Identifying the Achilles heel of successful B2B enterprises

It is ironic that the point of B2B enterprise – offering scalable solutions to provide value – is the very thing that creates distance in their relationships with customers. Audience segmentation, analytics, business systems, workflows… all are set up to be efficient. And all that task-based activity makes it easy to focus on the business’ ‘belly button’ rather than on an actual client.

Many enterprises today find themselves entrenched in existing processes, relying on front-line staff in customer service to handle customer experience which, typically, means it’s not going well if the customer is calling in to resolve an issue.

Businesses, as a collective whole, are getting too far away from their corporate customers. It is an outcome of our need to streamline production during the Industrial Age – each step has its’ own expert for maximum output.

The only problem with that is that people are not an output. This is the Achilles heel of many successful B2B enterprises today – being so efficient that the customer has been left out of the equation.

To clarify the metaphor, if Achilles had been in B2B enterprise today, it is likely that his strengths – systems, employees, technology, data and more – would make him strong and profitable. His only weakness would be knowing his customer intimately to build relationships and provide greater value. This one vulnerability would have the power to kill his company. 

There are some enterprises who are investing in deliberately creating exceptional customer experiences; most of them are household names, like Canon, IKEA, Dell, Zappo’s, Amazon, and Starbucks. Not only do their marketing campaigns reflect a more personal, evocative type of connection with their customer but these companies are also innovating internal operations to wrap around their customer. These innovations look like: 100% retention strategies, attempting to deliver on customer expectations (regardless of current offerings), small courtesies (like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’), dynamic pricing strategies, inviting executives to work the phone lines and more.

However, many enterprises are focused on the urgencies of meeting deadlines and quotas today, versus thinking about (much less investing in) the important issues for tomorrow. Employees are invested in existing responsibilities, workflows and structures. The bottom-line looks good today and projections look strong so why disrupt what seems to be working?

Even if leadership determines that now is a good time to upgrade the customer experience, it takes more than diagramming a customer journey or implementing a customer feedback loop. That is a bit like serving cotton candy for dinner – it’s just not enough.

A true upgrade will affect every team, every workflow, every employee in the enterprise as nothing can be taken for granted. What is accepted without question destroys potential. Every aspect of the enterprise in its relationship with their customers must be examined for possible renovation. In the process, every issue, constraint, limitation, dysfunction, conflict in data or performance or communication – all will be surfaced and must then be addressed. In the effort to maintain current ‘outputs’, that can be challenging – to say the least.

The trap is thinking that not starting the experience transformation process today is better for business. The distortion is thinking that efficiency is a priority over customer relationships.

The opportunity is in (re)connecting with customers at an up close and personal level. Understand your customers intimately to validate that your solution brings maximum value. Anticipate their needs and wants before they have them. Then apply the leverage that scalable operations bring to serve more people better.

As for Achilles in B2B enterprise, he could have future-proofed his company by ensuring he oriented around his customers – the only ‘detail’ that matters.

Editor’s note: You can download a free blueprint which outlines the issues raised by this article in more detail here.

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