Does B2B Need to Look to B2C to Improve Customer Experience?

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At the recent ASAE 2018 Great Ideas Conference, Michael Cavanaugh, CEO of the American Animal Hospital Association, and his co-presenter Sarah Michel of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, discussed the work they've been doing to reinvent AAHA's annual conference.

Reports Associations Now: "The new experience—called Connexity [community + connection]—is set to launch in September 2018, and part of that reinvention is a policy of no longer referring to meeting-goers as attendees. Rather, Cavanaugh said, they will be called guests.

"'I think referring to them as guests really shows that we're committed to delivering an exceptional experience,' he said. 'Sure, it puts some pressure on us to deliver, but it also points to the fact that we're focused most on how we're executing each part of the meeting with that guest perspective in mind.'"

Could publishers boost audience engagement and loyalty by designing their biggest initiatives and events around a guest experience? And, with that, do B2B publishers need to look more to B2C to compete with improving consumer experiences?

The KPMG Nunwood Customer Experience Excellence Centre recently conducted a research study, in part, to explore this. Examining more than 130 businesses and surveying some 3,000 members of decision-making units across the UK and U.S., B2B Customer Experience: Winning in the Moments that Matter includes these key findings:

  • At the heart of an experience is a relationship ? it is built in different ways in the B2B world and is multi-faceted. However, the use of B2C techniques, targeted and tailored to individual stakeholders, will build a sustainable long-term relationship.
     
  • First impressions are vital. They define the level of forgiveness for issues.
     
  • Expectations are set by our experiences as consumers. There is much talk of the 'consumerization' of B2B on this basis. The emerging view is that it is business to human, rather than B2B or B2C; but B2B is more complex and more nuanced than B2C.
     
  • Three quarters of respondents consider customer experience as a major factor in supplier choice.

Robyn Duda, who just formed Robyn Duda Creative after seven years at event giant UBM—the last four as VP of brand strategy & experience design—believes that experience trumps efficiency and ROI. And having a sound customer mission will lead to a much greater ROI.

She offered these two statistics:

  • 96% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience; and
     
  • By 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.

"Everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to what the needs of the customer are," Duda said. She believes that every touch point a customer has with a publisher should be special. Experiences evoke feelings so events must do the same. It makes you want to be a part of it. "Every touch point, every encounter, every transaction matters."

The aforementioned study concludes that high-quality consumer experiences have gotten customers used to a higher standard of service. One example they give is Disney matching our nostalgia with state-of-the-art technology and world-leading, customer-service training for their "cast members."

"Most people now take the way they interact with business as a consumer into the B2B marketplace—they expect the same levels of service," said one B2B customer. "Treat businesses as if they are individuals: get to know the customer and the personality of the business, just like a typical consumer," says another.

At the end, the report—which can be downloaded here—offers an actionable roadmap titled A Way Forward: Transforming Your B2B Experience. It's worth dowloading just for that. At the heart, I think, is this line: "Think about the behaviors that will make the most difference and audit their current delivery."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…