CUSTOMER INSIGHT: Customer experience management – how to get it right

It’s up to the marketing team to think about customer experience management. But what exactly is it and how do you get it right? Alex Blyth reports

Customer experience management (CXM) is not a new concept, but in the B2B world it is one that is often misunderstood. Too often it is seen as something for the customer service department to worry about, while marketers get on with the more complex task of brand management.

Yet, this ignores the fact the customer experience of a company is a significant part of what constitutes its brand.

While brand may incorporate broader aspects of history, visual identity, employee personality, and so on, it is to a great extent formed by the opinions of those key stakeholders: customers. Those opinions are a result of how they experience a company – from first contact right through to post-purchase service.

If the management of that customer experience is a vital element of brand then it must form a core part of a marketer’s role. The challenge is firstly to understand what a good experience looks like and then secondly to create that for your customers.

Positive customer experience
According to the new book Outside-In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, there is strong statistical evidence to suggest a good customer experience is one that meets customer needs, is easy and enjoyable.

So, how many of your customers have an experience with your company that meets their needs, is easy and enjoyable? If Forrester’s 2011 report The Emergence of Customer Experience Management Solutions is to be believed, the number is probably much lower than it should be. The report claimed that on the whole, B2B firms view CXM as an issue for their consumer counterparts, and concluded that B2B has some way to go on the issue of CXM.

Yet, there are signs they are beginning to catch up. Companies such as GE Capital, Philips Electronics, Intuit, Fidelity and IBM are investing in their customer experience and reaping the benefits. The emergence of big data, social media and marketing automation technology are making it more feasible, and CXM is fast  becoming one of the most talked about issues in B2B marketing departments.

The seven golden rules of CXM
Looking for a CXM nirvana? Here’s what you should be doing

  1. Know what you want your customer experience to look like. Build a clear picture of your end goal and inspire colleagues with this vision.
  2. Build a customer journey map to reach that nirvana. Understand the key moments of truth, the right channels to reach those customers, the type and frequency of feedback you need, and so on.
  3. Establish and maintain an excellent working relationship with your customer service team. They are your frontline.
  4. Remember not all customers are created equal. Ensure your tier one customers carry more weight.
  5. Personalisation is paramount. Not all customers are alike. Personalise your service and your marketing.
  6. Never try to alter a customer’s behaviour. Forcing customers into giving data, or taking an action they don’t want to is a sure-fire way of ruining the customer experience.
  7. Never forget that customer experience cannot be a department; it has to be an ethos. Businesses that relegate it to the marketing, sales or service teams and fail to integrate it across all touch points are doomed to fail.

The importance of B2B CXM
“It is absolutely certain that CXM should be an issue in the B2B world. Perhaps even more so than in B2C,” says John Aves, chief executive of customer experience company CP2 Experience. “B2B companies often have fewer, larger, customers so the possible impact of an unhappy customer is often much greater.”

He continues, “In the B2B world where procurement departments never sign contracts without due diligence checks, the power of personal referral is potentially much greater.”

What is more, in the past five years the way B2B customers engage with vendors has fundamentally changed. They go online and do their own background searches, contacting vendors at a much later point in the traditional sales cycle. They are both more fickle and more reliant on third-party recommendations than ever before. Get your CXM wrong and you will not only lose a customer you will also gain a detractor.

Peter Ballard, managing partner at user experience design agency Foolproof, says, “We are seeing user experience increasingly feature on the checklists of procurement teams when they evaluate new B2B partners and suppliers.”

Social experience
Much of the rise in importance of CXM can be attributed to social media. It has given B2B marketers not only a window into how customers experience their brands, but also a forum in which to remedy poor experiences and share good ones. “An individual’s opinions can be shared very quickly and very widely online,” says Ian Cox, managing director at Performance Telecom. “In the B2B world, peer groups are prevalent and powerful, so word-of-mouth advocacy should form a valuable part of the marketing strategy.”

