Well-run customer experience (CX) programs can help B2B companies grow the lifetime value of accounts, save them from churning, and generate warm referrals that drive new growth.

According to a McKinsey study, successful programmes lower customer churn by 10-15%, increase sales close rates by 20-40% and lower costs to serve by up to 50%.

In addition, B2B leads generated through warm referrals have on average a 4 times higher lead-to-deal conversion rate compared to sales prospecting or advertising.

Yet, most B2B companies struggle to generate business results and find that simply cloning B2C programmes and practices isn’t the solution.

That is why I decided to write down our hard-learned lessons from 15 years of experience in building VoC and customer experience programs with leading European companies. We have organized this guide around the most common questions we got over the years from B2B professionals:

Part 1: Why should B2B companies consider implementing Voice-of-Customer Programs

  1. We already have account managers, sales and customer support teams. Why do we need VoC?
  2. Doesn’t it cost too much time and money while not generating real returns?
  3. My customers are happy — why should I do anything?
  4. Why can’t we just send out a SurveyMonkey questionnaire (or call) once a year?
  5. We have tried it in the past, but it never generated business results. Why invest in something that’s proven not to work for us?

Part 2: What should B2B companies do to implement customer programs that deliver results

  1. What are the right metrics to follow and the right questions to ask?
  2. Isn’t the “Net Promoter question” the wrong question for B2B?
  3. What are some frequent challenges and pitfalls B2B companies face when implementing a VoC Program?

Part 3: How should B2B companies organize themselves efficiently?

  1. How do we start and get quick results?
  2. Aren’t our response rates going to be too low in B2B? How do we ensure we get enough meaningful and actionable data?
  3. How do I convince my management that we need a B2B VoC program?
  4. Who are the most important stakeholders to get on board in B2B companies and how?
  5. What about GDPR? Is Voice-of-Customer GDPR-compliant?

Part 4: How do I bring it all together and ensure the long-lasting success of the programme?

Conclusion and greetings from Stefan

Before going into these questions, let me point you to a webinar I am giving in the coming weeks. Here I will answer these questions, and introduce the CCC framework which will help you build up the VoC program in your company in a profitable and sustainable way.

And I will very gladly organise a private webinar for you and your colleagues. I have now done that many times, and it is a really good way to deep-dive on the specific questions your organisation has. No sales pitch, promised.

Part 1: Why should B2B companies consider implementing a Voice-of-Customer Programs

Each B2B leader needs to carefully consider where to invest their limited time and resources, and look for initiatives that will make a real difference for their customers and their business. So let’s start with the most critical questions leaders ask when considering an investment in a customer programme.

We already have account managers, sales and customer support teams. Why do we need VoC?

The first thing B2B leaders ask me when we discuss the need for a Voice-of-Customer Program is:

“Why should we do this? We are a B2B company, we have salespeople and customer support teams who are in contact with our customers, and account managers for big accounts… so why should we do VoC?”

B2B accounts are potentially worth millions. You cannot afford to let any account fall through the cracks. This requires a concerted effort to focus on getting feedback from as many accounts as possible and creating a complete account view.

Which is easier said than done.

Even if B2B, at the end of the day, real people are deciding (or influencing the decision) about buying your products/services, and real people are signing your checks. So, you need to know where your company stands.

Having customer support teams and account managers is great, but you need to break the silos and to learn more about the emotions driving your customers through their buyers’ journey. Understanding your customers is the only way you can deliver exceptional customer service and stand ahead of your competitors.

Finally, your customers can be also your promoters and advocates. And if you are asking if a B2B customer can really promote or advocate for your business, the answer is “Yes”. But not just by saying favourable things or recommending the firm to others.

Loyalty and advocacy also can be expressed as the customer's willingness to discuss how you can better serve his or her needs and add more value — critical to boosting revenues and profitability. And don’t forget – Word of Mouth is still one of the main influencers in the decision process. According to statistics, it influences 91% of B2B buyers.

Doesn’t it cost too much time and money while not generating real returns?

While a well-executed VoC program requires an orchestrated effort from multiple stakeholders in your organization, the ROI can be massive.

We often start with looking at the simplest of all calculations:

How many accounts do we need to save to earn our investment back?

As B2B accounts can be quite sizeable, this can mean that you need to either (1) save only one big client or account from churning or (2) to turn only one client, with a good reputation, into your promoter or (3) upsell your premium products to a single account.

If you are looking for more evidence, check out the 8 examples — with 10 real-world cases — on how to use NPS to create tangible business results. You can learn more also during our 1-day seminar – NPSevaluate, where we introduce more elaborate ways of calculating ROI - by looking at the various ways VoC and CX can help increase sales and reduce cost at the same time. 

