Since most of PDC’s client base – and hence the subscription list for our Discoveries newsletter – is made up of B2B companies I thought it might be useful to catalogue the things that differentiate the customer experience challenges for those who sell to other businesses vs. those who sell to consumers. Here are some of the major differences that I’ve come up with so far: 

  • If you are in the B2B world, there are almost always multiple people across multiple functions who play major roles in evaluating, selecting, managing, paying for and using the products and services their company buys from you, particularly if you are selling big ticket items. So unlike the B2C company, if you are a B2B supplier there will be a host of individual “customers” in engineering, purchasing, quality, manufacturing, etc. with different needs and expectations whose individual experiences you need to  address to make any given sale. 
  • But on the other hand if you are a B2B company you probably have a substantially smaller number of potential buyers/customers in a given market segment to target than the typical B2C company – i.e. you often can actually get to know your customers personally and not just by consumer segment descriptors. For example Zebra Technologies (who we wrote about in our last post) targeted their portable bar coding and printing devices at ski resort operators to help them improve the movement and flow of skiers and got to intimately know their key customers like Vail’s IT director. Meanwhile, Apple Computer (who targets selling i-phones to the tens of thousands of skiers that visit Vail each year) only gets to know the vast majority of their customers as “personas” and “archetypes” and not as individuals. The smart B2B can (and should) tailor its product or service specifically to deliver the experiences wanted by that person they know directly.
  • The B2C company essentially only has their direct customer’s experience to impact but the B2B company can go after their customer’s customer’s experience or even their customer’s customer’s customer’s experience if they are far back in the value chain (we talked about this in more detail in a previous post). The B2B company’s product or service is typically experienced only indirectly by the final end-user consumer as its offering is incorporated/embedded in their direct customer’s product or service but it can make a big difference there (again think of Zebra Technologies skier info managing technology improving the skier’s direct experience by helping Vail improve the management of the flow of skiers through check-in and lift access). What this means is that the B2B company has potentially more levers to move to differentiate itself than the B2C companies it sells to.
  • The buy decision-making processes in most companies are typically fully structured and quantitative criteria-based – i.e. they are designed to be fundamentally rational and fact-driven rather than subjective and emotionally-driven. This means that the explicitly emotional experience laden sales pitch that drives consumer buying is not a fit in the B2B world. 
  • Finally, the financial component of the B2B customer experiences is inherently different from that of B2C because the business buyer expects to see a positive financial experience with a flow of $’s coming back into the company to go along with the flow of $’s going out to make the buy – i.e. the business buyer is always looking for a financial ROI experience from every cent they spend. The consumer on the other hand (with a few exceptions like services from financial investment companies or selling something on e-bay) is usually looking for a non-monetary experience as the ROI payoff from what they buy  

Now with all of the above said, in the end the B2B company is still doing exactly what the B2C company is doing, i.e. selling to people – human beings. And it is the human experience with all its depth and emotional components that we have been talking about in our posts and will continue to explore.  

 

When I was writing my last post - where I encouraged my B2B readers to incorporate their customer’s customer’s experiences in their development and commercialization efforts – I had an interesting “a-ha” on a place to do this: namely building them into the customer/client case studies that we B2B companies (yes, PDC fits here) develop as marketing materials. We all write these success stories to use with our direct customers and prospects and routinely post them on our websites, include them in the brochures we stack on tables at trade shows and conference booths and publish them in trade journals. There are even case-study writing white papers and books to tell us how to put them together.

But most B2B companies (PDC included again) usually don’t do this in any systematic way. As a data point I checked out a bunch of stories on the Fujitsu US website to see how they did. (If you read my last post you’ll remember that I highlighted them as a company committing major resources to understanding the needs of their customer’s customer.)  Well I found only a handful that mentioned the customer’s customer’s experience in any meaningful way and the ones that did it was more of an aside rather than being at the heart of the write-up.

