While building a successful, sustainable customer experience (CX) program is never easy, business-to-business (B2B) firms must contend with unique environmental complexities – such as multiple customer roles, multi-faceted relationship models, and limited sample sizes – that are not present in a business-to-consumer (B2C) setting. These inherent complexities are often compounded by the legacy systems, outdated processes, and siloed structures that continue to burden many B2B organizations.
Given this complex environment, it’s no surprise that CX maturity at B2B firms has historically lagged behind their more nimble B2C counterparts. But in today’s world – where B2B customers compare their experiences, not just to B2B competitors, but to B2C companies as well – B2B organizations must invest in growing their CX capabilities or suffer the potential business consequences.
B2B CX Management Efforts Have Progressed, But Still Have Room to Improve
So what does CX maturity in B2B organizations currently look like? Well, every year, Qualtrics XM Institute examines the state of customer experience management, gathering feedback from both B2C and B2B CX professionals around the world. Respondents answer a variety of questions about their CX management programs and complete our CX Competency and Maturity Assessment. In this blog post, we’ll look specifically at data from B2B CX management leaders’ responses to our most recent study and make some comparisons to what we’ve seen in past studies.
Broadly speaking, here are our key findings around the state of B2B customer experience maturity in 2022:
- B2B CX efforts remain immature… As organizations grow their CX Skills and Competencies, they evolve through five stages of maturity: Investigate, Initiate, Mobilize, Scale, and Embed. Based on our analysis of the CX Competency and Maturity Assessment responses from B2B and B2B2C CX practitioners, we found that 77% of these organizations fall into the first two stages of maturity, with 35% still in the Investigate stage and 42% in the Initiate stage.
- … but they are improving! Compared to the results of our State of CX Management, 2020 study, we found a notable increase in B2B CX maturity levels. In 2020, 56% of firms were still in the Investigate stage, 23% were in the Initiate stage, and 0% – not a single B2B firm – had reached the Embed stage of maturity.
- B2B CX Competencies are growing. Organizations mature their CX efforts by building a set of six XM Competencies: Lead, Realize, Activate, Enlighten, Respond, and Disrupt. In 2020, fewer than 9% of B2B organizations classified their practices as “strong” or “very strong” across any of these six Competencies. Today, more than 10% of firms classify their practices as “strong” or “very strong” in all the Competencies except for Disrupt.
Here are some additional findings from this year’s study about B2B CX leadership, activities, and performance inside these organizations:
- XM is a priority for B2B firms. Of the four experience areas, B2B organizations are most focused on customer experience, with 71% describing their CX programs as a “significant” or “critical” priority. That doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t care about the other experience areas as well. In fact, just about half of respondents – 57% for brand experience (BX), 56% for product experience (PX), and nearly 50% for employee experience (EX) – also cite these areas as “significant” or “critical” priorities.
- B2B firms have significant CX efforts underway. More than 90% of B2B respondents have “significant” customer experience efforts underway within their organization. And these efforts aren’t just occurring in isolated pockets. Sixty percent of B2B firms have CX activities that are either driven by a centralized customer experience group or managed with “significant coordination” across the business.
- B2B CX teams need to become more established. While two-thirds(66%) of B2B respondents have had a centralized CX team in place for at least one year, one-fifth of respondents (19%) have no centralized CX team in place at all. Of the B2B firms that do have a centralized CX team, most remain small, with the most common group size falling between three and five employees (26%). However, 31% of B2B organizations do have more than 10 full-time employees on their CX team.
- Two-thirds of B2B respondents have a senior CX leader. Sixty-seven percent of B2B respondents have a senior executive in charge of customer experience across products and channels. Roughly that same amount (66%) describe their CEO – or equivalent leader – as a strong “active champion” of their CX efforts, which is up significantly from 40% two years ago. Looking at tenure, 30% of companies report they’ve had a senior executive in charge of customer experience for more than 36 months, while another 30% have had an executive in charge between six and 36 months.
- NPS is the most common core CX metric. Seventy-five percent of B2B firms track Net Promoter Score® as a core customer experience metric, making it by far the most prevalent of any measurement. Satisfaction came in a distant second, with 41% of B2B firms citing it as a core metric, and customer effort score (CES) came in third with 20%. Meanwhile, 5% of B2B organizations don’t track any core CX metrics.
- Most B2B firms track customer relationship health. Over 80% of B2B respondents track their overall customer relationship health as part of their CX listening program. Seventy-three percent collect interaction feedback, while 56% capture journey feedback. Fewer than half of respondents track any of the other three listening elements we asked about, which were always-on digital listening (44%), frontline feedback (40%), and passive listening (35%).
