Customer centricity seems a matter of course, but in reality, B2B companies, in particular, think, plan and operate based on products and prominent internal figures rather than based on customer requirements and their satisfaction.
Welcome to the age of customers
Hasn’t the customer always been king?
Let’s start in today’s reality of our customers. Today the customer is rarely king. In other words: There are very few brands in B2B that are customer-centric. Ask yourself: When was the last time I was impressed as a customer? Not satisfied, but enthusiastic? For most, this shouldn’t be an easy question.
From product focus to customer focus
Today, the majority of B2B and B2C companies are product-centric. What does that mean? Engineers are developing ever better machines, car manufacturers dream of ever more beautiful and more powerful vehicles and software companies are already working on the next, even more, regular update. Of course, what brands offer is still very important because it should satisfy the fundamental needs of the customer. But pure performance criteria and features of different products are becoming more and more similar, especially in saturated markets. What the customer needs and wants is not necessarily the focus.
What customers expect today
In the future, companies will not have to be product-centric, but much more customer-centric and become aware of the additional requirements of their customers. What is your customer longing for? How do you make his life easier? What else can you offer him? How does the customer journey turn into an inspiring experience? With these exemplary questions, companies can work out for themselves how they can meet expectations even better in the future and thus tap the new potential.
What customer-centricity means in B2B
Customer Centricity, Customer Experience, Customer First, Customer Empowerment … These and other buzzwords have been going through companies for some time. So what is new about these approaches, where are companies in Germany today and what are customer-centric organizations doing differently? To this end, as part of our study “Customers inspire in B2B”, we spoke to almost 30 managing directors and managers from marketing and sales.
In our definition, customer centricity means placing the needs of the customer at the centre of the organization and, in connection with this, aligning all internal processes with the ideal customer experience. If this succeeds, the chances are good that customers are not just satisfied but delighted. Since products are becoming more and more interchangeable and product cycles are getting shorter and shorter, it is also becoming more and more challenging to inspire only through products.
Why customer focus is becoming increasingly important, especially in B2B
84% of B2B decision-makers consider the subject of customer-centricity to be very relevant for future corporate success. According to the market research institute Gartner, 89% of all companies assume that in the future, they will mainly compete with one another in terms of their customer experience. (See: Gartner Research, “Customer Experience Is the New Competitive Battlefield”, 2015)
Taking care of your customers not only makes them happy but also creates added value for companies.
Qualitative added value: Better orientation, motivation and identification
The discussions with decision-makers show that companies that consistently focus on their customers enjoy verifiable advantages of a qualitative nature. A clear focus on the customer ensures better internal orientation and thus also the motivation of the employees. The identification of individual teams with the company increases.
Quantitative added value: greater willingness to pay, loyalty and profitability
If you would like to be convinced by numbers, the following results are recommended, which impressively illustrate the benefits customer centricity can offer companies:
- Greater willingness to pay: 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for excellent customer experience. (Source: Walker, “Customers 2020”, 2013)
- Higher loyalty and recommendation: The commitment and willingness to recommend is three times higher for enthusiastic customers. (Source: Gallup, “Manage your Human Sigma”, 2005)
- Higher profitability: Customer-centric companies are on average, 60% more profitable. (Source: Deloitte, “Wealth Management Digitalization changes client advisory more than ever before”, 2017)
Status quo of customer centricity in B2B today
With inspiring customer experience, the customer becomes the hero, not the product. What could such a lesson look like? Here is a real example: A customer of a Swabian automobile manufacturer reports to his authorized workshop that his daughter broke down on the motorway. The problem: she drives a vehicle from the competitor brand. How does the workshop act? The employees didn’t hesitate and set off to repair the daughter’s car on the spot. The customer’s daughter can safely drive home. For the customer, it was a “wow moment” that he will remember for a long time.
With inspiring customer experience, the customer becomes the hero, not the product.
We made this excursion into the end customer world conscious because the difference between B2B and B2C will be less significant in the future. As mentioned at the beginning, customer enthusiasm is, unfortunately, a scarce commodity – both in the B2B and B2C sectors. Our last best customer experience sets the standard.
For example, Amazon is the benchmark for delivery times and goodwill for many, or Apple for digital ecosystems. Although the arguments are visible, only 22% of the decision-makers we surveyed would agree with the statement that they have a high level of maturity in terms of customer focus. Only 56% of those we interviewed were able to spontaneously name a customer experience that not only satisfied them but inspired them. “Wow moments” are more the exception than the rule.
What customer-centric companies do differently
The question arises as to what ultimately characterizes this “enthusiasm”. We were able to identify four central aspects that define customer enthusiasm and which I would like to present in more detail below: It is never the result of chance. It starts and ends as an emotion. Furthermore, customer enthusiasm is based on holistic anchoring, both on the individual level through the appropriate attitude and on the organizational level through consistent and long-term implementation.
