Many customer satisfaction articles are written about business to consumer customer satisfaction processes. But many organizations deal with other businesses (Business to Business or B2B). There are 7 key differences in the relationship that result in the need to adapt customer satisfaction activities and processes.
Why is the study of B2B Customer Satisfaction Important?
Many of the processes set up to measure customer satisfaction for consumers just don’t work for business to business transactions. The characteristics of a business to business transaction may be very different from consumer transactions and the processes and measurements need to be distinct and more robust as a result.
Seven key differences in Business to Business relationship?
1. In a B2B relationship between the two businesses is often a longer term relationship ensuring months, years and even on going (perpetual).
2. The size of the transactions are often quite large, and can be in the millions of dollars.
3. Often the people who interact between businesses get to know each other on a personal level, even if the relationship is over the phone or via email. There is continuity to the relationship between individuals in each business.
4. Decisions about what to buy, when to buy and where to buy are often made at multiple levels of management. One person or group may be assigned the task of doing research of various suppliers and coming up with recommendations for someone more senior. Sometimes there are multiple levels of management involved if the size of the transaction or on going relationship is large. As a result there are multiple people in each organization that are interacting with each other, at various management levels. And each of these will have their own perception of satisfaction with the other organization.
5. Once a purchase is made, both businesses maybe engaged for a long period of time, a year or even several years. Things may change at either of the businesses during that period which may cause strain on the relationship. The initial set of individuals involved in the setting up of the sale, the implementation of the project or the ongoing relationship may change over time. Economic conditions may change and each of the firms may have to adjust as a result.
6. Sometimes the two organizations will do multiple transactions with each other, each with long durations and the customer satisfaction of the most senior management will be dependent on the overall relationship: the sum of all the interactions between the two companies, not just the interaction of the groups that work together day to day on specific projects.
7. The sell cycle to acquire a new customer is long and costly, so the loss of an exiting customer due to dissatisfaction is of paramount importance to senior management.
Examples of Business to Business relationships
From my years at IBM, I can provide a few examples of business to business customer satisfaction:
1. Customers purchased hardware and software from IBM to run their businesses. The hardware needed to be maintained to ensure it didn’t break down. The software needed to be installed and customized to the needs of the existing customer. If it is was an end user type of software (such as office software or email) used by many people in the customer’s business, the rollout to all employees might last for months, even years.
New software updates and improvements might require a revamping of the application the end users were using and a subsequent rollout across the organization would be initiated. During that time, the customer needs help with installation, application design and customer service for hardware or software problems.
The hardware and software applications would bring value to the company, running their order entry system, manufacturing system or distribution system and would last for many many years.
2. Another kind of customer was one who purchased a service from IBM. The service might be to design and implement a new application for the customer. Another service might be to run the customer’s applications or even their full IT organization. This would require IBM to take over the running some or all of the customer’s applications and to be responsive to the customer’s end users whose needs needed to be met, despite where the IT equipment was located.
3. Sometimes the customer would have multiples of each type, IT infrastructures of their own that they managed and some of their IT which they outsourced to IBM. In those cases, the senior management relationship would include all the different projects IBM was involved with the customer.
Each of these variations means that organizations need to plan their customer satisfaction programs quite differently than business to consumer programs. Customer satisfaction will need to be measured in many more ways and at different levels of the organization. Customer dissatisfaction prevention programs will need to be put in place.
If you are interested in learning more about programs for B2B customer satisfaction, leave a comment in the section below.