A majority of business-to-business (B2B) organisations are spending more on initiatives to improve their customers' experience but many are not getting the most return on those investments, according to research from Accenture. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

The study, entitled B2B Customer Experience, was based on a survey of over 1,400 sales, service and customer executives of B2B companies in 13 countries, and found that most companies (76%) may be wasting up to half of their investment on ineffective customer experience initiatives.

Executives believe that their business customers increasingly are exhibiting consumer-like behaviour in terms of how they view, interact with and buy from their suppliers; including their knowledge of the market, higher expectations and greater price sensitivity. As a result, 43% of B2B supplier executives say they intend to increase spending on improving customer experience programmes by 6% or more over the next fiscal year.

However, more than half the respondents admit that their customer experience programmes had achieved little, flat or negative return in terms of retaining customers (55%) and building global revenues (52%).

Some 85% of B2B supplier executives consider the overall customer experience they provide in sales and service to be 'very important' to their strategic priorities, and 70% recognise that, over the next two years, customer-experience related considerations will play an even larger role in the overall corporate strategy.

"The relationship between company and supplier has changed," said Robert Wollan, global managing director for Accenture's Sales and Customer Services practice. "Business customers are acting more like consumers. They know more about the services on offer, expect more customized solutions, and are more price sensitive. "Companies say they recognise this but the majority are not designing and executing the necessary changes effectively. This creates a drain on profitability and missed opportunities. Getting B2B customer experience right increasingly determines market success, but too many companies are 'playing not to lose' rather than 'playing to win'."

The study also found that B2B companies can typically be grouped into three broad segments according to their ability to plan and execute customer experience programmes that deliver annual revenue growth:

  1. Masters
    This group prioritises customer experience and excels at both defining and executing a customer service strategy, which helps them generate an average 13% annual revenue growth. Only about one quarter of the companies represented by the survey (24%) would qualify as Masters.
  2. Strivers
    Characterised by moderate customer experience performance, across either strategy, execution or both dimensions, Strivers are represented by nearly half the companies represented by the survey - 48%. The results achieved by these companies in customer experience help to deliver an average of 6% annual revenue growth.
  3. Laggards
    Companies in this group, which represented 28% of the survey sample, produces a negative average annual revenue growth figure (-1%) partly due to large performance gaps in their customer experience strategy and execution capabilities.

The study found that Masters are more aggressively investing time and money in improving their customers' experience than Laggards, and outperforming Laggards in several ways:

  • More than 9 out of 10 Masters companies (92%) have embedded customer experience delivery as a formal end-to-end business process that connects how customers interact and engage across sales, marketing and service functions, compared to just under half (46%) of Laggards.
  • Masters are more likely to make the customer experience a central element of their strategy and day-to-day operations. 91% of Masters link performance reviews, compensation and bonuses to customer experience outcomes for their sales and service workforces, compared to less than half (42%) of Laggards.
  • Masters are also more likely to place responsibility for delivery of the customer experience in a centralised function that directly manages several other functions - 64% vs. 36%.
  • Executives in the companies categorised as Masters were nearly four times more likely than Laggards to say that they will increase their customer experience budget by more than 6% in the next fiscal year - 78% vs. 20%.

"The performance gap between the Masters and Laggards is more dramatic than you would expect, given both groups cite customer service as a strategic priority," concluded Wollan. "Most are not willing to 'walk the talk' and make major changes. One place to get back on track is giving customer experience leaders control over, or close proximity to, the P&L, as well as fostering true collaboration across internal and external sales, marketing and service stakeholders, and external partners. Our analysis suggests that proximity to the P&L is one of the predictors of customer experience performance."