- Internal conflicts impede B2B CX program success. Sixty-five percent of B2B respondents cited “other competing priorities” as the most common obstacle to their CX progress. B2B firms also cited this challenge as their top issue in 2019. This year, however, the second-most significant obstacle was “poor integration across systems,” which 54% of respondents selected. “Conflict across internal organizations” dropped from the second spot in 2019 to the third spot in 2022, with 40% of respondents highlighting it as an obstacle this year compared to 52% three years ago.
Activities for Maturing Your B2B CX Program: Robust Governance, Listening Portfolios, and Engaging Employees
So how can B2B firms overcome the specific challenges inherent in their business environment and deliver customer experiences on par with their B2C peers? Here are three categories of activities we recommend focusing on with some tips under each one:
- Establish a Robust CX Governance Model
- Develop a Well-Rounded Portfolio of Listening Methods
- Engage Employees Around Your CX Efforts
Establish a Robust CX Governance Model
Building a mature CX program – one that is capable of coordinating and catalyzing customer-centric activities across the entire firm – requires the organization to maintain a systematic focus on making changes over multiple years and across many different projects and teams. To oversee these various CX efforts, companies should establish and maintain a CX governance structure that provides the necessary decision-making, alignment, accountability, and conflict resolution. While many B2B firms have already started down this path, the prevalence of obstacles such as competing priorities, poor integration, and internal conflict demonstrates they still have much farther to go.
Here are three recommendations for establishing a robust CX governance model:
- Build a Core CX team. At the heart of any effective CX governance model lies the core customer experience team. Without this single, centralized group, an organization is unlikely to advance past the earliest stages of CX maturity. This team – which often resides in a CX Center of Excellence – is responsible for overseeing the setting of collective customer experience goals and objectives, enforcing enterprise-wide standards to prevent localized deviations, and acting as a hub for the cross-pollination of ideas and success stories. Along with coordination activities, this core CX team also often leads the firm’s CX analytics and insights practices, experience design efforts, and customer-centric culture change initiatives.
- Cultivate operational allies. While it is never possible for a core CX team to effect customer-centric change singlehandedly, it can be especially challenging in a B2B environment where business and operating units are often decentralized and siloed. To embed CX practices and mindsets across the firm, we recommend cultivating operational allies. Rather than trying to gain universal alignment, follow an iterative process called “Agile Alignment,” which is where you identify a few operational leaders who are actively aligned with your CX program, partner with them to drive successful CX change initiatives in their line of business, and then use those successes to build momentum with an increasingly large group of stakeholders. This process will move even more quickly if you form a working group of these influential leaders to lend their expertise and effort to move CX initiatives forward. To identify operational allies and potential working group members, we recommend conducting a stakeholder mapping exercise.
- Secure executive champions. Customer experience efforts will move up the maturity ladder faster and with greater purpose when senior executives are engaged. Executive support not only accelerates CX progress, but it also lends credibility to the CX team’s agenda and ensures cross-functional cooperation, no small thing given the oft-cited internal conflicts hampering B2B CX programs. We recommend identifying a single executive sponsor for your CX program and standing up a Steering Committee composed of executive decision-makers from critical company functions. These governance elements are critical to shaping your CX strategy and then propelling the implementation of that strategy across different functions. To persuade executives to support your CX efforts, we recommend following our SIREN model, which begins with a dialogue around the executive’s priorities and then explains how CX can be a valuable capability for helping them achieve their goals.
Develop a Well-Rounded Portfolio of Listening Methods
As organizations’ CX efforts mature, their customer listening programs will need to expand from just a handful of isolated listening posts – often in the form of surveys – to a curated portfolio of experience monitoring tactics. This requires B2B programs to thoughtfully grow both the number and types of customer insights they collect and share.
Here are some tips for developing a well-rounded portfolio of listening methods:
- Capture unstructured feedback. Surveys are unlikely to disappear anytime soon, but they do suffer from inherent constraints – such as confined scope, generic questions, low response rates, and periodic deployment – that limit their ability to produce a continuous flow of actionable insights. To mature their programs, B2B firms should invest in capturing and analyzing unstructured insights from a wide range of sources, including social media and review site posts, contact center conversations, and qualitative research from sources like focus groups and customer advisory boards (CABs). Given the complexity of collecting customer feedback in B2B organizations, one especially valuable (and often overlooked) source of insights is frontline employees. We recommend soliciting input from these employees to help you surface organizational strengths and weaknesses, spot early warning signals of potential problems, and add relevant context to experience and operational data.