It is essential to understand that these factors often do not occur in isolation from one another, but that good customer experiences represent the sum of these components.
Customer enthusiasm doesn’t just happen.
Putting the customer first is a conscious decision. It has nothing to do with an employee’s shape on the day, coincidence or luck. It is the conviction to align one’s processes, procedures and structures with the benefit of the customer and not exclusively with efficiency, added value and profitability.
That doesn’t mean that these variables are not necessary, but the relationship with the customer is much more critical. And in the long run, this prioritization – as already mentioned – pays off for your success.
Anyone who has ever had to return something to Amazon or had a warranty claim usually experiences enormous goodwill as a customer. This, in turn, is based on the defined orientation of Amazon: The relationship with the customer always takes priority over internal efficiency.
Customer enthusiasm is based on emotions.
Inspiring customer experiences go beyond the original range of services: What does my customer need? Which problem can I (in the future) solve?
Often it is no longer just about the product, but more and more about the question of what happens around it. In other words: it is becoming increasingly difficult for B2B companies to inspire only with products. The potential of your employees, i.e. to inspire people, is often not yet fully exploited.
That means: Those who meet the challenges of their customers with empathy, creativity and enthusiasm have a good chance of surprising them too positively.
Customer enthusiasm is a question of attitude.
Lived customer focus is not only a question of having the right tools and skills (being able to inspire customers ), it is also very much a question of individual attitudes: the people involved must want it.
Customer centricity is not just a question of having the right tools and skills; it is a question of individual attitudes.
As a customer, you can feel this attitude very quickly: In the end, people are inspired by people. People make the difference. And that’s precisely why a customer-centric approach is so important. This, in turn, is based on sincerity, i.e. an inner desire to want to help your customer, and also on a certain humility.
Some companies still seem to be in a “saturation mode” that prevents this mindset. In the future, however, it will no longer be possible to positively stand out from a field of comparable providers without this attitude.
Customer enthusiasm needs consistent internal anchoring.
Anyone who wants to inspire needs a “customer culture”, creating and maintaining this means a significant change for many companies. And the difference is not a checklist, but includes a well-thought-out anchoring process: customer focus must be anchored in the management level and their strategic plan and operationalized in all functional areas.
Change is not a checklist but includes a well-thought-out anchoring process.
Furthermore, it has to be present in the company and specifically broken down for the day-to-day business of the people involved and not through detailed specifications, but ability and trust. This change does not take place overnight or even at the push of a button; it takes time and consistency.
Five impulses for more customer focus
We realize that customer-centricity is becoming more and more critical. The necessity and merits are apparent. At the same time, the subject hides a high level of complexity, for which a well-planned approach is required. Depending on the individual framework conditions and challenges, there are different approaches to promoting customer focus. As a summary and for inspiration, five central needs for action for B2B companies that want to raise customer focus to a new level can be identified.
1.Establish customer benefit as the benchmark for everything in the company
Formulated as a simple motto, this means: “Customer benefit always stands out from company benefit”. Since most companies are often focused purely on “internal” goals (such as efficiency), this is easier said than done. And yet it is worthwhile as a company to establish customer benefits as the central benchmark. As we’ve already learned, customer-centric businesses are on average, 60% more profitable.
2.Know and exceed your customers’ expectations
Companies can only delight customers if they exceed their expectations. This is not always easy, as expectations rise over time. For example, the free car wash after a visit to the workshop is no longer anything special for many customers. The last best customer experience sets the zero line for expectations – and this is often also influenced by positive customer experiences from other industries, especially the B2C area.
3.Offer unique benefits to differentiate yourself over the long term.
The customer benefit not only has to be higher than expected, but it should ideally also be typical of your brand. Ideally, only you can achieve this benefit and none of your competitors. That ensures long-term differentiation. The most desirable brands are those that manage to focus on customer benefit and at the same time, contribute to your identity.
4.Build a customer culture in your organization
Before customer centricity can be experienced externally, it must be anchored internally. All employees need to understand how important the customer is and act accordingly. It starts right at the top with management and has to be broken down in a defined process in all departments down to day-to-day business. The customer issue requires a permanent presence throughout the company.
5.It is better to start small than not at all and develop step by step.
Who does not know it: The day-to-day business takes you almost entirely, the resources for strategic topics are not always available. A complex organizational structure creates some pitfalls. There are political sensitivities. Your claim to perfection paralyzes. But the conditions will never be perfect.
So there is only one motto: start, even if only with a small pilot. Customer centricity is a marathon, but every step counts.