Podcast: Play in new window | Download
Nearly everyone in the business world has heard about the importance of customer experience. Unhappy customers lead to lost sales and decreased revenue. Happy customers lead to sustained sales and steady revenue. This simple fact underscores the importance of understanding how a customer feels about a given product or service.
While there is significant focus on the customer experience in B2C relationships, less discussed is the customer experience in the B2B world. However, the customer experience in B2B relationships is just as important.
To understand the importance of customer sentiments in the B2B space, PaymentsJournal sat down with Pete Reville, director of Primary Research Services at Mercator Advisory Group. Reville explained what barriers exist to a company understanding client sentiment and how these challenges can be addressed. In addition, he spoke about the benefits a company will gain from a more accurate understanding of their business clients’ attitudes.
Customer experience is debatably more important in the B2B world than B2C
Even though customer experience is the central focus of many B2C companies, it can actually be more impactful in B2B relationships. For instance, when a disgruntled customer stops shopping at their local grocery store, that store loses one customer out of many. While that is costly, especially if the disgruntled customer convinces a few other shoppers to change their behavior as well, the consequences in the B2B space can be substantially greater.
Many companies involved in B2B services only have a small number of high profile clients, with contracts worth millions of dollars. This is often the case for many payments companies, explained Reville. Usually, these high profile clients make up a substantial percentage of a company’s overall revenue. The stakes are high; one unhappy client can mean the loss of millions of dollars.
In such a situation, it’s essential that an organization understand how its customers regard “key aspects of client servicing, which is your product, the service you deliver with your product, and the value they’re receiving for the money that they pay,” said Reville. Without having this information, a company is pretty much flying blind.
It can be hard to understand the sentiments of your business client
With such high stakes, the ability to understand customer sentiment is indispensable. However, the ability to truly understand how a client feels is easier said than done. The immediate problem is the way in which many companies traditionally go about gauging customer sentiments.
It’s common for the sales team or customer service division of an organization to keep track of how customers are feeling. Yet, as Reville explained, the problem is that the evidence that sales or customer service teams use tends “to be anecdotal, and not necessarily representative of the entire population of your customer.”
One problem is that many sales teams are soliciting feedback from the person who signs the contracts, not necessarily the people using the goods or services. Another problem is that the most vocal clients—whether the happiest or the most upset—may get undue attention and cause a company to get a flawed sense of the wider sentiments about a specific product or service.
Both of these issues stem from the fact that in B2B relationships, many different people and teams are involved in serving many different people and teams. The purchasing team, for example, may not even ever use what is being purchased. The person using the service may have specific problems yet find other aspects of the service to be helpful, but this information never reaches the necessary people. Without evaluating the opinions all the relevant players have on a given product or service, it’s hard to accurately understand whether a relationship is going well or not.
Yet another issue is that even when talking with the relevant party, a company may still not get honest feedback. It’s hard to tell someone to their face that you don’t like their product, explained Reville. This may lead people to downplay their dissatisfaction until they end up not renewing the contract.
Use a 3rd party to gauge customer satisfaction
Since simply relying on the anecdotal reporting of sales representatives or customer service personnel is not enough, companies should consider utilizing a 3rd party to evaluate customer attitudes. Mercator Advisory Group, for example, will help companies understand their customer attitudes in an independent and comprehensive manner.
Mercator’s Key Account Program uses a high touch approach which includes interviewing various parties in the customer’s organization. Crucially, this means that the sentiments of the people who actually use the product on a day-to-day basis are recorded. In addition, since Mercator is an independent 3rd party, respondents will be more likely to offer truthful feedback.
Based on this survey, Mercator will generate a report for the client, helping that company understand which products or services are working, which aren’t, and why. Once a company is armed with this intelligence, it can make informed decisions about product offering and proactively manage client relationships. Mercator will also help offer solutions based on decades of industry experience.
What Mercator offers is an independent and unvarnished view of reality, thereby helping a client identify problems in advance and hone in on successful strategies in order to amplify and repeat them.