- Use journey maps to define listening posts. Due to complex delivery models and operational silos, B2B customer journeys are frequently disjointed and confusing. Customer journey mapping is a valuable CX activity in this environment for numerous reasons, but it’s particularly useful for identifying experience and operational data blind spots and architecting a more effective listening strategy. Because a journey map will outline the steps a customer follows to accomplish a specific goal, we recommend using this popular tool to pinpoint exactly where to establish new – or prune existing – listening posts. These listening posts should be set up during the journey’s key “moments of truth,” those interactions with the most substantial effect on customer loyalty.
- Build a comprehensive CX metrics program. Organizations in the early stages of CX maturity tend to isolate their CX measurements from their internal operational metrics and KPIs. This separation causes a disconnect between customer experience goals and broader business objectives and makes it challenging for groups across the organization to understand how their behaviors affect CX outcomes. We recommend building a comprehensive CX metrics program that tracks a suite of experience, operational, and financial metrics across the business. Start by selecting a core CX metric that is demonstrably linked to loyalty behaviors and then identify the key drivers of that measurement. Next, establish key driver metrics to track the organization’s performance across those key drivers. For example, if the implementation journey is a key driver of your core metric, key driver metrics might be satisfaction with implementation, implementation time, and number of support tickets filed during this journey. This daisy chain of linked CX metrics will make it easier to drive enterprise-wide improvements and model the ROI of your customer experience program.
Engage Employees Around Your CX Efforts
Organizations cannot deliver consistently great customer experiences with apathetic or disengaged employees. This intrinsic link between customer and employee experience – which XM Institute calls “the virtuous cycle” – is particularly strong in a B2B environment, where organizations must maintain long-term, close-knit relationships with a smaller base of customers. Any B2B firm looking to advance its CX efforts needs to activate its employees around its customer experience vision, equipping them with the appropriate skills, support, and motivation to achieve its desired CX results.
Here are some tips for engaging employees in your CX efforts:
- Analyze the link between CX and EX metrics. While a majority of B2B programs consider customer experience and employee experience (EX) organizational priorities, few are purposeful about bringing these two disciplines together to understand how they influence and augment one another. To start this process, we recommend uncovering the specific employee experiences that are most correlated to better customer results for your organization. One way to do this is to perform a linkage analysis exploring the relationship between EX outcomes, EX drivers, CX outcomes, and CX drivers. For guidance and examples of how you might analyze these different relationships, check out the blog post Six Analytical Pathways That Link Employee and Customer Experience.
- Design role-specific dashboards for account insights. When it comes to sharing CX insights, one size does not fit all. Insights users at B2B firms will require different types of information depending on their individual roles. To facilitate customer-centric practices and behaviors within each of these roles, create dashboards that are tailored to meet the specific needs of different groups. For example, an account manager’s dashboard may provide a 360-degree view of account relationships and touchpoints as well as recommended “next best actions,” whereas a business unit leader’s dashboard might track performance across business lines or client types, highlight opportunities or weaknesses, and show comparisons against industry and internal benchmarks. This type of role-specific information will make it easier to engage key groups of employees and leaders in CX activities.
- Train employees to close the loop on customer feedback. One of the most effective ways to both increase customer loyalty and instill customer-centric mindsets and practices in employees across the organization is to build a closed-loop process. This process – which is usually triggered by a piece of customer feedback – prompts a designated employee to immediately follow up one-on-one with that customer, document their issues, and take corrective action on solvable problems. This is a particularly powerful activity in B2B organizations, where the smaller customer base makes closing the loop both easier and more impactful. To do this well, train employees on best practices around holding productive follow-up conversations and provide them with access to clear escalation paths. For an in-depth look at how one B2B firm built a powerful closed-loop system, check out the XM Deep Dive: ServiceNow Uses Action Workflows to Build an “Insights to Action” Culture.
The bottom line: B2B CX programs are (slowly) improving, but you can accelerate their maturity.
James Bampos, is the Head of B2B CX Solution Strategy at Qualtrics
Isabelle Zdatny, XMP, CCXP, is an XM Catalyst with the Qualtrics XM Institute
Moira Dorsey, XMP is a Principal XM Catalyst with the Qualtrics XM Institute
Talia Quaadgras is a Senior Research Associate with the Qualtrics XM Institute