7 predictions for B2B customer experience in a post-pandemic world
The line between the B2B and B2C customer experience is blurring, forever changed by the pandemic. Over the past year, the requirement to work from home has generated a shift in corporate behaviours, creating a less formal, more personal environment in which to do business. An intimacy and informality has emerged, with dogs barking, deliveries arriving and children pestering parents during video calls.
B2B firms have realised that the organisations they’re selling to consist of real people – people who, perhaps, love cooking Indian food, enjoy cycling, like taking the dog for a walk and watching their children play football at the weekends. The more B2B organisations get to know their clients at a personal level, the better the relationship becomes and the greater the customer experience. With 80% respondents in a Salesforce study saying their experiences are as important as a company’s products and services, organisations must rethink the B2B customer experience if they are to continue to meet clients’ expectations in a relevant, thoughtful way.
At Pitney Bowes, the commitment to delivering a great customer experience is our North Star, guiding everything we do, but we’re still learning. Over the past year, we’ve adapted the service and the experience we deliver to our clients, to help meet their evolving needs. Here’s how we see the customer experience going forward:
1. Your clients will expect deeper levels of personalisation
Just as we expect consumer brands to ‘know’ us and our preferences, the same is true with the B2B customer experience. B2B decision makers want humanised, personalised, helpful and relevant experiences to reduce complexity and save them time. They want businesses to anticipate their requirements beyond the ‘You liked that, now try this’ algorithm. Achieving this isn’t a Holy Grail of customer experience: it’s about building relationships, enhanced by data, tools and automation, combined with intelligence gathered from every interaction.
2. Self-service will remain popular
The ability to problem-solve quickly and efficiently using digital tools is a preference we’ve experienced within our own clients over the past year. We’ve seen a growing number of clients using our web self-service tools. Even with complex B2B products and services, the option to self-serve plays a key role in delivering a great B2B customer experience. The SalesForce study found 65% would prefer to help themselves through self-service for simple issues. But self-serve won’t just be for issues resolution: McKinsey found that 97% of B2B buyers claim they will make a purchase in an end-to-end, digital self-serve model, with the vast majority very comfortable spending $50K or more online.
3. Engagement through social channels will be high
The LinkedIn State of Sales Report 2020 reported that 75% of B2B buyers are significantly influenced by social media and 84% of senior executives use social media to support purchase decisions. LinkedIn has reported record levels of engagement over the past year. Not only are social channels ideal for informing and engaging but crucially, they’re perfect for listening, delivering insight that can drive deeper levels of personalisation within the customer experience.
4. Clients will continue to value virtual face-to-face interactions for meetings
While virtual meetings are no replacement for a meeting ‘in person’, they’re close. Less formal than a face to face meeting in a traditional workplace environment, they can accelerate professional relationships and help to quickly build trust. Generally, it’s quicker to get a group of decision makers together virtually than in person, and any questions or concerns can be addressed promptly. The McKinsey study found that 90% of B2B decision makers expect the remote and digital model to remain. Three in four believe the new model is as effective or more so than before COVID-19. As we move forward, the B2B customer experience will comprise a hybrid of face-to-face and remote interactions.
5. Large events and summits will be augmented with digital events and personalised digital demos
When Mobile World Congress was postponed in February 2020 in the early stages of the pandemic, it represented a turning point as live annual events moved online. In-person B2B events are invaluable for brand presence, for networking and product demos, and we look forward to them returning. However, for the near future we see digital events and smaller in-person sessions augmented with client conversations tightly focused on solving specific business challenges. These conversations will be supplemented with personalised virtual product demos which help clients visualize how they will use products and services within their own businesses.
6. Zero-touch will remain an important part of the B2B customer experience
We’ve all experienced new contactless processes in our personal lives –virtual GP consultations and digital forms completed during trips to the dentist and optician, for example. Many of these processes are highly efficient and will permanently replace manual processes, and the same is true for businesses. We’re likely to see more contactless processes emerging – contactless employee and visitor sign-in, for example, as well as booking of workspaces and meeting rooms. Contactless issue resolution will become an increasing part of the B2B customer experience. Businesses will use real-time data and analytics to make life easier for clients, to identify issues and solve them remotely before the customer’s business is impacted. For example, our clients use a service called Auto Ink which comes with some of our products – it means that we’re alerted when clients’ ink supplies are running low in their meters, and we can ship ink to them before their business is impacted.
7. Clients will expect emotional intelligence
Every individual has experienced the pandemic in a different way, and it has become more important than ever to communicate and interact with sensitivity and empathy. 68% of businesses in the SalesForce survey expect brands to demonstrate empathy, but only 37% are experiencing this, while two fifths of B2B marketers have adapted content or creative materials to become more emotional. Emotional intelligence has become one of the most critical skills during the past year, and will continue to be a valued and influential part of the B2B customer experience.
Just as our personal buying experiences influence where we choose to shop, the B2B customer experience has become highly influential in buying decisions. 56% of B2B buyers have said they would actually pay more for a better customer experience. Conversely, they wouldn’t buy from the same business again if their experience was below expectations. While none of us knows what our newly-emerging, post-pandemic world really looks like, it’s down to all B2B organisations to act responsively, to respond quickly, to add real value and to make every engagement matter.