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Evaluating the B2B Customer Experience Effectively: Program Design is Key to Success

B2B Mystery Shopping

B2B companies have a unique challenge in evaluating customer experience. Many times the sales and business cycle is long and consists of several steps to complete the entire experience. This may be in the form of initial order placement/purchase, delivery or products and services, and final billing. Depending on the industry, there may be steps in between that don’t necessarily apply to all customers – perhaps a company that offers rentals and some customers may require service calls – so how is it possible to fully evaluate the customer experience with so many moving parts?

A well formulated and thought out feedback process will serve to be an effective tool. Thinking outside of a traditional “how did we do?” type format is the best way to approach this.

Why?

Since the B2B processes are much longer than a typical retail experience, for example, it’s best to get feedback while the experience is fresh in the minds of customers. So the logical thought may be surveying customers at each step of the process. However, that could lead to response burnout as customers may be inclined the respond to one or two requests for feedback, but will soon tire of completing feedback surveys each time they have an experience with a company.

So what’s the answer? There are three guidelines to consider to create an efficient program:

Take time to lay the foundation

Initial planning will help with this. The first thing to think about is the customer experience, from start to finish. What basic steps are involved for a customer to do business with you? If you sell products or services, that may be initial purchase order, receipt of products/services, billing processes, and resolution of any issues if they arise.

If the company rents products, that journey may look a bit different. It may start with the initial order, then to delivery of items, any service or maintenance calls if they are necessary, return of the products, final billing, and overall experience.

Survey design

Once you determine the steps of the journey, it’s easy to create separate feedback surveys to capture journey specific information. This will be effective in reviewing customer satisfaction at each step of the process – you may find that when people are dissatisfied with an overall experience, it could be due to one specific part of the journey. If you don’t know what step that is until the experience is over, it’s too late to work to improve it. However, if feedback is captured along each step of the way, it’s easier to pinpoint the weaker areas of the process and fix them quickly.

Keep the surveys as short as possible. Multiple surveys allows for fewer questions and journey specific questions to be asked. Carefully consider what information is needed to get the appropriate feedback – nothing more, nothing less – and build a short survey for each step of the journey.

Develop contact rules

What about response exhaustion? A well designed system can alleviate response rate reduction that comes with surveying the same customers at each step of the journey.

Consider setting up some initial guidelines for the feedback process. One example may look like this:

  1. Create call list segmentation for each step of the process. A list of customers who recently placed orders is compiled and used to request feedback on this step of the process. A second list is created for those who received a delivery of products/services within the last 3 weeks, and so forth.

Each contact list will reflect a different list of customers. However, depending on the business model, some companies may find themselves on one or more contact lists at one time. To alleviate this, additional parameters are needed.

  • From each list, cross reference to remove companies that fall on one or more list. From there, determine which companies have been contacted in the last six to 12 months. This takes away the chance to contact a customer too often.
  • Create a feedback cadence to request feedback at key times – not too soon after an experience but not too far out either. Some of this will depend on the size of the customer base, the length of the customer cycle, and other key factors. Ideally, customers should be contacted within one to two weeks of experience an interaction with a company.
  • Decide on a request format. Will telephone or email (or a mix of both) get the best results? Initially, test email and telephone based survey requests. Many customers are busy and do not answer calls from unknown phone numbers, but this is not always the case. Some companies find that telephone requests have a better response rate over email requests. Furthermore, they find that customers who are contacted via telephone tend to share more narrative detail regarding their experience. This unstructured commentary can yield information that would never be uncovered with a more traditional survey set up.

With so many moving pieces to the customer cycle, it can seem like an overwhelming process at first. However, once it is set up and a cadence is determined, the process can run smoothly and provide deeper insight about the entire customer experience, quickly finding strengths and areas for improvement.

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Customer feedback across the journey – tips for a successful program

For traditional restaurant and retail companies, feedback programs can be pretty straightforward. However, for others, such as ecommerce, the process can be a bit more complicated. There are many parts of the journey, from the buying experience to the purchase experience, all the way through complaint resolution to overall product satisfaction.

How is it possible to get feedback at each step of the process in a way that doesn’t inundate customers to the point of survey exhaustion and make sure the experience is recent enough to get accurate feedback about the experience?

Below are some tips to creating an optimal, efficient feedback program for businesses with many steps in the customer journey:

Remember, there is no “one size fits all” feedback survey. Try to avoid sending one feedback survey request at the end of the customer experience. That’s too general and won’t give you the best insight possible. Companies also run the risk of customers not recalling earlier aspects of the experience, so the data may not be as accurate. Multiple feedback surveys are the best bet when the overall experience is a series of steps taken by a customer.