My customers are happy — why should I do anything?

Dare I ask how you can be so sure? Do you know if your customers are truly delighted - or merely satisfied? Would they leave if a great competitive offer came along?

One of the key issues we find in B2B is that the contact typically is controlled by the account manager – who may or may not have the interest to filter out bad news and may not be talking to all the right stakeholders and asking them all the pertinent questions.

In addition, during the years, your customers are changing and evolving, so you need to have a working method to constantly check where your business is standing in their perception. Are all the stakeholders the same, or has the DMU changed substantially?

Finally - even if almost all of your customers are happy - can you afford to lose even one?

Why can’t we just send out a SurveyMonkey questionnaire (or call) once a year?

Do you even know whom to send that questionnaire to? Are you sure your account executive has the full overview of the relevant stakeholders in his client company - and that he is sharing that with you? Even if he thinks that some stakeholders might actually say something not so nice?

The reality is that your customer is facing a constantly changing multichannel, multi-device communication overload while being overwhelmed with your competitor's value propositions. At the same time, B2B customers start expecting new levels of service and customer experience based on what B2C companies (and some of your competitors) are teaching them to expect. Even if you are the only company offering this service or product in the world, you still don’t know if someone is not currently creating a competitive offer in their parent’s garage.

For all other companies, which face fierce competition, see the recent example from Netflix and Disney and think again if checking your customers once a year is enough.

We have tried it in the past, but it never generated business results. Why invest in something that’s proven not to work for us?

Like for any other set of data, for NPS and VoC you need not only a methodology on how to measure, but also a strategic approach on how to act on this data you collected.

Otherwise, you risk that your programme will be dead on arrival.

The best way is to determine this in advance. This is the only way to be sure that your efforts won’t be dust in the wind.

Here is the list of 5 checks to follow to secure actionability of your customer strategy. And 10 ideas on how to take your customer program to the next level.

If you are still not sure where to start or what is the best approach, check our 10-Day Voice-of-Customer or Net Promoter® Makeover which will help you sharpen your vision.

At the end of the article (and during our upcoming webinar), we introduce the CCC Framework, which will help you generate business results and give your programme ROI and longevity.

Part 2: What should B2B companies do to implement customer programs that deliver results

After this brief overview of the complicated world of “Why”, you might be a bit more convinced about the need to implement VoC as a key part of your business strategy. We will discuss more reasons and some good examples and cases in our webinar, or organize a private webinar for you and your colleagues.

However, understanding why you should do something is only the beginning. One of the hardest parts is “what” exactly you should do and “how” to do it.

What are the right metrics to follow and the right questions to ask?

It is said that Culture eats Strategy for breakfast — but this overlooks where culture originates.

The real key drivers of culture are the KPIs. Nobody can be expected to act against the KPIs that drive their bonuses and even their career.

We have seen this at pretty much every company that we worked with.

Therefore, the right metrics and questions for you are the ones which will give you actionable insights on how you can do better in terms of your KPIs. This can be NPS (Net Promoter® Score), Customer Effort Score (CES), Customer Expectation Score - or one of several other metrics that are correct for the person, stage in the journey and channel/method used.

When choosing the questions to ask, you should also consider what kind of information you want to receive:

  • Is it related to a concrete touchpoint of your customers with your business — for example your contact center?
  • Do you want to evaluate your overall relationship with one account?
  • Do you want to see where you stand among your competitors?

Each of these three categories focuses on different aspects and respectively needs different types of questions and metrics.

And when translating all of this into KPIs, it is essential to not make the mistake of making a singular metric the only KPI. This will lead to the focus on the wrong things - i.e. the ‘score’ and not the actual experience of the customer and how to improve it profitably.

Goodhart’s law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

As no employee can ever be expected to act against his own interest, you may also need to review your established KPIs to make sure they don’t drive anti-CX actions by your people. This can go from a well-intentioned remark to a customer “don't forget to give us a 9” down to marking a service incident ‘complete’ to stay within the average time allotted by the KPI. The law of unintended consequences can have a severe impact here.

Therefore - check every metric and KPI for its real impact. And most importantly - ask yourself whether it drives profitable action.

Isn’t the “Net Promoter question” the wrong question for B2B?

What we hear often is that NPS “just doesn’t work in B2B”. It’s called simplistic, a vanity metric, or argued that people don’t give an honest or correct answer, or that there are complex DMUs, the purchasing is based on price alone…We will write a complete article to deal with these topics extensively, but let’s start with several key observations.