Yet there are companies that do this routinely and do it well. In particular I ran across what I consider a “best-practice” example in a company called Zebra Technologies. (Zebra makes a range of portable bar-code tracking devices and printers.) The case-study I read that really stuck out was of Zebra’s work with the Vail ski resort and was all about how they helped the resort improve the on-slope experience of their skiing customers. The skier’s experience improvement being targeted was woven throughout the Zebra Vail story but most impactfully the case-study concluded with a quote from Zebra’s direct customer (Vail’s senior IT director) on how Zebra’s offerings helped him win with his resort’s customers:

“It’s been a home run [with our skiers]. Families with children don’t have to unzip their jackets or drop poles to scan passes.” Shenberger said. “We positively changed the dynamic of how ski resorts interact with guests – and more importantly, we gave our guests a way to focus on why they’re visiting our resorts – the experience, the epic skiing and the scenic beauty of the mountains – rather than on the scanning [process to get on the lift] and the lift validation process.”

There are two plusses I see from us B2B companies doing this routinely. First is that it can significantly improve the impact of our case-studies on our direct customers and prospects by showing them how we are able to help them win with their customers. And second it will force us to more fully understand what we are doing to impact our customer’s customer (otherwise we won’t be able to meaningfully write the case study) and so will help us see where we might improve.

My challenge to you B2B readers (and one that I am going to work on myself here at PDC) is to see if you can meet the Zebra standard.

When I started to blog on customer experience I promised to write about the B2B products world and differentiate it from B2C. Well one big difference is that a business customer has a customer of their own, so when exploring “customer experience” you have your customer’s customer to put into the mix.  That’s an obvious characteristic but one that is relatively little explored and only infrequently systematically exploited to improve business performance. I did my usual comparative Google search and looked at the number of hits for the term “customer’s customer” vs the number for “customer” and the results were striking - just 56,000 for the first search vs almost 480 MM for the second. And when I actually dug in and explored the “customer’s customer” hits only a relatively small number (some linked to below) were worth reading. 

Yet targeting the experience of your customer’s customers offers a real opportunity to differentiate yourself. For companies whose offerings are used intact and experienced as-is by their customer’s customer, a clear opportunity is to make this end-user experience better. For example, PDC client Becton Dickinson Medical, a company that produces syringes and IV catheter systems, has a key objective to ensure “first-stick success” to improve patient satisfaction. And they use their performance here as a key selling point to physicians and hospitals who are their direct customers.

But even companies whose products get consumed or embedded in their direct customers products can go after enhancing the end-user experience. Specialty chemical companies like Noveon Consumer Specialties are particularly amenable to this approach. Noveon (now a division of Lubrizol) makes rheology modifiers (technical speak for thickeners) that go into personal care products like shampoos and body washes manufactured by consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies like Unilever and P&G. In particular, one of Noveon’s major products, called Aqua SF-1, was developed to make a major impact on the end-use consumer’s aesthetic experience by enabling the CPG’s to make those clear or pearlescent products with suspended bubbles and beads that are so visually appealing “on-the-shelf” at your local drugstore.

Another straightforward way to target your customer’s customer is to develop and deliver unique “content experiences” to them by providing information via publications, web-sites, direct-mail, TV spots, etc. on your role in their experience of your customer’s customer’s product. The most obvious example here is direct-to-consumer advertising like the iconic Intel Inside program, but there are other approaches to consider. In particular education of your customer’s customer via articles and case studies in the trade publications your customer’s customers read is an underexploited vehicle.

Now that we have challenged you to target your customer’s customer, what should you do about it? The most important thing is to explicitly include your customer’s customer’s needs and issues in your product development efforts so you can improve their experience all along the customer experience cycle. The Fujitsu company (a $ 47B Japanese provider of IT hardware/software solutions to a very wide range of businesses) went so far as to create a cadre of more than 300 “Field Innovators” to go out and discover what their customer’s customers needed. But you don’t have to have an army of consulatants like Fujitsu to bring your customer’s customer’s needs into your process. Just include them in your customer visit matrix, systematically define their priority requirements and include these requirements in your product concept idea generation sessions.

