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Your Product, Future and Employees: Three Customer Experience Pillars of Growth

Customer experience touch points are not created equal. Findings from a study of six B2B technology companies highlight the top customer experience touch points that drive different kinds of business growth. What helps businesses acquire new customers is not the same as what helps them keep customers or improve their share of wallet.

Businesses are looking to the field of customer experience management (CEM) to help them better understand how to improve customer loyalty and, consequently, business growth. The field of CEM can tell us a lot about how to grow companies. First, to have a growing business (e.g., improve profit, maximize lifetime value of customers), you need to have customers who engage in three different types of loyalty behaviors.

Each type of customer loyalty leads to different types of business growth. To experience growth through new customers, you need customers to advocate on your behalf by recommending you to their friends and colleagues. To experience growth through increased share-of-wallet, you need customers to deepen their purchasing relationship with you by buying additional/different products or expanding your product footprint throughout their company. Finally, to experience growth through existing relationships, you need customers to stay with you by not jumping ship to your competitors. Companies who optimize these three types of loyalty outperform their counterparts who do not.

Table 1. Satisfaction with CX Touch Points and their Impact on Different Types of Customer Loyalty

Table 1. Satisfaction with CX Touch Points and their Impact on Different Types of Customer Loyalty

CEM is about managing your customers’ interactions with and perceptions about your company or brand. Improve the customer experience and increases in customer loyalty will follow. The question becomes:  Of the different CX touch points, which ones are primarily responsible for high customer loyalty and business growth? To answer this question, I looked at customer survey results of six B2B companies in the software / technology industry. Each client distributed a standardized customer relationship survey (Customer Relationship Diagnostic) to their customers, asking them to provide ratings (0 - extremely dissatisfied / not at all likely - to 10 - extremely satisfied/likely) about the health of the customer relationship in two areas:

  1. Satisfaction with six different CX touch points: ease of doing business, product, sales / account management, technical support, communication from company and future product/company direction
  2. Customer loyalty across three dimensions: advocacy,  purchasing and retention. Customers were asked about their likelihood of engaging in different types of loyalty behaviors in the future (e.g., advocacy loyalty: recommend, buy again; purchasing loyalty: expand product throughout company, buy different types of solutions; retention loyalty: renew service contract, leave to competitor).

For each of the six surveys, I calculated the average rating for each CX area and the correlations of CX ratings with each loyalty metric. The correlation coefficient indicates the strength of relationship between satisfaction with a specific CX touch point and customer loyalty. To get a picture of a typical B2B company, I averaged the results across the six different companies. Table 1 contains these aggregated results.

Satisfaction with the Customer Experience is More about Creating Advocates

As see in Table 1, satisfaction ratings with the customer experience have a higher correlation with advocacy loyalty (r=.66) than with purchasing (r=.34) or retention loyalty (r=.39). While the customer experience impacts different types of loyalty, it appears to be especially important to increasing advocacy behavior.  The other two types of loyalty, purchasing and retention, are less impacted by the customer experience as a whole.

For Business Growth, Customer Experience Touch Points are Not Created Equal

Figure 1. The Impact of CX Touch Points on Different Types of Customer Loyalty

Figure 1. The Impact of CX Touch Points on Different Types of Customer Loyalty

If we look at the correlations within each type of loyalty separately (see Figure 1), we see how important each CX touch point is to different types of business growth. We found that different CX touch points impact loyalty differently:

  • For advocacy loyalty, the top two  drivers are “product quality” and “ease of doing business.”
  • For purchasing loyalty, the top two drivers are “future product / company direction” and “communication from the company.”
  • For retention loyalty, the top two drivers are “sales / account management” and “product quality.”

Knowing which CX improvement initiative to tackle first is oftentimes an exercise in guesswork. The current results, however, paint somewhat of a clear picture about how to grow your business. Which customer experience touch points are the most important to driving three different types of B2B growth?

1. Growth through new customers

Acquiring new customers is key to a sustainable business. You want/need your customers to be advocates for your brand, to recommend you to their friends and family. To improve advocacy loyalty, you need to ensure you are excelling in these two areas:

  • Product Quality. Customers come to you for the product/service you offer. If you're a tablet manufacturer, deliver the best tablet in the market. If you're a wireless provider, deliver reliable and broad wireless coverage. Satisfy your customers on the basics and you will likely get new customers through word-of-mouth referrals.
  • Ease of doing business. Be frictionless. Try to build customer-facing processes that are simple and straightforward and minimize the number of steps your customers need to take to contact you, buy from you or resolve customer service issues. You may have the best product in the world, but if customers find it difficult to do business with you, they are less likely to become advocates for your brand.

2. Growth through deepening existing customer relationships

Another way to grow your company is to improve up/cross-selling to existing customers. You need to deliver the right customer experience that results in customers buying additional/different solutions from you or customers expanding your products throughout their company. To improve purchasing loyalty, you need to ensure you are excelling in these two areas:

  • Future Product / Company Direction. Your customers want to know that you will be around for a long time. Their perception of your future products and company direction is likely a measure of trust (that you will be there in the future). Become a thought-leader in your space so you can shape the conversation in your industry. When you are developing your product road map, involve your customers to ensure your product plans address your customers' future business needs.
  • Communicate with customers. Improving satisfaction with your communications is especially important in a B2B technology setting where existing clients are inundated with sales and marketing materials. To improve these communications, be sure to include content about your company’s future plans (see above), including product road maps, training events and company news, and how they align with your customers’ future business goals. The better you can communicate your long-term story, the more likely you will be to broaden your product footprint in current accounts.

3. Growth through customer retention

Another way to grow your company is to ensure you are not losing existing customers (at least minimize the loss). Not only are long-term customers easier to service, they also provide a predictable revenue stream. The CX area that seems to have the most impact on whether your customers stay or leave is:

  • Sales / Account Management. In the B2B technology world, sales/account managers typically have the most influence on the customers, especially early in the relationship. They establish the initial tone of the relationship by communicating your company’s value proposition and setting customer expectations about the product (tell the truth about what it can and cannot do). People like to be around people they like and trust. Look to human resources for help in hiring a knowledgeable, honest, and service-oriented sales staff.  Then give them the tools to be successful at their job. It's hard for customers to leave you when they like your customer-facing employees.

Summary

Grow your company by increasing different types of customer loyalty. The findings of this study is that gaining new customers, expanding existing relationships and keeping customers around for the long-haul each require different efforts. To gain new customers, you need to make a solid product and make it easy to do business with you. To improve your up-selling and cross-selling capabilities, you need to know where you are headed and communicate that path effectively to your custoemrs. Finally, to decrease customer churn, you need to hire the right people.

The bottom line about what drives your customers:

  1. Your product/solution gets customers in the door.
  2. Your future direction opens up their wallets.
  3. Your employees make them stay.

It is important to note that the results of this study address the "typical" B2B technology company. The top drivers of customer loyalty will likely vary across industry, company type (B2C) and other factors. So, be sure to conduct a customer relationship survey of your customers to identify what is important to them. Use this information when setting your company strategy to ensure you are working on improving the right CX areas of your business to grow through new and existing customers.

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