B2B Customer Experience Best Practices

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

Customer Experience

Are you interested in understanding what the customer experience (CE) movement is all about?

As the dynamics in the customer's world are constantly evolving, an insatiable curiosity about customers is a key to success. Company-wide alignment with customers prevents waste (improves profit) and prevents customer hassles (improves organic revenue growth).

Check out the 2014 ClearAction Business-to-Business Customer Experience Benchmarking Study. As the first global B2B analysis of best practices in customer experience management (CEM), this study provides insights on the growing role of customer experience in corporations.

Some key tidbits:

  • Investment in customer experience management has increased or remained stable since 2005 for 88% of business-to-business companies
  • Four out of five B2B firms assign overall responsibility for customer experience initiatives to a vice president or director-level executive
  • One in five companies treats customer experience inputs as a determinant of corporate strategy.

The study equally represents both large (more than 10,000 employees) and medium-sized companies (between 1,000 and 10,000 employees) headquartered in North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Industries represented include equipment, financial services, insurance, legal, medical, manufacturing, publishing, telecommunications, technology, and transportation.

Why CRM Implementations Fail: The Top Ten Killers

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Submitted by guest blogger, Reuven Shelef, President of OUT OF THE BOX Consulting

CRM solutions make big promises. Implement one well, and you’ll increase sales, improve support, and create loyal customers almost overnight. As a Salesforce Cloud Alliance Partner, I know that’s not universally the case. Over the years, I’ve become familiar with what can cause a deployment to work well, or fall short of expectations.

Here’s my take on the top 10 problems that can derail a CRM system implementation. Please note that this list is in no particular order of importance, though I think that “poorly defined requirements” should be at or near the top of any list. Your knowledge of your organization will dictate what surfaces first.


Peter Shankman’s New Passion: Listen to Your Customers…or Else!

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Today I had a great 1:1 with Peter Shankman, the uber social networking guru, who has been spouting radically new ways of thinking about social media, PR, marketing, advertising, and customer service for years.

What led to our conversation is his newest venture, Shankman|Honig, a customer service consultancy focused on getting companies to understand the bottom-line benefits of listening to their customers and delivering what customers want. I’m thrilled to see someone with such a voice and worldwide audience talking about something that has been my own passion and driving force since entering this world (when you think of Peter, think of the old commercial “When E.F. Hutton talks…”!).

What I learned in our whirlwind 10 minutes together:

  • Companies who give customers what they want can increase revenues by 30-40%.
  • We live in a “sharing economy” and if you are NOT giving customers what they want, they will tell the world.
  • If you make your employees and customers love you, they will do your PR and handle your customer service for you.


Understanding “Big Data”: What About Good Old Fashioned Customer Research?

Thursday, February 28th, 2013


‘Big data’ is another one of those buzzwords that had reached the tipping point and is a topic that any business person worth their salt needs to be somewhat conversant on.

My clients have been asking me how big data fits in with their focus on understanding their customers using traditional tools like surveys and interviewing. As perplexing as the concept can appear to be, it’s really quite simple. Traditional tools still have a place in this new ‘big data’ world…

Understanding your customers’ needs and wants and getting inside their heads about what challenges they face so you can figure out how to be invaluable to them is hugely important to business success. This information is data, regardless of how you GET that data. Conducting your own surveys, interviewing your customers, or buying syndicated market data. Plain and simple, it’s just data.

Likewise, the information that can be collected about the transactions your customers conduct with your company is also data. Whether you mine your own databases for that information or ask your customers directly. It’s data.

Similarly, information you can get about the behaviors that your customers or target market exhibit BEYOND their interactions with your company and information about the environments/settings in which they do what they do is also data.

The farther you get away from your own interactions with your customers, the more likely it is that you will need to turn to other sources for the data, but it’s all just data.

‘Big data refers to data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using regular database management tools and applications that businesses would be using for their daily processes. There are specialized tools that programmers can use to basically wrestle down big data sets and find meaningful insights from.

But don’t get overwhelmed…again, data is data. And your approach to data shouldn’t change, regardless of how MUCH data you are dealing with. It’s very simple:

  • Define WHY you are collecting data…what are you trying to learn?
  • Decide what sources of data think will best address the ‘why’ (start small and expand later)
  • Figure out where you will store the data (start small and get more sophisticated later)
  • Set a plan for analyzing the data (how, who, how often, etc.)
  • Decide who needs to be informed about what you’ve learned (think across the organization)
  • Repeat…


The good thing about the focus on ‘big data’ is that it focuses businesses on HAVING data and using it to improve their business products and processes including marketing strategy, sales processes, customer support, product strategy, and more.

A recent Forrester report said that "To improve customer engagement, companies must invest in solutions to effectively manage big data."