 And there is an additional option to consider  - i.e. approach your direct customer with the offer to collaboratively explore with them how working together you can improve the experience of their customer. Such partnerships can lead to new product/service ideas like the ones above but often they take the form of logistics or integrated supply chain operations improvements that will impact the customer’s customer’s experience at points along the experience cycle outside of use. 

Well, now that I’ve gotten into writing on the B2B thing I think I’ll continue in the same vein for upcoming blogs. So look for future posts to explore the unique characteristics of the B2B customer experience.

In an earlier post (October 26, 2009) I introduced our taxonomy – i.e. classification – of customer experiences  that we use to deconstruct a customer’s interactions with a product or service and the company that provides it:

One thing we left hanging was why we highlighted the last element - the emotional component - by coloring it in red.  I’d like to address that here.

Why does the emotional component stand out?

We believe the emotional experience is the most important element in the taxonomy because it dramatically colors and shapes a customer’s overall response to your company and your offerings – both in the B-to-C and the B-to-B worlds – often overwhelming everything else.  Reflect back on the last time you talked to a customer about their experiences with your products and services. Didn’t you hear the emotions they felt – both good and bad – come through loud and clear  often drowning out what else they had to say. Haven’t we all personally experienced the old salesman’s adage - “people buy emotionally and then justify logically!”  And on a quantitative note we have survey data from Colin Shaw of BeyondPhilosphy that shows emotions account for more than 50% of the customer experience. Just think of the impact that an emotionally negative (e.g.  “irritating” or even “enraging”) interaction somewhere along the experience cycle can have on how a customer feels about you and how they do business with your company in the future – no matter how well you meet defined product specifications.

In addition, every meaningful interaction or experience a customer has with your company and its offerings will generate an emotional response be it good, bad or indifferent – i.e. the emotional component is always at play no matter which of the other five components are. In fact we argue that the other five experiential components are just triggers that interact with the customer’s mental mindset and expectations to create the emotional response. 

[Note that in his book The DNA of Customer Experience Colin Shaw identified twenty emotions grouped into four clusters that have been "independently and statistically proven to impact customers’ short-term spend, and drive or destroy loyalty" at the company/business or brand level. Many of these are included in our graphic below.]

Now what do we do about it?

Well if the customer’s emotional experience is so critical to their overall response to you and your offerings how do you go about optimizing it? Product developers - particularly on the B-to-B side - are used to looking at “hard” characteristics like product features and technical specifications and are often not used to addressing “soft” items like emotional response. But there are frameworks and tools that can be used to help make the emotional element “hard”.

First I’d like to share a concept that Colin Shaw introduced to the customer experience community – i.e. separating emotions into two piles: “value-destroying” ones (which hurt you with customers) and “value-driving” or as I like to say “value-creating” ones (which help you with customers).  We illustrate this concept graphically below where we show a number of specific emotions – out of the hundreds of emotions that have been identified - as examples.

So clearly a key first step in bringing the customer’s emotional experience into the product development process is to analyze for the value-destroying and value-creating emotions at play all along the entire customer experience cycle in the market spaces of interest. And there are a number of  available customer probing tools to meet this need -see graphic below and our last post.

With a set of key emotional drivers in hand the development team is now positioned to start to design a winning customer emotional experience by analyzing for the triggers of the existing value-destroying emotions and eliminating them and by analyzing for and designing-in the triggers of the value-creating ones that are not in place. In later posts we will describe some tools and approaches to accomplish this.

The first step for your product development team in designing a winning customer experience is to uncover the unpleasant and unacceptable experiences that customers are having today that they’d like you to help them get rid of (i.e. those customer pain points your sales folks talk about) and to discover the experiences customers don’t have that they’d love you to deliver (i.e. the delighters that would make your products jump off the shelf). But how do you do that? We’ve found the key is to have your customers share stories about their experiences, i.e. to tell you the story of what they live through as they go about living their life or doing their job.

