HomeNorth AmericaInsightsStart from the Inside-Out: Building Trust & Credibility with B2B Customers in an Uncertain 2023
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Start from the Inside-Out: Building Trust & Credibility with B2B Customers in an Uncertain 2023January 17, 2023

2023 is expected to be yet another year of uncertainty for companies and businesses across the globe.

For B2B companies, there is a valuable lesson we can learn from the past few years of chaos: an inside-out approach to customer engagement focused on the long-term is vital to attract and retain customers, enhance customer experience and brand loyalty, and ultimately sustain business growth during times of uncertainty.

Corporate reputation and customer service are inextricably linked – this is as true for B2C companies as it is B2B companies. This connection is drastically underscored when companies are faced with difficult decisions and uncertain operating environments, and there has been no shortage of unpredictability over the past few years. Most recently, we saw the clear domino effect of disrupted supply chains as a result of post-pandemic recovery and the Russia-Ukraine war, creating insurmountable reputational and business challenges for companies across industries.

Companies need to brace for more change as we undoubtedly face another year of navigating the unknown. With this uncertainty comes great opportunity for companies to learn from previous missteps and proactively prepare to manage, build trust and credibility with customers and prospects that drives positive reputational gains and bottom-line growth in the long-haul.

Missteps that spared no industry – learning from past experiences

Counseling B2B companies through recent years of complex landscapes unearthed learnings that – when applied intentionally – can help companies avoid future missteps. Whether it was inconsistent communications with customers, inaccurate information deployed to customers or poor information flow processes, each company’s challenges varied. However, one takeaway reigned true for all: the negative external reputational - and even business - impacts companies faced stemmed from avoidable internal organizational shortcomings.

Key Learnings:

  • Across the board, over the last few years there was a lack of proactive short- and long-term customer engagement planning. This resulted in inconsistent, tone deaf and even inaccurate customer communications and unpreparedness to navigate emerging issues. The planning deficiency was not only specific to communications to customers about the unpredictable supply chain environment or announcements that would impact production or delivery dates but extended through general customer communications and engagement planning that could have unlocked long-term trust and credibility building.
  • Companies did not have clearly defined internal communications and information-sharing infrastructures. What does this mean? The people, processes and communications protocols that enable the effective transfer of information across teams were not in place. There were gaps in process and communications. There was a lack of understanding in roles and responsibilities as well as the process of information flow. For example, if a customer submits a complaint about an order via the company Facebook page, how does that information travel from the community manager to the right customer relationship manager? Who crafts and delivers the response? And how is that logged for future reference?
  • The information and data deployed was only as good as the information and data collected. Customer interaction data that is critical to the customer relationship identification and building process was not consistently collected or shared across teams. In some cases, platforms were not in place to collect and manage this data. In other cases where a platform was present, the information was poorly managed and often not shared with those involved in the customer journey.
  • Companies were overpromising and under delivering. Stakeholders critical to informing, building, deploying, and tracking communications, announcements and ongoing customer engagement were not always immediately informed or present for key discussions that would impact their customers. This resulted in important information – such as price increases, production and delivery delays – delivered to customers by the wrong messenger, in the incorrect tone and with inaccurate information, ultimately leaving customer relationship managers to address empty promises and unhappy customers.
  • Customer engagement programs were not evolving to digital, multi-channel strategies swiftly enough to meet customer expectations. Companies leaned too heavily on traditional customer relationship building tactics in an environment that required digital engagement, creating a less seamless customer experience and leaving opportunities for business expansion on the table.
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Applying Learnings: Navigating Uncertainty and Building Customer Trust in the Long-Term

So, how can companies avoid the same mistakes in another year of the unknown? Here are actions to take into consideration to set your customer engagement program up for success starting from the inside-out:

