B2B Organizations are Wasting a lot of Customer Experience Improvement Effort

June 13, 2014

Companies today are spooked by the idea that they are offering sub-par customer service. The business news is saturated with stories about how customers – when faced with a single poor customer experience – will not only flock to the competition but will trumpet company A’s failures to thousands of people over social media. In a crowded marketplace, goes the conventional wisdom, the only way to stand out is to delight your customers. And to boot, you need to delight those customers via every possible channel they might wish to use to communicate, from telephone to Web chat to mobile app to Twitter.

It’s a daunting prospect, and many companies are failing at it. It’s not that they’re not trying, but a lot of organizations seem to be taking the “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” route. While a little may actually be sticking, in the long run it’s turning into a lot of wasted money and effort, particularly in a business-to-business (b-to-b) environment, according to a new study by Accenture.

Today, a majority of business-to-business (B2B) organizations are spending more on customer experience initiatives, but many are not getting the most return on those investments, according to the research, which was based on a survey of 1,458 sales, service and customer executives of b-to-b companies in 13 countries. Some of the data suggests that more than three-quarters (76 percent) of organizations may be wasting up to half of their investment on ineffective customer experience initiatives. Forty-three percent of executives reported that they intend to increase spending on improving customer experience programs by six percent in the next year, but more than half the respondents admitted that their customer experience programs had achieved little, flat or negative return in terms of retaining customers (55 percent) and building global revenues (52 percent).

So what gives? Why are so many companies hitting but missing the mark? It’s about the changing nature of the b-to-b customer, says Accenture.

“The relationship between company and supplier has changed,” said Robert Wollan, global managing director of Accenture’s Sales and Customer Services practice. “Business customers are acting more like consumers. They know more about the services on offer, expect more customized solutions, and are more price-sensitive. Companies say they recognize this but the majority are not designing and executing the necessary changes effectively. This creates a drain on profitability and missed opportunities. Getting B2B customer experience right increasingly determines market success, but too many companies are ‘playing not to lose’ rather than ‘playing to win.’”

The companies that are getting the b-to-b customer experience right are operating with embedded customer experience delivery as a formal end-to-end business process that connects how customers interact and engage across sales, marketing and service functions, allowing them to centralize better. They’re also tying performance reviews, compensation and bonuses to customer experience outcomes. Laggards are struggling with siloed, disconnected processes that let opportunities slip through the cracks and cause a fractured customer experience, says Accenture.

Edited by Peter Bernstein