Businesses who look beyond producing cool products that customers ‘need’ and expand to a listening/collecting mode are always going to be more successful. It’s critical to constantly update your understanding of your customers and their world in order to stay relevant to them. If ‘big data’ gets businesses more aware of that fact, then ‘Viva le Big Data!”

Your thoughts?

Why Do Some Companies Avoid Research Like the Plague?

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

In a recent discussion about obstacles to win loss research, we talked the fact that some companies just don’t do ANY research.

Some of the reasons that companies don’t do research:

  • Don’t trust their customers’ perspectives: Some companies are skeptical about their customers’ ability to be objective/overcome their biases.  Other companies consider their technology/concepts to be beyond their customers’ limited imagination.  Even the most innovative product companies have something to learn from their customers that will ensure that their products/services are delivered in a way that appeals to their target market (packaging, messaging, and more…).


  •  Think that research will take too much time: Research that is done over time vs. at one specific point in time can help ensure that no product launch or critical business decision has to wait for a project to be complete.  ANY insights you can inject into business decisions can improve the success of those decisions.


  •  Think that research will cost too much money: There are many ways to do research on a shoestring.  The simplest, least expensive research involves just picking up the phone and talking to your customers about how things are going, what their biggest problems are, and how you could continue to meet their needs.  Outside research resources definitely have their place when the research is large in scope and difficult to manage using in-house resources or when it’s important to have statistical levels of confidence in the data and/or an objective view of the data.

Companies who DO use research to gather insights about their customers are able to provide solutions that are targeted directly to a real market need and are more likely to win over their competition based on having the best understanding of what their market cares about and what messages will appeal most to them when positioning their products and services.

Companies of all sizes, from high tech to no tech can all benefit from listening to their customers and exploring the best type of research for addressing their immediate and long-term needs.

What obstacles have you seen stand in the way of companies doing research?  How has that worked for them?

Technology Is Revolutionizing Customer Service

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

From guest blogger, Lance Overbay – Lance studied engineering and minored in English. He has a love for all things Android.

Today's entrepreneur and startup business owner is born into a world of digital communication. Mobile phones are often used for texting rather than talking. Requests for information now involve finger-walking the Internet rather than physical journeys backed by research in yellow pages, the print newspaper or word-of-mouth testimonies.

It seems that many prefer the anonymity of computerized contact over the visual or verbal upfront requirements of a personal meeting or phone call. To compete in this digital society, business owners must learn how to apply current technology to all     matters involving customer support. The power of Live Chat Software, social media programs, and email can help promote quicker response times, fulfill customer expectations and save money in the process.

A Swelling Population Demands New Methods of Customer Support

There was a time when society consisted of small communities, mom-&-pop businesses, and a local economy based on friends serving friends. One-on-one customer support was easy to maintain, desirable and satisfying to both the business owner and the customer.

Even small communities consist of many groups of strangers among friends. The demand for service exceeds the capacity of upfront visual and verbal customer support.

Old methods of live customer support can be:

  • Expensive

  • Difficult to monitor

  • Time consuming

  • And employee intensive.

On the occasions when staff overload results in 45 minutes of recorded messages, menu phone trees and customer frustration, the customer can develop a negative attitude toward the business, its products and its customer support policies. By applying the features of a chat application and other various social media tools, an aggressive business can use this focus on technology and anonymity to help connect users to the proper support networks in a manner that is less expensive to manage and still customer-preferred.

Social Media and Live Chat Software Uses Technology to Improve Customer Support

Current technology promotes the opportunity for every business to provide instant access to real-time customer support. Unlike call waiting, customers who make contact via digital devices are not forced to endure the monopoly that accompanies dial-tone silence and recorded messages. Even in the event that a particular online customer support session involves a customer wait, working from a computer or the likes of an iPhone gives that customer an opportunity to fill the lag time with personal research, a review of currently posted online answers or any other type of online interest. So your customers can research, chat with a friend, update your status on Facebook, Tweet, or check your email while you wait for your customer support specialist to assist you. Embracing new technology in your customer service model can help your customers to connect and might improve your profits overall. you see this as a positive trend?  Or are there trade-offs?

The Chief Customer Officer (CCO) Movement…a Good Sign for Customers

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

We’re all familiar with a wide variety of CXO positions, but how many of you have run into a CCO lately?  Well it’s becoming more and more likely that you WILL run into one in organizations worldwide as the creation of Chief Customer Officer roles become a strategic move for organizations according to a recent Inc. Magazine article.

What IS a CCO?  The Chief Customer Officer is the executive responsible in customer-centric companies for the total relationship with an organization’s customers.  This position is intended to provide a single vision across all methods of customer contact.  The strategic importance of CCOs has gradually grown since the 1990’s when the role was created and in some cases was just a symbolic way for organizations to say that they were customer-focused.  Today, the CCO typically reports to the chief executive officer, and is potentially a member of the board of directors.