  • Audit your internal communications and information-gathering infrastructure. An overlooked customer complaint in Facebook messenger. Inconsistent updates about a customer’s order. What seem to be modest oversights can often have considerable long-term implications. To understand gaps in your customer engagement infrastructure, consider auditing your internal and external communications and information-sharing platforms and processes. Doing so can uncover insights and gaps in knowledge sharing or communication and process breakdowns which can be used to inform adjustments to your customer journeys to avoid negative customer experiences that erode trust. Elements to examine as part of this audit may include:
    • Information gathering and information sharing workflows and protocols at each step of the customer journey;
    • Roles and responsibilities of team members throughout the customer journey, including decision-rights;
    • Related CRM platforms used across the organization, platform users within your organization and an understanding of how those users log and share insights; and
    • Other platforms, tools or processes used to collect and arm customer relationship management teams with information and announcements.
  • Conduct an internal listening tour, or mini focus group. Those on the frontlines of the customer journey hold vital insights about customers and their industry. Whether it’s synthesizing CRM data, crafting a customer announcement or managing the day-to-day customer relationship, identify representatives from each team and/or department that support the customer engagement process to partake in a mini focus group or interview. Develop a set of questions – which can be informed by insights gathered from your audit - aimed at exploring and understanding key wins, root issues and communications or process breakdowns. A diverse set of stakeholders with varying roles and responsibilities throughout the customer journey will be key to assessing shortfalls.
  • Proactively plan for short- and long-term customer engagement as well as potential scenarios that may arise along the way to mitigate – and stay ahead of - emerging issues. A multitude of B2B companies were caught flat-footed with their customers over the past few years, and had to quickly mobilize teams to react to issues and unavoidable – but oftentimes anticipated - scenarios, like price increases or delivery delays. Proactively planning for possible scenarios and crises - in addition to evergreen short- and long-term customer engagement efforts - will ensure your company can anticipate emerging issues and proactively engage customers early. Use learnings from customer surveys, internal audits and/or mini focus groups to inform planning to ensure a holistic approach that maintains a long-term outlook.
  • Keep your pulse on customer satisfaction, expectations and experience through ongoing team touchpoints, surveys, and customer relationship data analysis.
    • Frequent All-Team Touchpoints & Collaboration Tools: Establish a consistent cadence of customer engagement meetings with teams across departments as well as collaboration tools for teams to share insights and gather input in real-time. This will ensure cross-team integration so that all the right stakeholders are clued in when it matters and that there is broader alignment on key customer updates, messaging, unfolding issues, insights, and other program initiatives.
    • Surveys: Conduct customer surveys focused on satisfaction and the broader customer experience, including what their communications channel preferences are and what other types of touchpoints – such as exclusive customer roundtables, insight-sharing events, content marketing or others – they expect or want. Synthesize survey findings into actionable next steps and share with teams that play a role in the customer journey.
    • Stay Discussions: Consider conducting stay discussions with customers that renewed their contracts and disseminate learnings to customer engagement teams.
    • Customer Relationship Data Analysis: Leverage your CRM tool to make data work for you. Insights from CRM will be critical to informing your communications and engagement strategy at each step of the customer journey. Whether you’re capturing insights on your customers’ goals, emerging customer issues or setting reminders to reach out to your customers on their birthdays, the more frequently and accurately teams log information about each customer engagement, the more seamless, customized, and positive your customers’ experience can be in the long run.
  • Build a seamless, omnichannel customer experience. Customers expect their engagement with vendors/suppliers to mirror their B2C journey: seamless, interactive and engaging with easy user experiences that meet them where they are. When building your customer engagement strategy, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
    • With increasing customer expectations, ensure your customer engagement and scenario plans incorporate a holistic approach including touchpoints through paid media, earned media, shared media, and owned media.
    • Consider other areas of the company’s communications and engagement programming that can be leveraged for customer engagement and relationship building. What’s on the company editorial calendar, and how can you use it for relationship-building? For example, is your company running sponsored content that is relevant and helpful for your customers? Does your company conduct ongoing research or media and social media reporting that you can use to stay ahead of issues impacting your customers’ business and use as a touchpoint with them? Connecting your customers to other places your company is showing up can open doors for business growth and a deeper connection to your company’s purpose.
    • Is there a one-stop-shop for customers to learn more information about their orders, your company, and new offerings, or request support and submit feedback? Your customer ‘hub’ will play an important role in your customer experience and convenience, so ensure your customer hub is equipped to meet customer expectations.

While these considerations are not the end-all solution to the complex environment companies will face this year, preparing your company to navigate uncertainty and maintaining a long-term outlook for customer engagement can yield positive bottom-line and reputational benefits.