But…don’t feel like you have to get feedback from a customer at each step of the process. While businesses think that the only way to get the best feedback about the entire process is to ask for feedback from Mr. Jones each time he has an interaction with the company, this isn’t necessary. You can get feedback from a variety of customers at different touchpoints to gain overall satisfaction data without risking your customers tuning out.

Keep it simple. Feedback surveys should be short; the shorter, the better. If multiple surveys are used for each step of the process, this can easily be done while getting the best information possible. Want to add more bang to your buck? Offer an open ended narrative option simply asking, “What would you like to tell us? What can we do better? What would you like to see? The sky’s the limit, so share your thoughts.” You may be surprised at the ideas and suggestions your customers have.

Look beyond your most loyal customers. Just like not inundating customers with multiple surveys over time, focusing solely on customers who subscribe to a loyalty program isn’t the answer either. Their time and loyalty needs to be respected; it may be easy to use this group for feedback needs, but it’s important to respect their loyalty and not rely on this group too much. This group may also have different behaviors/opinions/experiences than non-loyalty based customers, so it’s good practice anyway to capture feedback from a broader customer base.

Social Media Monitoring

Take advantage of social conversations. Combine traditional feedback with unstructured feedback on social sites. Taking the last step a bit further, go outside social media audiences and look for feedback from customers that are not tied to a company’s social sites but are talking about your brand, products, or services socially. This is achieved through social media listening – there are many tools to listen to customers talking about a certain topic and compiling that data to tie into feedback results. Unstructured data is a technological goldmine and brands should be aware of how to use this data for greater insight.

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Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket.

eggs in one basket

Why not?

If you carry them carefully they may not break. But one little bump in the road could ruin everything.

We use this expression for multiple reasons. Perhaps your stock broker has used it as a pitch for the importance of financial diversification . Financial Diversification is explained this way

In finance, diversification is the process of allocating capital in a way that reduces the exposure to any one particular asset or risk. A common path towards diversification is to reduce risk or volatility by investing in a variety of assets. Wikipedia

That sounds like solid advice and it is. It is the “just in case” things go sour reasoning. Shouldn’t this advice be used in other areas of our business life?

When it comes to business, we sometimes fall short. Sometimes it is because of budget, sometimes it is just lack of trust, and sometimes it is not wanting to leap out of the comfort zone. You know, the one we all feel is tried and true. When it comes to marketing and market research we like to stick with what we know will work. We know what we can expect, and that brings us comfort. B2B email marketing may get a solid 15% open rate every time. We like that and so does the boss. So we use it but won’t necessarily keep up with a social media platform because the “likes” don’t add up fast enough.

Do we ever wonder, “what if?” What if we did something different? I am not talking about placing all of our efforts and resources to one new thing. Rather, try it enough to test it. As much as I love the research industry and marketing, this is perhaps one of my challenges. Let’s use some real examples of what I am talking about.

Facebook

When I opened my profile this morning, this was right at the top of my news feed. It surprised me, actually. Isn’t all the data in the world held right within the walls of this social platform? (kidding) Why would they ask for my opinion in a short survey? There may be multiple answers that we will never know. Here is my theory:

  1. With all of this AI and algorithm capability they own, they still need to reach out to the human behind the data.
  2. They know not to place all their eggs in one basket.
  3. Research of all kinds should always be used whenever possible. Each discipline tells you something different and when you put it all together, it often times reveals things management were un aware of.
  4. People are becoming tired of “liking” everything. Many are becoming much more selective. They still read the posts, but don’t always click that like button. This is exactly what the survey was about. It went through post by post (just a few) that was recently in my news feed. Next the survey asked if I saw it in my feed and how much did I find it useful or important. Most were posts that I didn’t hit the like button for.

Feedback Surveys

Years ago, feedback surveys replaced a lot of mystery shopping as a way to gauge the customer experience. Many even went as far as to develop their own surveys through free online platforms.

Now, almost a decade later, some brands are returning to mystery shopping because people have become unresponsive to all the surveys out there. There is either little to no data or the data is on one side of the scale (customers who love everything about your brand) to the other (very unhappy customers). Most customers fall in between.

Smart retailers are looking to evaluate what the customer experiences when they come into one of their locations. They are turning back to mystery shopping again. District Managers are exhausted trying to get to every location and are many times spread too thin. Things may happen differently at a store when they are present. So, the question is being asked once again, “How do we know what is happening at the store level when managers are not present?”

Additionally, incorporating online reviews into the mix, by location ,would be a great addition. Technology is now in place to do just that and to include it all in one reporting dashboard.

In conclusion, as Marketers and Researchers, we need to always stay fresh and be open to new methodologies when diving into consumer data. Try adding one new tactic to your marketing strategy this year. This may be a great 2020 resolution for us all!

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