While this is a vast opportunity for B2B marketers, it is also a major risk for any who fail to engage through this channel. Steve Rosier, head of consulting EMEA, at Verint, says, “According to a survey carried out by Verint and the Customer Contact Association (CCA), 59 per cent of people believe companies should pay much more attention to what people say on social media, then act on what they hear.”

Driven by data
Social media sites are now just one of the many sources of information on the customer experience that are available to B2B marketers. This data can be an immensely powerful tool. “To create a great customer experience you need to realise that people experience things differently,” argues Tim Norman, director at SDL Web Content Management Solutions. “So, the ability to capture customer data and use that information to make their own specific brand experience both relevant and engaging, means you can satisfy different tastes and preferences.”

Yet Hannah Graham, head of marketing at consumer insight agency Sky IQ, cautions against obsessing over data. She says, “Collecting masses of data for the sake of it only stifles the insights you gain from it. It’s our belief that marketers need to shift their focus to relevant data, enabling them to meet their customers’ expectations and needs.”

The greatest problem is that B2B marketers lack control of the data. Often it is located in other departments and extremely difficult to bring it all together to get a single view of the customer experience.

Elio Gambetta, senior vice president of promote solutions EMEA at automation provider Autonomy, highlights, “One system may monitor who is viewing product information on the website, allowing the marketing or sales team to follow up directly.

“A separate system, however, may handle customer complaints. If these systems do not ‘talk’ to each other, a customer may be targeted with marketing material on a product they have already purchased, while they are waiting for feedback on a support request.

“This results in a very poor customer experience, and can potentially damage an on-going relationship.”

Aside from the data, marketers can struggle to gain control of customer experience because it is delivered by multiple departments. Aves says, “Other parts of the business are driven by different metrics and so the best marketing can hope for is to influence behaviour. Furthermore, making the business case for customer experience often requires a time horizon that conflicts with the quarterly stock market pressures that drives many companies.”

Automation and mobile
Marketing automation platforms are playing an increasing role in resolving this issue. They help firstly by managing the flow of all this information on the customer experience, and secondly by co-ordinating customer contact across the wide variety of channels now available.

Ellen Valentine, product strategist at automation provider Silverpop, explains, “By using a centralised marketing system to bring together insight on a single customer across a number of channels, marketers are able to better recognise, respond to, and target the needs and behaviours of individual customers.”

At the same time, a growing number of B2B marketers are discovering how mobile technology can help them enhance the customer experience. Ballard reports that he is working with a major bank that has issued its wealth relationship managers with tablets, in an attempt to make their working processes slicker in the eyes of the customer.

Time to act
So, what of the future? Some observers believe that B2B marketers will soon be able to predict their customers’ needs, sometimes even before the customers themselves know they have a need.

“Customer experience management is extending ever further back in time,” says Valentine. “Previously we had to wait for customers to open an email, or risk becoming irrelevant spam. Now we can use data from website viewings and online networks to predict what customers need and when they need it. This type of behavioural marketing will allow marketers to place themselves in front of customers who need their product, but haven’t realised it yet.”

You may not be ready yet to go that far, but now is the time when you should start to focus more closely on CXM. As Karine Del Moro, senior director at research agency Confirmit, reports, “2012 is definitely a pivotal year in CXM. We’ve talked to dozens of global organisations in this sector to assess where they currently stand, and most are doing impressive work making the voice of the customer an integral part of how they operate.”

Finally, the good news is, to stand out you don’t need to do much. As Jasper Bell, strategy consultant at digital agency Amaze, points out, “A worryingly low one per cent of websites passed Forrester’s 2011 user experience review. So, those brands that can differentiate stand a chance of winning. The alternative? According to Oracle, 89 per cent of people do business with a competitor following a poor customer experience.”

CXM on a global scale
New research suggests businesses should follow six disciplines to manage customer experience

Global information manageme