B2B products are facing a CX make-or-break moment. Here’s why
An emphasis on customer experience isn’t just for consumer brands anymore. Contributor Brent Sleeper examines why CX is mission-critical to B2B product teams.
If you’ve spent any time researching customer experience best practices for apps and services, you’ve probably read a lot about the ways sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest treat CX as a core differentiator for their brands and platforms. And it’s true — these social apps and other prominent consumer-oriented services ranging from Uber to Eero offer a master lesson about the power of leveraging CX in growth strategies.
But what about B2B products? Long (although perhaps unfairly) pigeonholed as the ungainly sibling of more glamorous consumer brands, business service providers are the real powerhouses behind today’s cloud economy.
Whether it’s a giant like Salesforce or disruptive innovators such as Atlassian and Intercom, the ways successful B2B services convert engaged users into serious, paying customers provide a lesson for other, up-and-coming businesses — B2B and B2C alike.
Grounding CX in B2B
You know the expression, “talk is cheap?” Perhaps it’s a bit glib, but the adage is worth remembering when we talk about the B2B customer experience. When translating CX best practices into a new context, it’s easy to get lost in generalities.
That’s understandable. For all the attempts business school thinkers might make to quantify an effective customer experience, it retains an inherently subjective quality. Indeed, a slide I use as an icebreaker when discussing CX baldly misappropriates US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous statement about a weightier matter.
“I shall not today attempt to further define what is embraced within the shorthand description ‘a great customer experience’ — but I know it when I see it.”
But let’s be honest. Most product leaders are more clear-eyed than that. They judge the effectiveness of their CX work just like any other investment in their product.
So how should B2B teams approach CX efforts? I’m going to go out on a limb — when you distill it down, there’s only one kind of metric that matters: growth (and its antithesis, churn).
CX is measured by conversion and retention
Measuring how user behavior affects growth metrics is a core aspect of how consumer platforms are managed today. Some of the social applications I mentioned earlier are pioneers of using data-driven experiments to tune every aspect of their user experience.
The impact of CX often is more directly understood for consumer products like these. After all, the connection between the in-app user experience and engagement metrics like visits, session lengths or monthly active users (MAUs) can be fairly readily assessed.
But for B2B businesses, which are paid for solving specific business process needs for their customers, metrics of this sort usually aren’t useful. Instead, the paramount measure of how a B2B business produces health is more hard-nosed: customer conversion and retention.
Naturally, B2B products are designed around that core business process need. Innovators are solving challenges from streamlining HR and recruiting to marketing automation to managing aircraft maintenance — among countless other industry needs.
There’s an old expression that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. And that may well be true — but even the strongest value proposition won’t ensure customer conversion and retention.
CX is leverage at make-or-break moments
“Build it, and they will come” is never a reliable business strategy — but for services that face the constant risk of customer churn, a disengaged approach to the user experience is downright foolhardy.
That’s why an increasing number of product teams building B2B applications and services today are focusing on CX to reduce friction at key moments where user activation is key to the success of their product.
Consider onboarding. As soon as your users sign up, you need to ensure they hit the ground running. That means helping them discover the most important features and making it easy to take key configuration steps like confirming an email address or setting up two-factor authentication.
And there are many additional times when taking action in the app is essential to their success — and therefore your product’s. Think about the user life cycle in your own application. Perhaps a team member is waiting for notification from a colleague about a maintenance workflow. Or a manager needs to approve a scheduled time-off request. Or a user can’t proceed until she acts upon a security notification or password reset.
Each of these represents a sort of make-or-break moment for your product. If the user successfully navigates the process at hand, the more likely they (and their business) are to realize the value your app is delivering. That’s the crux of ensuring continued use — and renewal of service plans.
Make-or-break moments hide in plain sight
Web apps and other SaaS products are multilayered things, and even the most well-designed have plenty of room for CX investments. That’s just the reality of bringing a product to market — no matter how well product teams anticipate market needs, it’s only when users begin using it in the wild that our assumptions and biases are proven out.
Ironically, one of B2B product teams’ real assets — deep vertical expertise — often can get in the way of the quality of their apps’ user experience. That’s human nature; specialized knowledge can lead to a sort of cognitive blindness. We assume that what’s obvious to us is clear to any user.
In reality, the opposite is usually the case. The very thing you know most about may well be the place your users need the most help — and perversely, the moment in your app’s CX that may be the most broken.
So what’s that one configuration step your users need to take? You know, the one that’s essential to your problem space? The one that everyone, from the product team to engineers to customer support, all can recite backward and forward?
Yeah, that one. That’s a good place to begin looking with a fresh eye on CX. Even an incremental improvement in completion rates at that key step will yield outsized impact on user success — and when repeated over and over again from customer to customer, a meaningful change in retention and growth.
CX’s B2B bottom line
B2B providers that focus on CX do it for a very concrete reason: They know that carefully targeted improvements to their user experience remove barriers that get in the way of customer conversion and that lead to churn.
And when you get right down to it, that focus on growth is how product teams working to build a great experience in any product — B2B or B2C — ultimately are measured.