Five Key B2B Customer Experience Trends for 2017

Each year when I read an annual Customer Experience report, my wish is that Customer Experience finally makes it into the mainstream.

I remember reading the findings from Accenture’s 2015 B2B Customer Experience Report.

I was encouraged to read that approximately eight 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. In it, it said that by 2020, customer experience would surpass price and product as the key differentiator.

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

The Accenture report also stated that in 2015, 41% of the respondents they interviewed said that customer experience is critically important to their business strategies.

The percentage was similar in 2014.

While the majority of companies agree on the priority and value of customer experience, they are having issues in delivering optimal experiences.

Preparedness seems to be dropping.

According to the Accenture report, about 32% 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.

I have said that businesses must go beyond customer centricity and become customer-obsessed. I believe 2017 is the year that happens.

Forrester 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 I read 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, I believe help is on the way for it to gain significant traction in 2017.

Five Key B2B Customer Experience Trends for 2017

There are five key trends that can be customer experience game changers that can really move customer experience into “mainstream” status and on which it can take the lead.

Omnichannel is Everywhere.

I have been saying for a while that B2B must enter the omnichannel universe:

It appears that time is now.

Omnichannel has been around for a while. Its roots lie in the retail realm. Omnichannel is defined as an integration of all shopping channels a brand has available to sell its wares.

This is where things become murky for omnichannel.

People use multichannel and omnichannel interchangeably. But they are different.

Multichannel is the various channels or touch points a brand uses to engage its customers.

Omnichannel connects the multichannel dots by bringing everything together effortlessly, seamlessly and purposefully so that there is one, continuous, consistent experience everywhere.

However, to do omnichannel right, we must be good at insights and data. These are two areas McKinsey noted brands find challenging.

In its article, The Marketer Strikes Back, McKinsey found two key points in surveying companies:

1. While 44% of companies surveyed focus resources primarily on customer experience rather than the product, only 13% feel they effectively identified their customers’ decision journeys and know where to focus marketing, and thus have difficulty delivering growth.

2. 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 experience.

Rise of the Chatbots.

Chatbots could change communications as we know it.

There are Artifical Intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots and regular chatbots.

But how effective are chatbots for the back-and-forth nature of Customer Service? Or for Customer Experience where the voice of customer and customer journey moments-of-truth engagement is paramount?

With the push towards machine learning, AI is becoming stronger and stronger. On the other hand, there is a push for more of a human-to-human connection.

Organizations still need to be strategic in how to use chatbots and AI. And they need to use them for more tasks that don’t require a lot of human interaction to be effective. However, as chatbots become more intelligent, they can effectively be used for more human engagement to create better customer experiences.

Customer Service Becomes Proactive.

In the past, Customer Service has been that functional group that customers go to when they have an issue. Customer Service works with the customer to resolve their issue. And, a survey typically follows that touch point to measure a customer’s “satisfaction” with Customer Service and the “effort” it took for them to get their issue resolved.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Today, 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 that effort by ensuring that customers’ journeys are delightful and issues are resolved before they even begin.

The goal is for companies 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 great service. They want to go beyond only satisfying customers to delighting them. Thus, the return on investment more than justifies the expense.

Personalization is Getting Stronger By The Minute.

The recurring theme so far in this post is that better technology and capabilities are necessary to have 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 such things as the voice of the customer, journey mapping, predictive analytics, and other areas to be able to gather the data and leverage insights to create those personalized experiences.

In some cases, the data, itself, must be re-imagined.

And, luckily, companies are realizing this and are getting smarter with how they are leveraging data for insights to make experiences more personal and better.

Customer Success is Becoming a Key Growth Driver.

In TSIA’s State of Customer Success: 2016 report, Customer Success’s 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. That’s because 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 too much churn is a killer.

2. It costs less to keep a customer happy.

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

3. Businesses Need to Show Immediate Profit.

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

High-growth companies realize that Customer Success is the front line to impact whether a customer stays or churns. Thus, those companies that include Customer Success as a major growth strategy and deliver experiences to retain customers win.

Over the past few months, I have read several articles about the trends that will impact Customer Experience this year. I could have listed many more trends. These are the top trends that will move customer experience into the mainstream.

These are also the trends that can make 2017 the year of purposeful customer experience.

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