Rescuing Buyers Marooned during Customer Journeys

Rescuing Buyers Marooned during Customer Journeys

Thoughts of exotic holidays typically come to mind around this time of year. In fact, there is a chain of islands that captivates many business marketers. You can routinely find their customers there. Yet, not even a seasoned traveler or geography whiz could spot these islands on a map.

That’s because this is an archipelago where B2B marketers mistakenly leave their buyers stranded during customer journeys.

B2B value chains can be complex. It’s not enough to lavish attention on customers at each touchpoint where your brands interact with them during their journeys. When you fail to take custody of the customer experience in its entirety, each marketing touchpoint becomes isolated and turns into an island where a potential sale can languish.

False-Positive Customer Satisfaction

As you chart your ideal B2B customer journey, you plot the movements of prospective buyers along each touchpoint toward a sale, and ultimately, customer satisfaction. Each discrete point of contact with the customer can be tended obsessively by functional-level employees and partners. Consider these examples:

  • Distributors and dealers precisely stock shelves with products poised to move.
  • Digital marketers meticulously position a call to action feature within email content.
  • Financial staff painstakingly structure invoices to suit customer preferences.
  • Technical support representatives master scripts to anticipate every troubleshooting scenario.

In the B2B world, a journey to these islands is non-linear. Customers meander in and out of multiple, sometimes concurrent, touchpoints. No matter how fleeting, time spent by a buyer at each contact point presents a golden opportunity for brands to delight or exceed customer expectations.

Although customer survey ratings may be positive at each touchpoint, these metrics still can report false positives about the net customer experience to marketers. The compounding effect of incremental delight or disappointment on the customer journey cannot be underestimated.

McKinsey & Company pointed out in its 2016 customer experience report that “individual touchpoints may perform well even if the overall experience is poor.” The journey in the chart below illustrates the illusion of customer satisfaction versus the reality of customer experience as a product of multiple touchpoints that relate to each other.

Search for Stranded Customers

For business marketers, perspectives on customer experiences must extend beyond end-users, going further upstream and even outward. Taking into account your company’s distributors, resellers, suppliers and others, your B2B value chain involves many touchpoints.

Collectively, they all affect whether or not a customer thinks, feels and behaves positively after being exposed to your brand. Knowing your customer’s deeper motivations, emotions and “day in the life” purchasing environment is part of the pre-work needed to form a buyer persona, whose experience it is that you’ll be overseeing.

How can you position yourself as a steward of the B2B customer experience? First, learn how to conduct a search party for customers.

Here are ways that B2B customers are most likely to become stranded:

  • Diminishing Delight – Customer delight is the outcome of performance exceeding expectations. Micro-disappointments repeated over time create journey disruptions that can eventually lead to lost sales and even customer defections. For example, your customer receives your email with a discount offer. Your customer goes online to browse the product selection and sees that the discount only applies to a limited number of products. There’s only one product she’s willing to buy, and the product is delivered on time—an outcome that is recorded as a successful customer journey. However, if on another email offer she encounters the same limited product selection, she starts to feel uneasy about the purchase and considers shopping around for better deals. That next journey could result in cart abandonment. Over time, distrust develops and your customer begins to shop elsewhere.
  • Merchandise Silos – Whether they’re online or in a physical location, your customers can be exposed to narrowly focused product information because of poor merchandising. This happens when your company presents goods or services based on what’s easiest to track in terms of inventory or sales. Business needs end up superseding your buyer’s needs. Over time, the buying routine becomes ingrained. Unaware of your company’s complete offering, customers who repurchase will habitually order units of a familiar product but continue to buy complementary products from your competitors. Your company misses an important cross-selling opportunity to improve share-of-wallet.
  • Feedback Dead End – From product specifications and demonstration videos to online order forms, your company website seems to have it all. What’s missing? A feedback mechanism that allows customers to share their praise or complaints in a two-way dialogue, signaling deeper engagement. It’s an essential way to gauge customer loyalty, allowing the company to interact with those who are brand promoters and detractors. Also, customer service representatives can monitor the feedback and alert sales agents and marketers about changes in purchase patterns, product performance or buyer needs. Today, marketers are turning to Facebook Messenger to explore the advantages of artificial intelligence-powered chatbots in which text or voice commands simulate a conversation exchange with customers.
  • Channel Obstructions – Many B2B companies rely on outside agents and distributors to sell their products and services. Although these channel structures serve as efficient ways to distribute product, they also can unintentionally conceal customer service lapses. Similarly, the opacity can lead to customer data errors. Customers who may have once bought directly from you but then shift to buying the same products from your distributor may be incorrectly identified as non-recurring or defectors. To capture such hidden customer experiences, you will have to forge closer ties with your channel sales partners.

As a business marketer, you face many obstacles in creating the ideal customer experience. A complicated sales process, highly technical products requiring greater customer service attention and the involvement of multiple influencers in each sale are only some of the customer-facing challenges that strategic B2B communications can effectively address.

As you track B2B customer journeys along these remote islands, you can avoid marooning buyers by building in checkpoints overseen by customer service, sales representatives and even marketing automation-assisted triggers during a campaign.

However, you should still should remain vigilant for distress signals of “S.O.S.,” which for your B2B customers is more likely to stand for “Save our Sales.”

Mary curates the G&S brand experience to share the G&S mission, vision and values with audiences who influence the agency’s growth. Mary directs the agency’s marketing strategy that spans its digital and social media properties, branded research and live events, and news coverage. She is the co-author of the firm’s annual Sense & Sustainability® Study and the executive producer of its portfolio of business and media conferences for senior communicators. Before joining G&S, Mary was SVP, corporate communications, and managing officer at Medialink Worldwide, a multimedia content and technology provider whose Nasdaq-listed IPO she helped to launch and grow to $180 million in market capitalization. Mary is the B2B columnist and an Advisory Board member of PR News, and is a member of the Public Relations Society of America and its Silver Anvil Awards judging panel. Combining her academic training in art with her professional passion, Mary struck one item off her bucket list by leading a marketing panel at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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