Are your customers’ and prospects’ expectations vastly different than what they were just a few years ago? Are they asking you to respond faster and at almost any time of day? Across almost all industries the answer is a resounding yes. Today’s customers have been shaped by digital information made possible by mobile, social, and cloud technologies that impacts both personal and business purchasing decisions.

A recent report entitled Mastering Omni-Channel B2B Customer Engagement from Forrester Consulting indicated that 98 percent of global business buyers do some online research on work related purchases. We are not talking about the impact of BYOD in the workplace, but the changes in human behavior that drive their expectations of suppliers and partners.

A quick story to set the stage: In 2011 Blaine Hurst, EVP, chief transformation and growth officer, joined Panera Bread to focus on the reinvention of the customer experience. Although the company had not made any major investments in technology for many years, Hurst saw the changes in the consumer adoption of mobile technology and recognized the opportunity to position Panera Bread as a customer experience leader through digital innovation.

In 2014, they launched Panera 2.0, which involved integrating a variety of technologies that created a platform for personalized service, including a better way to order, pay, and receive food. The customer response? Panera Bread is now processing 130,000 to 150,000 customer transactions daily across the platform in the 500 bakery/café locations in North America that they have online, substantially exceeding their early predictions.

They have also seen a significant increase in the frequency of returning guests, with more than 17 million active customers in their loyalty program. Additionally, they are receiving about 200,000 email survey responses each month from loyalty customers, which are providing great insight into their customers’ desires. Since the deployment of the platform, they have seen growth in both transactions and revenue in the updated locations.

Realizing that Panera Bread is a B2C business, and most of us are B2B businesses, you may wonder why this is relevant to you. The reality is that customer expectations today are no longer based on industry boundaries but rather a best-of-breed experience across B2B and B2C.

So what is different about today’s customers? They’re more informed—unfortunately, often more informed than the sales representative they’re speaking too. They use technology tools to quickly research a product, learn about competitive versions, and determine the lowest available price. They use social media to learn about others’ experience with the product, and they read user reviews. They compare customer experiences that encompass a company’s brand, websites, response time to inquiries, quality of customer service, and post-purchase support. And they expect you to tailor your services to their needs, and to deliver what they want, when and where they want it.

The days of a linear sales process are long gone. Today’s sales process has become more fluid and collaborative, with the customer often leading the conversation. It’s no longer about the products’ features and benefits, but about listening, understanding the customers’ intent, and then helping them achieve it.

So what’s a company to do? A big first step is to start looking at your business through the eyes of your customers and that begins with truly understanding who your customer is. A simple place to start is a daily review within your company of customer requests and questions. Identify those with a major problem or a unique request, and assign the appropriate person or team to respond or resolve. Refer back to previous problems to observe any recurring issues or requests.

Review customer touch points within your organization—sales, marketing, account management, and customer support. Understand how customers and prospects communicate with you—phone, email, snail mail, chat, IM, video, social media messaging, or texting.

Begin to transform the business and operational models away from the mentality of making things easier on your own company, rather than easier for the customers. Look at how your customers prefer to do business, and prioritize your effort to quickly align with them.

Like Panera Bread, invest in a technology platform that is designed for customer-centricity. Prioritize the development of personalization capabilities both online and in person. Deliver a B2C-like personalized experience to your customers—before someone else does.

Get Social

There are many well-known B2B brands that have heavily invested in social media as a part of their strategy to effectively meet their customers’ expectations. Intel views it as the new model to engage with customers and colleagues participating in LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Glassdoor, and their YouTube Channel. Intel places high value on reaching their audience no matter where in the world or what type of technology platform they are using.

IBM is another recognizable name that has been involved with social media for many years. Like several companies, they not only utilize social as a key component of their strategy, but offer products and services to guide other companies to get closer with their customers. Raytheon utilizes social media to deliver the latest company news and encourage engagement in discussions with the company.

Each of these companies is focused on creating richer customer experiences, gaining more customer insight, and increasing brand loyalty to satisfy expectations of today’s customer.
—R.R.

 

R. Randal Riebe is district manager of Commercial Installation Solutions at Yamaha. He has 18-plus years of experience building teams for global technology providers within the unified communications, audio/video, and control and automation industries.