Traditionally customer feedback programs have been considered essential for business to consumer companies. When a consumer interacts with a brand, seeking feedback about the experience has become the norm and an expectation.
However, B2B companies have not been as quick to adopt voice of customer strategies or set up formal customer feedback programs. From the outside this makes sense, their customer relationships are more complex e.g. the relationship a spare parts supplier has with a food manufacturing company is more complex than the relationship I have with my supermarket.
A complex customer relationship is just one of the reasons (excuses) used to debate starting a feedback program. Other excuses used by companies include:
- We have a strong relationship management team that meets the customer regularly and has a good understanding of customer sentiment
- We have a small number of clients and not enough volume to justify a formal customer feedback program that requires investment
- We have a sophisticated CRM that already has information about the customer’s interactions including purchasing behaviour. A feedback program would not add enough additional value
These statements are for the most part true when describing the complexity and structure of B2B companies. However, that is as far as it goes. These very attributes of complexity and scale make it even more essential for B2B companies to have formal customer feedback programs. Here are the reasons why every B2B should have one:
1. Panels and focus groups aren’t readily available for market research
B2B companies often sell to very niche segments within complex market places. Let’s take the example of the spare parts company that sells to manufacturers within the food processing industry. Finding a sizable panel of people who work in the food processing industry in the department that looks after the machines would be near impossible. The current set of customers may make up a significant part of that segment. Thus, getting continuous feedback from these customers would provide invaluable insight for product and service validation in place of difficult market research programs.
2. Retention is everything
B2B sales cycles tend to be longer when compared to B2C, with sales usually involving many people. This makes the cost of acquiring a new B2B client very high. A focus on customer retention is therefore key to success and sustainability of any B2B company. A strong customer feedback program allows companies to uncover issues early in a B2B relationship. It provides the customer with a channel to bring forward issues and empowers the relationship managers to solve issues before the customer churns.
3. Strong word of mouth within industry groups
Industry groups tend to be very well connected. There are industry events at which customers meet, share ideas and best practices including experiences with suppliers. Personnel also tend to move from one job to the next within an industry. This means a story about a bad customer experience that is not known or addressed can spread fast within these close circles. Providing a feedback program can steer feedback to the appropriate channels, and limit negative word of mouth impact. Additionally, any news around good customer experience travels within the industry.
4. Social channels are not available for open listening
In a B2C scenario, one consumer may share their story on a social channel with other consumers. Social channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all bustling with customer voices for B2C brands. However, in a B2B scenario social sharing usually does not happen in a public forum due to professional and legal issues. A B2B company cannot listen in on a social channel easily to understand customer sentiment. Thus, a customer feedback program opens a critical listening channel and allows companies to listen to customers more systematically.
5. Each insight is worth a lot more
The volume of feedback is generally lower in B2B companies due to a small set of customers when compared to B2C companies. However, each piece of feedback is worth more in terms of the potential actionable insight it provides. This is firstly because each customer is worth a lot more in terms of current value and future potential. This is compounded by the fact that stronger client relationships allow for more direct discussions post feedback, allowing for a closing of the feedback loop.
6. Complex relationships require multi-level monitoring
Most customer relationships in a B2B organisation have a many to many structure. That is, many people in the customer organisation are dealing with many people in the supplier organisation. This can include executives, managers, operational staff, procurement, and accounts at the customer, and executives, sales, service, projects teams and accounts at the supplier. Each of these areas may have multiple people within them who interact with each other. Just having a single view of the customer relationship through a CRM or relationship management team can be inaccurate. Some of these connections may have issues which are bubbling away without notice. Having a 360-degree view of the relationship through a multi-level customer feedback program really enables a B2B organisation to understand parts of the relationship that are healthy and parts which require attention.
7. Customer Loyalty is hard to build
Building on the previous point customer loyalty in a B2B organisation is more difficult to build. This topic is deep and probably requires a piece in itself. But in summary, B2B relationships are a sum of many relationships with very different individuals. It is less about individual preferences and feelings towards a brand and more about how a relationship is ‘perceived’ within an organisation. A Customer feedback program brings ‘transparency’ in the relationship by bringing to the table how well a company is being serviced by the supplier and ‘why’ it is preferred. This transparency allows for individuals within the customer organisation to more openly become advocates.
8. It is still a differentiator
Last but not least, if you are a B2B company and run an effective customer feedback program you are running ahead of the pack. Your clients will notice and your business will see the impact because most of your competitors are probably not doing it. The benefits from an effective customer feedback program for B2B may be different and debatably richer than their B2C counterparts. The fact remains for all businesses that listening to and understanding your customers better only has an upside.