Recently I was in a discussion where the other party challenged me on the role of emotions in B2B customer experience. The quotation was along the lines of “B2B customers base their purchase decision on excels, not on emotions”. As a customer experience professional with a multiple-year background in B2B I felt the topic, at first, somewhat controversial. Are B2B customers logical creatures who base their decisions on excel and ROI calculations while B2C customers are irrational, materialist and easily lured? Is there room for emotions in B2B customer experience?
Customer experience constitutes of three dimensions: effectiveness (did I get the value I expected?), easiness (how much effort did it require?) and emotion (how did I feel as a result?). According to different sources two third of customer experience is emotional. This applies to both B2B and B2C. So, if we look at this finding closer, surely emotions are impacting customer experience both in B2B and B2C. But are there differences between the two that we should consider?
To approach the topic, let’s spend a moment to think who the customer is. When we say B2B customers we refer to companies of different size and nature. Is customer a company then? Yes and no. In B2B it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint whose customer experience are we aiming to improve – should we focus on the decision makers who make the purchasing decision, or influencers who spend no money but play a crucial role in the early part of the customer journey by recommending & guiding the customer? What about the end users in B2B – should we also understand and address their experience as a customer’s customer? And not to forget partners, such as contractors who often play a crucial role in the customer interface. It already looks like there are quite many different actors involved when referring to B2B and not a single “customer” we could easily pinpoint. All these actors have a role along the B2B customer journey, which itself is more than a purchase journey – it is a partnership journey between different actors.
B2B customer experience is often about personal, long-lasting relationships that are built on trust and customer value. Companies are reluctant to change partners who provide personal, relationship-based service and understand what ultimately brings value to the customer. B2B customer relationship could be seen as a marriage. If you find a partner who listens to you, supports you, and who you can trust, you will be reluctant to change. Certainly, B2B customers base their purchase decisions on logic and need, but this is not enough to make someone a loyal customer. Here is where emotional part and relationship come into picture. It is no wonder that most B2B companies spend a lot of time and effort into building and nurturing their customer relationships in a personal level.
In B2C the customer is easier to understand. It is you and me, consumers. A consumer decides to purchase and completes a transaction with a company. Typically, there are no third parties involved in the process. Customer journey is mostly linear and focused on the purchase and use of a product or a service, with clear start and end points.
In B2C emotion is about brand and impulses. As consumers we are directed towards instant satisfaction and positive emotions. Companies want us to spend and buy more. If we are feeling down, a new pair of shoes can instantly lift our emotions up. Customer journey in B2C is a purchase journey, focused on transactions. As consumers we don’t always know what we want tomorrow and are fast to change our preferences. The relationship is not similar as in B2B (“marriage”) but rather transactional and based on emotions and materialism. We frustrate and get excited easily, and a good B2C marketing knows how to appeal to our vanity, interests, and even unexpressed wishes.
Getting back to my initial discussion on whether emotions play a role in B2B similarly as in B2C the answer is yes, and no. The key aspect – two third of customer experience is emotional, applies to both. As humans we remember experiences that provoke emotions, good or bad. In the end, B2B customers are not faceless accounts but there is always a connection between humans. B2B companies who connect with their customers in an emotional level, and understand the expectations, wishes and emotional pain points of their customers and actors involved, have the tools to build superior customer experience. This kind of thinking requires going beyond processes and products – to the moments that truly matter to the customer. Whereas in B2C customer journey can be approached with a transactional view, in B2B the journey needs to be seen through partnership. The key is to understand what emotion means in B2B context – it is about trust and being a partner. Understanding what brings value to the customer and being a partner in delivering that value is a solid proof that the relationship works and is worth maintaining.