According to Curtis Bingham of the CCO Council, there are now over 500 CCO’s worldwide and the role is rapidly evolving.

CCOs are often responsible for influencing corporate activities of customer relations in the call center, sales, marketing, user interface, finance/billing. fulfillment and post-sale support.  Sometimes they even may head up one of these functional areas, but still maintain a cross-functional focus.

One interesting example of this is a client of mine, Vendavo, where their new Sr. VP of Global Sales, Jennifer Maul, previously held the CCO role in the organization.   Jennifer’s new role is “responsible for lifetime customer relationships, customer success, and growing the customer base”.   As a result of the close relationship between those goals and the sales team, she now has a different title, but is still responsible for customer relationships as well as the sales function.  This would indicate that customer retention and satisfaction is fundamental to Vendavo's sales/growth strategy…that’s a good thing!

I'm encouraged by the increasing number of CCOs and the increased focus of organizations on how important customer relationships are to the bottom line.  If you aren't delivering/supporting your product or communicating with your customers in a way that meets their needs/expectations, it doesn't matter how cool your product is...they will find someone else who is willing to make their experience easier and less painful.

To learn more about this evolving role, explore the CCO Council site.  There are many tools there to help determine whether the time is right for your organization to create a CCO role and the success factors for doing so.

If you consult with organizations, you should understand more about this role and realize the important message your clients are sending if they have a CCO…it is a huge clue about their strategic focus and will give you insights about what is most important to them.

Please share any insights you have about this role and the challenges that companies may be having in implementing such a position.

Payoff for Coordinating Customer Experience Management

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

From guest blogger, Lynn Hunsaker, of Clear Action - Customer Experience Optimization Consulting

Connect your customer experience management efforts across the company, and enjoy exponential benefits, according to the 2011 Business-to-Business Customer Experience Management Benchmarking Study.

Customer Experience Management Collaboration

Companies with managers (of their top five methods to achieve CEM goals) who meet together quarterly or more often for coordination purposes, or have dotted-line reporting to a single executive or committee tend to enjoy advantages* in the following areas:

  • Role of CEM: Top management’s day-to-day activities indicating that customer experience is a competitive differentiator, CEM is a formal business process, and CEM is an influencer of major business decisions.
  • Voice of Customer: Identify and collect voice of the customer form all the influencers on the buying decision (i.e. initiators, approvers, users, buyers, influencers, gatekeepers, decision-makers). And involve executives in listening to customers, capture front-line employees’ observations of customer sentiment, and capture customer complaints anytime anywhere.

Voice of Customer

  • How We View Customers: Integrate customer feedback sources, analyze integrated customer data, establish a single view of each customer across divisions and regions, use customer metrics to evaluate organizational performance, and include customer metrics in the company’s balanced scorecard.

Customer Experience Data

  • How we Focus Employees on Customers: Onboard all employees regarding customer experience programs, review business processes form the customer perspective, use customer metrics in performance reviews, reward customer experience improvement by teams, align incentive pay to customer experience metrics, and create department-level action plans to improve customer experience.

Customer Experience Employee Engagement

  • How we Focus our Business on Customers: Use customer feedback to guide annual operating plan and listen to customer needs prior to product development efforts. And increase funding for cross-organizational collaboration.

Improve Customer Experience

Top 5 Methods to Achieve CEM Goals: Study participants named the following customer experience management efforts among their top 5 ways to improve customer experience:
Customer Experience Management

Recommendations: Recommendations for stronger customer experience strategy, cross-organizational cooperation, and business results are provided in the study, which can be accessed at

NOTE: 25% discount code = B2B25; save an additional 20% by downloading the 2010 and 2011 reports together, with discount code = 2studies.

*Companies with managers (of their top five methods to achieve CEM goals) who meet together quarterly or more often for coordination purposes, or have dotted-line reporting to a single executive or committee reported at least 20 percentage points advantage in the performance of holistic customer experience management, as well as strong business results.

Footnotes of coordination graph:
1 or more often for coordination purposes
2 to a single executive or committee

Footnotes of top 5 CEM efforts graph:
1 including user experience
2 including CRM, ERP, data mining
3 not customer-facing
4 dissatisfied to delighted
5 including forums, user groups
6 to increase purchase volume or duration

Have You Thanked a Customer Lately?

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

It’s that time of year for giving thanks…but I suggest that this should only serve as a simple reminder of a mindset we should have all year long, especially when it comes to our customers.

Keeping customers happy and preventing them from being lured away by your competitors is a key strategy to having a stable customer base and healthy revenues. Part of a successful customer retention strategy is ensuring that customers know that they are valued and not viewed as a commodity that you can replenish as needed.

