5 Key B2B Customer Experience Trends for 2017

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At the beginning of each new year, I look to key customer experience data for any evidence that the practice area will finally go mainstream. We’re getting closer.

Take for instance Accenture’s 2015 B2B Customer Experience Report, which found that around 8 in 10 executives believe delivering a differentiated experience links directly to business results and provides a competitive advantage. This aligns with Walker Info’s report on the future of B2B customer experience, which says that by 2020, customer experience will surpass price and product as key differentiators.

Thus, the message, implied by these reports, is that companies better start differentiating by customer experience or they will die.

The Accenture report also stated that 41% of the respondents viewed customer experience as critically important to their business strategies. While the majority of companies agree on the priority and value of customer experience, they are having trouble delivering optimal experiences. Preparedness seems to be dropping.

According to the Accenture report, about 32% of respondents felt they could perform on their customer experience objectives. Down from 40% in 2014. Skills, tools, and resources are waning for these organizations to deliver on their customer experience objectives.

Recent Forrester data shows that while 72% of businesses say improving customer experience is their top priority, only 63% of marketers prioritize implementing technology investments that will help them reach this goal. Forrester suggests that CIOs and CMO’s must work together to connect technology and marketing to deliver optimal customer experiences. Businesses must go beyond customer centricity and become customer-obsessed.

Forrester also talks about creating a customer-obsessed system that travels at the customer’s pace. And, that B2B organizations must build flexible systems that deliver customer value simply and purposefully. These two items align perfectly to a recent Harvard Business Review article about the most common reasons customer experience programs fail. Your customer experience program must be about change and purpose if you want it to succeed.

So, while customer experience is still inching toward mainstream acceptance, we have a long way to go. But these emerging trends might just get us there in 2017:

1. Omnichannel is everywhere.

It’s time for B2B to enter the omnichannel universe in order to provide customers with one continuous, consistent experience. But, to do omnichannel right, we must be good at gathering insights and data – two areas a recent McKinsey report shows challenging for brands:

  1. While 44% of companies surveyed focus resources primarily on customer experience rather than on product, only 13% feel they effectively identified their customers’ decision journeys and know where to focus marketing, and thus have difficulty delivering growth.
  1. 46% of respondents said that they base marketing decisions on data rather than qualitative metrics, but only 10% believed they were effective in using insights in customer behaviors and feeding them back into the organization to improve performance.

New capabilities and technologies will lead to better data-driven decisions and insights, which will lead to a better omnichannel – not to mention overall – experience.

2. Rise of the Chatbots.

Chatbots could change communication as we know it. But how effective are chatbots for the back-and-forth nature of customer service? Or for customer experience where the voice of the customer and customer journey moments-of-truth engagement are paramount?

With the push towards machine learning, AI is becoming stronger and stronger. While at the same time there is a push for more of a human-to-human connection. Until chatbots go mainstream and AI becomes more sophisticated and human-like, organizations need to be strategic in how to deploy these technologies.

3. Customer Service Becomes Proactive.

Historically, customer service has been reactive rather than proactive, answering customer inquiries as they come in. Customer service works with the customer to resolve their issue. And a survey typically follows to measure a customer’s “satisfaction” with the “effort” it took to get their issue resolved.

But smart customer service groups are reaching out to customers proactively to help drive engagement.

Data-driven companies focus on metrics, customer journeys, and the customers’ voice to help drive rewarding experiences. Customer service helps this effort by ensuring that customers’ journeys are delightful and issues are resolved before they even begin.

The goal of proactive outreach is to turn customers into lifetime brand advocates. The golden ticket is lifetime customer relationships. Because of this, companies are beefing up their customer service departments to offer better service. They want to go beyond only satisfying customers to delighting them. And the return on investment more than justifies the expense.

4. Personalization is Stronger.

Better technology and capabilities are necessary to collect better data and insights to drive better experiences. And personalization is where the rubber meets the road.

Companies need to put more of their customer experience budgets into the voice of the customer, journey mapping, predictive analytics, and other areas to be able to gather the data and leverage insights to create more personalized experiences.

5. Customer Success is becoming a Key Growth Driver.

In TSIA’s State of Customer Success: 2016 report, customer success’ growth is due to three factors:

  1. Recurring Revenue is SaaS and subscription-based companies’ bread and butter.

For these types of companies, customer retention is the only way to growth. Retention is critical to a business’ economics. If a company doesn’t convince customers of its value and they don’t adopt the company’s products and services, these customers will churn. And churn is a killer.

  1. It costs less to keep a customer happy.

It can cost 5-25% less to retain a customer than acquire a new one. And, a company can increase profits by 25-95% by raising retention rates by as little as 5%.

  1. Businesses Need to Show Immediate Profit.

The pressure is on for companies to show quick profit and favorable Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). And, return on investment must be clear at each stage of the customer’s journey.

High-growth companies realize that providing an amazing customer experience is key to whether a customer stays or churns. Companies that include customer success as a major growth strategy and deliver experiences to retain customers will win big in the year ahead.

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Director of Marketing and Customer Experience