Bringing an Effortless Experience to Industrial B2B

What if you could bring a luxury experience to your B2B business? When we think about what defines luxury B2C brands, it has very little to do with what we buy and much more to do with howwe are treated.

B2B purchases are not emotional purchases. Instead, they are purchases of necessity and influenced by a variety of factors, including existing relationships, budget constraints, and the needs of the business. This can lead us to remove the “human element” from the experience. Instead of looking at the buying experience as being between a brand an individual, it is sometimes treated as a simply a transaction occurring between two faceless companies. However, there is still a human element. The purchase is occurring between two humans and the experience of the B2B buyer does matter.Making this experience as effortless as possible for the buyer increases overall sales.

Matthew Dixon examines the importance of each of the touch points we have with our customers and understanding customer effort in his book the Effortless Experience. The content in this book falls into the “not so common common-sense category.”

Dixon points out that very few companies can command a premium price for their product or service simply because the product itself is superior. Instead, buying decisions are made based on the experience offered by the provider. Gartner predicted that by 2016, 89 percent of companies would be competing on the basis of customer experience, versus just 36 percent four years earlier. Yet, 50 percent of c-suite responders admit that their organizations are not consistently measuring customer experience.

Nordstrom is a quintessential luxury brand. Customers of Nordstrom know that they could find many of the department store’s products at other retailers for a much smaller price tag, yet they continue to contribute to the retail giant’s sustained growth. Perhaps even more telling is that Nordstrom.com now accounts for 25 percent of the company’s full-priced sales; pointing to the fact that the brand has successfully translated their service experience to their online platforms.

The customer experience is the next competitive battleground. – Jerry Gregoire

Bringing the Effortless Experience to American Cutting Edge

So how can we compete on something that seems so difficult to measure? At American Cutting Edge (ACE), I went back to those customer touch points to find ways to develop our own effortless experience.

My first stop was our customer service line. No one picks up the phone hoping to interact with a machine. When we put in the effort required to contact a company via phone, we do it because we want to talk to another human being. A real-live person answers every phone call that comes into ACE. We know our customers do not want to speak to automated attendants, and neither do we.

Next, we looked at the information we provide our customers. Many of our products are very heavy and require freight shipping. Yet, we did not have the tools and processes in place to give our customers precise shipping cost information. Instead, our customers would have to find this information on their own. To keep our touch points in line with our core values, we implemented systems that allow our teams to provide our customers with freight shipping costs simply and easily.

Our next stop was our e-commerce presence. Much of the data on our site was difficult to navigate. Product descriptions were inconsistent and lacked standardizing conventions. While revamping our online product data, we did it from the customer’s perspective. What information does our customer need to see? Which guided-selling tools will simplify the product selection process? Answering these questions allowed us to create an online buying experience that decreases returns and generates higher levels of customer satisfaction. In fact, since implementing these changes, we have seen a 50 percent increase in our e-commerce revenue.

Ninety-one percent of organizations aspire to be customer experience leaders in their industry, yet only 37 percent have a formal customer experience management initiative. – Oracle

Effortless Goal Setting

Creating an effortless experience is not a one-time initiative. It is a core value that influences every decision at ACE and is an integral a part of each employee’s daily work. Every goal, at all levels, is developed to be in-line with creating an effortless experience for our customers.

We know that our customers vote with their wallet. We teach our employees that everything they do to simplify the buying experience for our customers directly affects their personal finances. Whether that impact is felt through profit-sharing or the ability of the business to continue to grow and invest in its employees – much of the ownership of this metric comes down to individual experiences managed by individual employees.

High individual accountability is a culture shift at ACE. We are a family-owned and family-operated business, and for many decades much of the decision-making came from the top-down. Today, we work to involve all levels of our employees in creating solutions that our executive teams facilitate.

The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations. – Roy H. Williams

Bringing the Effortless Experience to Your Organization

Implementing the principles of an effortless experience in an industrial environment is challenging. The unique tenants that have shaped our industry sometimes keep our focus on metrics that have little to do with our customers’ experiences.

Here are five simple rules that keep the effortless experience at the forefront:

 

  • Know Your B2B Customer. Build personas you can crystallize. As a B2B seller, it is tempting to look at your customer as Company X, but you are selling to a person, not a company. What are the individual’s goals? What can you do to help him or her realize those goals? Finding this information requires asking the right questions, only then can you understand what your customer is really after.
  • Anticipate and Address Customer Needs. Understanding customers, both through conversation and careful metric tracking, allows your sales teams to provide better service. When we can anticipate and address a need before it becomes an issue for our customers, we dramatically increase our value in the eyes of our buyers.
  • Get Close To Your Current Customer. Change the conversation from a list of technical requirements to a discussion of pain points. Not sure how to do this? Ask your customer to think about all of their suppliers, both those you compete with and those you do not, and then ask your customer to pick a favorite. What makes that supplier the best? What do they do? The conversation is almost guaranteed to revolve around his or her experience with the supplier.
  • Remove Barriers To Purchase. How easy (effortless) is it for an outsider to navigate your internal sales systems? Is information intuitively and uniformly presented? The B2C world has created high expectations in our B2B customers. Our customers expect that buying from an industrial manufacturer will be as easy and pleasurable as buying from a luxury B2B brand.
  • Leverage Technology to Improve Customer Experience. Industrial manufacturers often struggle to provide online buying experiences that are simple, intuitive, and effective. Customers are either overwhelmed by the volume of technical details on a product page or provided with too little information. In an ideal scenario, online B2B buying experiences provide just the right amount of information and present it in a consistent and easy to navigate format.

 

Developing an effortless experience for your customers adds the value to your products and services that differentiates you from your competitors. It allows your B2B business to continue to grow even as the demographics of your buyers change. When creating the best possible customer experience is at the center of every decision, growth cannot help but follow.

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