B2B leaders often do not “believe” in Net Promoter – but this often due to them having seen an incorrect implementation of NPS. Having said that, NPS is just a tool like any other. You need to use the right tool for the job at hand, and you don’t use a screwdriver to hammer a nail.

First, NPS is indeed not always the right question — nor the ultimate question — but it is one of the most practical, effective and actionable approaches. Specifically to start a programme, to give an organisation an initial push, have some quick wins to convince the senior management to invest into a full-scale VoC program an NPS pilot can be extremely effective.

For a longer running programme you need to use a mix of metrics - see above.

Keeping in mind that “NPS” stands for Net Promoter System (it stopped focusing on “Score” at least 10 years ago), the primary idea is to put customer contacts into the right groups: promoter, passive, detractor and disengaged (don’t forget those non-respondents, which in B2B environments are a critical data point), so the company can build the right value-driving strategies.

Finally, B2B is built on emotion and word-of-mouth just the same as any other purchasing process and the recommendation question in its essence is a proxy for true satisfaction.

What are some frequent challenges and pitfalls B2B companies face when implementing a VoC Program?

Implementing VoC Program in B2B can be quite challenging because there are a lot more restrictions and the complexity of business is usually higher.

Here are just a few of the possible challenges, which you can face:

  • Some companies prohibit their employees from making vendor recommendations to third parties. We regularly see B2B customers give “0” on the Net Promoter question and give the reason as “I’m not allowed to make recommendations.”
  • Buying decisions are much more complex in the B2B environment than B2C, and the recommendations of any one person might matter a lot or not at all. It doesn’t matter if nine out of ten people are Promoters — if the one Detractor is the CEO.
  • Relationships are much more complex in the B2B environment, and where many different people at the customer company interact with the vendor company, most of those people probably have only a limited view into the entire relationship.

In our upcoming webinar, we’ll discuss these and some of the other common challenges B2B companies face.

However, due to the inherent complexity of customer relationships and the sales process, you may face specific challenges that no article or guide might offer a ready answer for.

That is why we regularly organize private webinars where you can invite your team members and we can focus on the concrete challenges you face and the actions you could undertake to get to the results you are after.

Part 3: How should B2B companies organize themselves efficiently?

How do we start and get quick results?

Start with a limited scope pilot. The cost of such a pilot is very acceptable (typically between 10k and 20k for several countries), and allows for immediate payback and a strong story to convince the rest of the company by bringing quick wins.

While it is important to focus on the big wins that truly drive customer loyalty in your business, the small wins can be important too. Especially if they are quick & easy to achieve.

They give people a sense of progress and achievement and create momentum. They help you build a solid case and get the budget and support you need from your organization.

So when the first data start coming in, do look for the big hitters, but also check for quick and easy fixes to customer issues. The most impressive quick win coming out of a pilot is typically identifying a few accounts that are about to churn and rescuing them.

In this article, we discuss three common improvement areas that generate quick, visible business results. 

Aren’t our response rates going to be too low in B2B? How do we ensure we get enough meaningful and actionable data?

With response rates declining globally, it is important to start looking at other sources of customer feedback. Some of this feedback may be survey based, some conversational, some observational. This multimodal data gathering we will cover in the upcoming webinar “B2B Voice-of-Customer Programs That Reduce Churn, and Grow Referrals & Lifetime Value”

Most of the channels to capture this additional feedback already exist. The information flowing through them however is often not tracked nor thoroughly analysed. Or if it is tracked and analysed, it usually is with only a fragmented perception of the customer (for example as a website visitor). 

More examples:

  • Using sales enablement tools to propagate structural surveying of accounts to the sales reps in the field
  • Staff feedback on customer interactions
  • Telephone conversations with customers and prospects, which are automatically analysed
  • Actual digital behaviour

The next step is to align channels and methodologies with the customer lifecycle and bring all captured information into one system. The system should allow you to generate a 360 view of the customer, and to carry out the necessary predictive analysis.

The results of these analyses must then be fed back into the various front-end systems (Salesforce, GSAP, etc.), to ensure every employee has an overview of key data when talking to a customer. For example:

  • Their recent feedback and issues (survey and non-survey, multichannel based)
  • Their recent interactions and predictive analysis
  • Concrete tips on acting and next best actions overall

Remember – collecting data, just to say that you have it, is not VoC.

Now when you know why you need VoC and NPS and with what to start, you need to receive a couple of “Yes-es” from different stakeholders.

How do I convince my management that we need a B2B VoC program?

Every CEO of a B2B company should be asking herself or himself some, if not all, of these B2B questions. But to convince your management to get on board with the VoC Program, you need to build and show them a business case.