Now “storytelling” as an art and a business tool is widely practiced and extensively written about. You get more than 10 million hits when you Google the word – e.g. theStorytellers is an interesting site that came up in the search. And you can find almost 2000 books with the word  “storytelling” in their title. (And if you are interested in the business application of storytelling one of the best books to read is Stephen Henning’s The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative.) 

But the flip side of the art of storytelling,  i.e. “story listening”,  is much less explored – there are no books listed on Amazon with the term in the title and you get only about 100 thousand hits when you Google the term. Yet that is where the magic occurs in product development. Why? Because it is your ability to “listen” to the customer’s story – i.e. not your ability to “tell” your own – that is the key to getting your customer to open up about what they are experiencing.

As an example here is a “short story” from a pediatric nurse about how challenging  it can be when you are trying to give a vaccination to a child that is scared of the needle. This story was shared with us at PDC by Erika Bajars, US Marketing Director at PDC client Becton-Dickinson Medical, who led a team tasked with figuring out how to grow the pediatric segment of BD’s medication delivery business. To do so, Bajars worked with a cross-functional team to, as she describes it, “paint a picture of what it’s like to be our customer today.”

“We had a kid that was here a few weeks ago for a shot…Four different staff members & mom were trying to hold him down. Ripped a plastic chart rack right off the wall… It was ridiculous how much impact he had on this department that afternoon”

The BD Medical team had decided from the outset that they did not want to pursue product solutions. Rather, any new ideas would be in the realm of marketing, packaging, content, or educational programs to help in the effective and efficient management of the practice and their patient population. Bajars and her team decided early on that they wanted to take a step back to understand the broader context of the company’s ultimate customers, the physicians and their staffs. What keeps them up at night? What are the major challenges of their jobs? In short: what are the experiences they have as health care professionals? It was their skill at story-listening that helped them uncover an array of needs that went well beyond their specific product (in this case, the devices for delivering vaccines).

And the art of story listening is something you can learn how to do. It is all about learning how to ask probing and open-ended questions that let you get into the lives of your customers and help you understand both the “outside” and the “inside” of their experience – i.e. what are the external factors impacting them and how do they perceive and react “inside” to these “outside” influences.

  • Tell me what a “day in your life” looks like
  • Could you describe your “best” day? your worst day?
  • Can you tell me more?
  • If you had a magic wand and could make anything happen what would do?
  • And the ultimate question to get at the key emotional element – How would that make you feel?

These kinds of questions invariably lead the customer to give you a rich experiential narrative of what they are living with – providing you with deep insights into what a winning customer experience would look like.

Note: For some interesting additional reading on story listening here is a recent article that appeared on that topic in the Qualitative Research Consultants Association’s Winter 2009 QRCA Views publication.

When I was reading blogs a couple of weeks ago looking for definitions of the term customer experience I ran across a post that I thought was particularly insightful. The blogger - Stephanie Weaver of Experienceology - is a “visitor experience consultant” who works with nonprofit cultural attractions like museums and botanical gardens to help them improve their visitor experience.  Because Stephanie works with “destination” organizations her words have a specific consumer based “site visit” frame for the customer experience but what she says is relevant to all of us. Here is what she posted:

Customer experience has two dimensions, an inside dimension and an outside dimension: 

  • Inside  First, the experience happens in your customers’ perceptions. It’s seen from their point of view, created by a combination of their feelings, sensations, and prior experiences. Unfortunately, what you intend doesn’t always matter. All that counts is what’s happening inside a customer on the day he or she is at your site. You can’t control this inside dimension. No two customers will ever have the same experience, since everyone has a unique point of view.
  • Outside  Second, an experience is made up of many separate pieces outside the customer. That’s your part. The outside dimension begins the instant a person decides to visit, continues throughout his or her time with you, and ends when he or she leaves. You control nearly every aspect of this outside dimension.

