It has long been established that the customer experience (CX) of business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) are two different paths. However as savvy businesses continue to understand the value of a thoughtful customer experience—and make the commitment to invest in one—the B2C experience has matured and is having a major influence on B2B.
The reason for this? We ALL shop online. It’s that simple. Every person that is part of a companies B2B decision process has been an e-commerce consumer. So as B2C has become more efficient, personalized, and simple, customers expect this from all their e-commerce experiences.
In short, every customer is equal in what they expect from an e-commerce shopping experience, whether it’s a business or a consumer. So lets take a look at what this means as these two selling paths converge.
Quick note: I’m not saying B2B and B2C are the same thing, there’s still an important distinction in strategy. For example: B2B customers typically have a longer decision-making process, higher price tags, and less of a focus on raw product desirability. But that’s a post for another day.
How customer experience expectations are changing for B2B
Convenience — It’s more convenient than ever to research, discover, and purchase products than ever before. Customers now expectthis from every e-commerce experience, whether they’re purchasing a set of lightbulbs for their home or hundreds of lightbulbs—in different styles—for their office.
Research — Customers have unprecedented access to information and research which means they expect businesses to make this readily available to them. They shouldn’t have to call or contact someone to learn the finer details of a product. Research is now a given before a customer will make the decision to buy from you.
We’ve studied several models that support the idea of a customer’s cyclical progression from research, to purchase, and beyond. One such model is McKinsey & Company’s Customer Journey Loop. C2 uses its own version of this map to help identify when and how this influences a project, which we’ve provided below. I’ve previously shared what it means to truly understand the customer journey and how businesses can use this to increase conversion through context.
Everyone is busy — With the increased speed and simplicity of e-commerce shopping, B2C and B2B customers are no longer interested in a drawn-out sales process. They expect a customer experience that enables them to make decisions on their own schedule. This self-service means a frictionless experience on any device, in any situation.
Consistency, here, there, and everywhere — Customers increasingly demand real-time digital interactions and they are doing all this while texting, e-mailing, and other day-to-day activities. An average customer will regularly use up to six different interaction channels throughout the decision journey, so they better provide a consistent experience. Research can happen at any time, not just during traditional business hours.
Things to think about understanding these expectations and seizing the opportunity
Flexible platforms are a must— When everyone connects and shops with their device of choice, you must have a platform that enables you to serve all customers. Users are unlikely to return to a website that they had trouble accessing on their phone, or one that delivers a frustratingly different customer experience based on how they accessed it.
Build a frictionless experience — Remember the convenience section above? Avoid making you user jump through hoops to reach their goal. Customers won’t be frustrated with complex B2B processes if each step is simple to understand and complete. Ordering 2 lightbulbs for your home or 2,000, for three different office locations, doesn’t have to be the same process. But they should both be frictionless.
Think like a retail customer — We ALL shop online. We’ve all experienced great B2C. This is the biggest reason B2C is influencing B2B. What used to be special circumstances have now become basic expectations. WiFi was once a luxury, now you won’t book a hotel without it. A great tool that C2 uses to identify these exceptions is the Kano Model. Check out my blog on gaining stakeholder buy-in by prioritizing user satisfaction where I further explain using the ideas from the Kano Model.
Understand your customers — It’s imperative that you develop a deep understanding of your target buyers. More and more, customers expect an experience tailored to them, their needs, problems, and goals. The more relevant you can make your content, information, and products, the better.
Every buyer is equal. As these B2C trends bleed into the B2B business model — it pays to know what your customers now expect every time they do business with you. Like consumers, B2B’s want a convenient, positive buying experience from a business that aligns with their values and proves trustworthy.