While there are many complex models for this, there are also some relatively easy shortcuts, especially if you can show the value, which your activities will bring. Check the first chapter of Alain Thys book, for some ideas.

We will also discuss these in the upcoming webinar “B2B Voice-of-Customer Programs That Reduce Churn, and Grow Referrals & Lifetime Value”, as well as the more complex business model approach specifically from a B2B perspective.

Who are the most important stakeholders to get on board in B2B companies and how?

To be successful, a VoC Program should be part of your culture and should be recognized by all levels of employees.

Of course, it is essential to get support from your CEO and other senior leaders. But bringing on board only your C-suite is not enough, because they are not usually the ones communicating with your customers.

Make sure that all your employees have the needed information at every step of the customer journey. By closely involving your IT teams in your efforts, you can develop a "single customer view" architecture which is really designed around your customers instead of any vendor's perspective on the world.

GDPR and NPS What about GDPR? Is Voice-of-Customer GDPR-compliant?

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While GDPR is a complex issue, it is not a problem to ask your customers whether everything is alright. Corporate legal departments like to err on the side of caution, but this is worth a further discussion internally.

We have prepared an infographic to give you some key pointers and included a very clear statement by the vice-head of the European data protection agency on the fact that you can speak to your customers. Just click here to access the larger version.

 

Part 4: How do I bring it all together and ensure the long-lasting success of the programme?

We have developed a framework that will help you make sure that I decided to write down our hard-learned lessons from 15 years of experience in building VoC and customer experience programs with leading European companies. We have organized this guide around the most common questions we got over the years from B2B professionals: e hist all the right notes from the beginning - or will help you take your existing programme to the next level.

Please join me for my webinar on where I will explain this framework and how it helps you in detail. But let me give you the quick overview:

CCC Framework

CORE

At the heart of the framework is your CORE - the systems, metrics, and processes you use to deliver actionable insights to the rest of the organisation.

Starting with the basics, CORE means looking at the Customer Lifecycle / Journey and having a very clear understanding of:

  • Who to ask (which stakeholders can add value to my insights)
  • How to ask (which technologies and methodologies to use)
  • When to ask (which touchpoints, interactions, moments in time are relevant to the customers’ experience, and increase the likelihood of them answering)
  • What to ask: which metrics to use, which questions to ask – but also what other information to capture. This includes many non-survey elements to give us an understanding of the emotions and actions of the customer.

CREATE VALUE

Based on the actionable insights delivered by the CORE, the organization can create value - drive profits and reduce costs by putting the customer at the heart of operations. This starts includes:

  • Close the loop to improve CX
  • Use insights to drive sales
  • Improve operational efficiency

CAPTURE VALUE

It isn’t enough to create the value, we must also capture it, to effectively prove it to the organization. We need to show:

  • The value of CX and recommendation
  • A full-scale Business Model
  • And implement the right KPIs

COMMUNICATE VALUE

Once the value is captured, it needs to be communicated into the organization, to inspire more people to generate value. To do this:

  • Ensure all stakeholders are Willing, Skilled and Able
  • Showcase success and ROI
  • Bring other departments and senior management on board

With this last step, we start generating a virtuous cycle, inspiring more people to take action, driving more value, and so on. This way we establish resilience and longevity for the programme.

Conclusion and greetings from Stefan

Stefan Kolle and the World Cup

If you want your B2B customer program to generate tangible results, it must be planned as part of your long-term strategy and not as occasional events.

Only by making it part of your company DNA it can bring real value, turn your customers into your loyal advocates and prepare your business to be successful not only now, but also in the future.

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Hi, my name is Stefan Kolle, and I hope you enjoyed my article.

This is me next to the World Cup trophy.

13 years ago, I was in the Hong Kong offices of Philips, to help APAC marketing teams make their marketing more customer-centric — or as I like to call it, ‘stop annoying your customers’.

Over these 13 years, I have learned a lot, caught a few bumps and bruises, and collected a deep treasure trove of cases, stories, and anecdotes. All in all, I have worked with hundreds of managers, inspired thousands of executives and improved the experience of well over a hundred million customers.

And I learned that people love stories.

Time and time again, in all my workshops and presentations I notice that these stories are the most cherished part of what I have to share. This is not dry theory, but how real people showed real effort and managed (or failed) to improve the experience of customers.

The webinar “B2B Voice-of-Customer Programs That Reduce Churn, and Grow Referrals & Lifetime Value” won’t be any different. It’s based on several recent cases and will help you give your B2B VoC program the boost it needs.