I like the way Stephanie has cleanly differentiated what we as companies/businesses do  from what goes on inside the customer’s head. And I like the memorable pair of words she uses to capture that differentiation – i.e. the “inside” dimension vs. the “outside” dimension. If we are to win with customers we have to be thoughtful about both. 

But I take a bit of an issue with one of her points – i.e.  that when it comes to the customer’s inside dimension (what goes on inside their head) you as a business person can’t “control” it. While literally true on an individual basis, this perspective overlooks the point that with the right insights and information we can predict and tailor how the outside dimension will make a broad range of customers feel inside. As a simple example, don’t you already know from customer feedback about your products or services exactly what to do to make many of your customers feel mad and irritated – e.g. wasn’t what is going on with Toyota and the response to its auto recall defects predictable. And conversely don’t you have knowledge and insights, based again on customer input, about many things you can do outside to create the positive inside response you want across much of your customer base – e.g. don’t you think John Cameron had a good deal of insight to shape the movie going audience’s response to his film Avatar. The key is to have the right kind of customer experience input data at the front end of the NPD process. (More about that in my next post.)

That being said, Stephanie’s framing of this issue was extremely useful to me and I recommend others to her post. Note that when she wrote this she was starting a conversation asking her readers to give her their definitions for customer experience and you can find her complete conversation on customer experience definitions at her blog site.

I’m back blogging again on customer experience and thought it might be useful in my restart to step back and ask - to quote blogger Bruce Temkin - “what exactly is customer experience?”.    

I did a search on definition of “customer experience” and got a bunch of hits - with Google providing a much better search experience (i.e. much more targeted results) than Bing. Here are some of the definitions I thought worth sharing from the top 50 or so sites, with several coming from bloggers I talked about in my last post:

  • From Peter Merholz of Adaptive path- Customer experience refers to the totality of experience a customer has with a business, across all channels and touchpoints
  • From Bernhard Schindlholzer of Customer Experience LabsCustomer experience includes all encounters and interactions that customers have with your product, services and brand
  • From Bruce Temkin of Forrester ResearchCustomer experience is the perception that customers have of their interactions with an organization dgmer’s
  • From David Williams of QCI - Customer experience is a blend of a company’s physical performance and the emotions invoked, measured against customer’s expectations across all brand interactions
  • From Susan Abbott of Customer Experience CrossroadsCustomer experience is the internal response of an individual to their interactions with an organization’s products, people, processes and environments where internal response includes the thoughts, feelings and emotions experienced and the rational, psychological and sensory benefits of the experience. 
  • From Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com (in a Business Week interview) - Customer experience includes having the lowest price, having the fastest delivery, having it reliable enough so that [customers] don’t need to contact [anyone].

None of these definitions alone captures for me everything embodied in the term “customer experience” but taken together I think they capture the key elements:

  • Experience happens to individuals - i.e. people have experiences, organizations do not. This means to win you have to get “inside the head” of the buy decision makers be they consumers or business buyers. 
  • A customer’s experience of your company or offerings is driven by their interaction with you across all points of contact – i.e. you need to be sensitive to how you touch them with all of your “tools” across the full experience cycle.
  • Customer experience is multi-dimensional both in terms of what you do and what the customer perceives about what you do - i.e. be aware of all the elements in the customer experience taxonomy as you analyze what customers are looking for and design your offerings to meet those.
  • A customer’s experience of your company is an “internal response” or “perception” to what you do – i.e. you may control key inputs and levers for that experience but in the end the multi-dimensional evaluation, processing and emotions around those inputs and moved levers goes on inside the customer’s head. This is the toughest one to target and one we’ll talk more about in a later post.

A question for my readers – do any of you have a definition I missed that you think is better and worth sharing?

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