And when it comes to making your customers feel valued, a simple message of ‘Thanks for your business!’ does the job perfectly. Have you ever been on an American Airlines flight when they say “We know you have other choices and we appreciate that you chose to fly with us…”. I know it’s a script that the flight attendants are given, but obviously, it had an impact on THIS customer. It’s a great message…for all of us!

But words alone can only have so much of an impact. I just looked back at the July 2011 email I received from Netflix which was their first announcement of the debacle that led to a plummet in customer numbers and their stock price. “We realize you have many choices for home entertainment, and we thank you for your business.” And now we are going to raise prices on you and ‘encourage’ you to stop ordering DVD’s…what?! I felt ANYthing but valued after reading that email. And will never feel the same about Netflix, a company that I had been a raving fan of up until then.

An example of how ‘actions speak louder than words’: Yesterday a San Francisco gas station owner lowered gas prices by 50 cents per gallon for 8 hours as a way of thanking his customers and helping make their holiday travel a bit less expensive. WOW! No advertising of this offer ahead of time to get MORE business, just a concrete (and unexpected) thank you to his customers. And, how cool that his actions made the local news, but that wasn’t his objective. It was a pure token of thanks. Side benefits: extremely loyal customers who hopefully won’t be tempted by saving a few cents per gallon at a competing station and who will spread the word about this station to others.

Here are a few ideas for how you can say thank you to your customers, not only during the holiday season, but ANY time during the year (or ALL year!):

  • Send an insert with all orders (or orders over a certain amount) that provide a discount on future orders...with a message saying "Thanks for your business!'
  • Create a culture in your organization for anyone who interfaces with your customers (sales reps, support staff, cashiers, customer service reps, etc.) to make sure they say a sincere “Thank you for your business” after each interaction.
  • Have executives proactively call key customers for the express purpose of saying “Thank you”…no selling involved.

Those are just a few deas to get your juices flowing…let us know what you have done, or are thinking of doing, to let your customers know how much you appreciate their continued business!

And thank YOU for taking the time to read our blog! We’d love to hear your comments…

I Love You, but I’m Not IN LOVE With You!

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Guest blogger: Maeve Naughton, Customer Reference Programs expert

We’ve all seen the movie where the girl or guy turns to their significant other and says “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” Sometimes it’s hard to believe while other times you want to yell at the TV and say “Duh!!!!!” Shouldn’t the recipient of the news have known? You can tell when someone loves you compared to being in love with you right?! Most of the time I think it’s pretty obvious.

Companies often fall into the same situation when you change the first “love” to “satisfaction” and the second to “loyal”. Companies tend to think that satisfied customers are enough, but it’s not. You want loyal customers! Companies also tend to think that satisfaction and loyalty are the same.  They are very different!

So what’s the difference between satisfaction and loyalty? Satisfaction is defined as contentment and fulfillment. Loyal is defined as being faithful and showing allegiance to someone or something - somewhat similar definitions but huge differences when it comes to businesses. Sure I was satisfied with my lunch today, but I’m going to keep looking around for a better restaurant like the one down the street that I’m loyal to. I love it and try to go as often as I can while also telling others about it.

Bain & Company and Satmetrix talk about satisfaction as a product meeting the needs of a customer, a product working as expected or problems being resolved as expected. Loyalty is a bit different. They both describe it as ordinary services delivered exceptionally or exceptional services/features delivered well. You will see the difference being “satisfactory” versus “exceptional”. When you were in elementary school you got a “satisfactory” grade if you did things okay but nothing exceptional – that’s what “A’s” were for. I always equated “satisfactory” with a “C”. Is that good enough? It might be for you, but not for me.

Still not sure of the difference?  How about this….

Love = satisfaction = dating

In love = loyalty = marriage

Studies have shown that loyal customers add to a company’s bottom line. Less money is spent on retaining them than trying to gain new customers. Loyal customers also tell others about their great experience with you. Loyal customers want to let others know how smart they are because they selected your product. Loyal customers have a vested interest in your company and product.  Satisfied customers are happy for the moment and although they might tell others about you and be repeat customers, it’s more beneficial for your company to make them loyal.

Simply put, satisfaction keeps customers happy for the moment while loyalty keeps them happy for a much longer period of time, while also having them tell others. It’ll cost you less money in the long run to have loyal customers rather than satisfied customers.

Don’t get me wrong, satisfied customers are good and definitely better than ticked off customers, but your ultimate goal should be loyal customers. Loyal customers are more beneficial to your company. Don’t be afraid to be exceptional! It’s the difference between loving someone and being in love with someone.

Are your customers satisfied or loyal?

Maeve Naughton has been involved in B2B customer references and customer loyalty for ten years.  She is currently on the Board of the Customer Reference Knowledge Sharing Network (CRKSN) and writes her own blog, Customer Reference Programs Maeve can be reached at AND twitter id: @maevenaughton.