“B2B clients are starting to think like B2C customers.”

November 1, 2021

This month, we spoke to Shep Hyken, a customer experience (CX) expert and New York Times bestselling author who has worked with many businesses including IBM and KPMG to advise on improving client experience, including the importance of feedback to B2B organizations. He argues that B2B clients are becoming more akin to B2C customers in their need for customised responses and the ability to interact with their suppliers.

Why is client feedback important in a B2B environment?

If you make a mistake in the B2B world it’s worse than the B2C world because, typically, there are far fewer choices for B2B organisations. Take a specialist machine manufacturer, where there are only five competitors in the whole world clients can buy this machine from.

If you make a mistake and the customer decides to deal with someone else, to me that is a ‘generational mistake’. B2C customers often shop around, B2B clients much less so; it might be ten years before they consider dealing with you again. Ten years from now, it is likely whoever you are doing business with at the company today has moved on and you deal with somebody completely different. You’ve got to get that feedback and understand what is driving that client’s choice to do business with you and what their mind set is.

What would you say are the shortcomings of existing solutions, for example Net Promoter Score, for getting feedback?

Net Promoter Score (NPS) can give an instant indication of the likelihood of someone recommending you. This is useful if they will definitely promote you, but if they’re not definite promoters, you can’t see why they are hesitant to recommend you elsewhere. If somebody gave me a five, what did I do wrong? What changes would it take to get a six or seven from you?

The other issue with NPS in B2B feedback relates to lead generation. When somebody on a scale of zero to ten gives me a ten, I don’t want to leave it there and say “great, we are doing fantastic”. Instead, I want to call that customer up and say, “I noticed you said you would give us a ten and you would recommend us; is there somebody you can recommend us to?” If NPS tells us someone would recommend us, find out exactly who they would recommend you to.

Do you feel that the pandemic has changed B2B client expectations of how involved they should be in areas like the quality assurance process?

The biggest change with B2B expectations hasn’t come from the pandemic (everything that ‘changed’, like video conferencing, was just an acceleration of what was already there), it comes from the fact that B2B clients are comparing us to B2C retailers.

I have a healthcare client that ordered a $500,000 X-Ray machine that needed its own room and electricity supply. This piece of equipment showed up more than two weeks early, which was not ideal, given the work that needed to be finished before its arrival. The client said, “I ordered toilet paper from Amazon and they send me a dispatch notification. Couldn’t this company have told me this was going to be early so we could have said no, don’t send it.” I thought, this man just compared a half a million dollar piece of equipment to toilet paper.

B2B clients are starting to think like B2C customers. Customers have always wanted a quick response and wanted to be able to connect with the company when they want to, and the pandemic has accelerated this change.

What would you say is the best way for business to collect B2B feedback, particularly in terms of timescale and method of collection?

Ultimately, I want to construct a survey or a set of questions (in-person or digital) that will give me the best answers.

For surveys, include open-ended follow-up questions. For example, after asking “On a scale of zero to ten what is the likelihood that you would recommend us?”, if I score nine, follow up asking for one thing that could make it even better. If I score six, something clearly wasn’t right, so ask what went wrong and how it could be improved.

Feedback requests must be timed correctly. If you have a longer term project it’s good to keep checking in. Once it’s done, however, you don’t want to ask for feedback immediately. The client likely hasn’t used the product, so don’t ask them how they like it, because they can’t tell you.

It should also be customised, which doesn’t mean individually, but certainly in scale: second time client; third time; five year etc. There should be different questions based on the type of business and the length of the relationship.

Would online-based, real-time feedback platforms that allow clients to feed back regarding services as well as other stakeholder groups (internally and externally) be useful in the modern B2B environment?

Yes, there is a place for this. Furthermore, tell the client or the customer this is what is going to happen. If it’s over the course of a project, for example, say you’ll be sending a survey about how we are doing, as we want to make sure you are happy. This real-time feedback is going to allow me to better serve you for the remainder of the project.

You can even ask them to promise to give you the feedback so you can ensure the best experience. I have clients in the B2B world that specifically say if you’ve got a problem and you don’t tell me about it you are in breach of contract. That’s the only way we can make sure we give you what you want.