Do Customer Experience (CX) Efforts Belong in B2B Organizations? You Bet They Do, Says Expert Karl Sharicz

Do Customer Experience (CX) Efforts Belong in B2B Organizations? You Bet They Do, Says Expert Karl Sharicz

Do Customer Experience (CX) Efforts Belong in B2B Organizations? You Bet They Do, Says Expert Karl Sharicz

Lauren Driggers

Lauren Driggers

Lauren oversees all aspects of engagement for the TSYS Client Experience team. Whether promoting team member education, curating content or designing experiences, she uses her trademark skills of problem solving, creativity and flexibility to deliver.

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Karl Sharicz has quite a few letters after his name — and they all relate to understanding the customer journey. First, there's 'CEO' – of HorizonCX, a CX consultancy that caters to public, private, non-profit, B2B and B2C organizations. There's also 'CCXP,' a Certified Customer Experience Professional, along with 'CX-PRO' and 'CEMPRO' — two additional customer experience certifications. And just for good measure, an EdM (master of education) at the end. 

All of these certifications, combined with a track record of more than 30 years of experience, means Sharicz is steeped in the Customer Experience Management discipline. Throughout his career he has served in a broad range of roles within marketing, sales, training and training management — developing internal and external customer relationship skills and building a dedicated customer-centric focus along the way.

Recently, Sharicz sat down with TSYS CX Consultant Lauren Driggers to discuss the challenges of CX in a B2B environment, why it's impossible to escape the influence of the B2C space and why Net Promoter Scores may not be all they’re cracked up to be.

  1. What are the biggest challenges to delivering outstanding customer experience (CX) for B2B companies?

    Most B2B businesses tend to work in silos, which is a challenge for carving out and nurturing those great customer relationships that are crucial to B2B. Understanding the desired customer experience and delivering upon that is table stakes at this point. B2B businesses need to offer something more to capture the mind and heart of the customer.

    Another challenge is that B2B often involves multiple decision-makers with different levels of influence and interaction with a brand. Getting these varying perspectives to understand and leverage them in a way that tells a compelling story about the health of a business relationship is far more challenging than that of a typical consumer relationship.

    The brand experience also needs to be prominent and evident in both spaces as well. What I've noticed in my experience is that the emotional component is largely overlooked in B2B. Their customers are people just as B2C customers are people, so why should the emotional component not be considered? I believe it's a complete misnomer to think that B2B customers don't exhibit the same feelings.

The Emotional Component, a quote from Karl Sharicz

  1. Building on your last point, just how much does B2C influence the B2B space?

    There’s no doubt that brands like Amazon and Zappos are establishing the playing field and setting expectations when it comes to CX — and that list keeps growing larger by the day, especially within the B2C space. Whether we work within B2B or B2C, we are all consumers first and foremost, and those consumer interactions are setting unprecedented and higher expectations within B2B — whether we like it or not.

    Forrester Research estimates that B2B e-commerce transactions will reach $1.2 trillion by 2021. That should put a lot of B2B organizations on notice. They need to take at least a page, if not a chapter, from the B2C 'book of consumer insights'  and perform the same due diligence as their counterparts. Delivering on expectations may be good business, but it's insufficient in today's market if you want to differentiate yourself from the competition.

Forrester Research estimates that B2B e-commerce transactions will reach $1.2 trillion by 2021. That should put a lot of B2B organizations on notice.

  1. How do we keep our eye on the prize — the end customer?

    This is precisely what makes B2B a more complex use-case for customer experience and a key differentiating factor from B2C. In B2C, the customer is the end user and those personas are the target client. That's not so in B2B, where the client's customer or even the client’s customer's customer is the end user.

    As mentioned earlier, B2B includes a wide array of customer roles to consider. The needs of those individuals can be quite varied, not to mention that this array of stakeholders is replicated yet again within the client's customer base. Consider this a transactional business stream where the experience of the end user is really the goal. No matter how far upstream this business extends, the CX strategy must include each customer downstream from there. Understanding the needs of the end customer helps B2B organizations better serve their clients and strengthen that relationship as the provider.

  2. How do you encourage people to embrace CX for much-needed organizational change?

    Rather than relying on some fancy financial models of return on investment (ROI) based on CX metrics, I find it more effective to bring it right down to individual case studies and stories to highlight client success. Numerous organizations embrace the Net Promoter Score (NPS) as the primary customer metric.

    One thing to note on NPS, unlike any financial metric, is that there is a maximum to which no organization can even come close to achieving. So too much obsession on that score over time can lead to many attempts to correlate experience data with operational data, most of that being financial data, as that is the primary 'language' of business.

    In my past studies, I haven't found a solid, direct correlation between NPS and financial performance. Instead, I would recommend starting a special VOC (Voice of the Customer) program focusing on 'premier clients' to build a stronger case for overall CX investment. This, by its very nature, is a longer process of proving ROI, so its success depends on organizations that have a modicum of patience.

  3. When it comes to CX, where should you focus first?

    Strategy should definitely be the starting point. The adage, "Any road will take you there if you don't know where you're heading" certainly applies here. The difficulty of starting with strategy is that it's a more involved, longer-term process requiring leadership participation, support and ongoing involvement. Too often that can appear a bit too intangible or time-consuming for the busy executive who'd rather move ahead quickly and easily by saying, "Tell me what our customers are unhappy about, and we'll fix it."

    The problem here is that organizations can so easily get stuck within this loop — measuring customer feedback, repeating the same tactics, tracking scores and trending. And if the organization happens to be financially driven, then it fits perfectly within their short-term performance mindset, and it becomes more about the numbers than any meaningful analysis leading to process redesign and cultural change.

    And most importantly, unless more can be proven around the ROI to get to this point, many CX ventures will collapse from a failure to deliver on leadership's expectations. I'm an advocate of first understanding and accepting the CX competencies, ensuring you are in a better position to deliver, measure and act. It's a longer process for sure, but the benefits and rewards will be more permanent.
Karl Sharicz

Karl Sharicz holds a master’s degree in education from Boston University. He currently serves as co-lead on the Customer Experience Professionals Association’s (CXPA) Boston chapter and is a frequent blogger with numerous articles published. To learn more about HorizonCX, visit horizoncx.com/.

The statements and opinions of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of TSYS.

Other Articles by Lauren

Lauren Driggers

Lauren currently oversees all aspects of engagement for the TSYS Client Experience team. Whether promoting team member education, curating content or designing experiences, she uses her trademark skills of problem solving, creativity and flexibility to deliver. Lauren is an avid member of CXPA (Customer Experience Professionals Association) and MPI (Meeting Professionals International), holding certifications as a CX-PRO (Customer Experience Professional) as well as CMP (Certified Meeting Planner). Lauren holds a Master’s degree in Art History from Savannah College of Art & Design.

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