Business people can’t go wrong by throwing the term “customer experience” into conversation. “This year, the focus is on the customer experience.” “We’re going to re-focus our processes around the customer experience.” “What differentiates us from our competitors is the customer experience.”

Customer ExperienceThat all sounds good. But in most cases, business leaders have a hard time with the follow-up question: “So, what customer experience are you trying to create?” In many cases, they resort to the term “delight:” “We want to delight our customers.” But do your customers really want to be delighted? Is “delight” in important factor in B2B buying? Not particularly.

As my friend Brent Leary points out, delight by its nature is not something that you can standardize. Once you do, it’s no longer “delightful,” it’s merely expected, and to get back to delight you have to keep moving the bar for your organization. Eventually, you’re promising the customers more than you can practically or economically deliver and your “structured delight” efforts collapse under their own weight.

In the best examples, delight is something that empowered employees do. At CRM Evolution in Washington DC a few weeks ago, Dennis Snow, president of Snow and Associates and a former member of the leadership team at Disney World, related the story of how maids at the resort took to arranging plush toys they found strewn around guest rooms into little vignettes – watching TV, tucked into bed and so on – which guests (and especially guests’ children) found absolutely wonderful. This started when a single employee began doing it, leaving a little note “from the toys” – but doing it of her own volition. The culture there encouraged such small gestures, and encouraged the sharing of these ideas not just so that they might be emulated but so they could inspire new ideas.

That’s a great story. But if you’re a B2B business, those sorts of gestures can backfire. They’re not what your customers really want. They want an experience in which they get done what they want to get done. That means purchases are made quickly, with little friction and no surprises. Should you fail to deliver on the basics of the sale but your team endeavors to “delight” the customer with extraneous touches, it’ll backfire – it will appear, quite accurately, that you’re focused not on making customers successful but on activities that are entirely secondary to what the customer really needs. If you want to add the equivalent of “delight” in this scenario, then arm your sales team with the knowledge they need to be subject matter experts. But realize that this is becoming expected – it’s not an extra or a differentiator. The helpful salesperson who knows the product and the industry back and forth is not going to be something unique to your organization – it will be table stakes.

So the customer experience you need to deliver is not really about delight – it’s about expectations. As Paul Greenberg has said, the foundation for this experience in B2B (and to an extent in B2C) is to simply deliver the basics. Product, delivery, support and payment – all of these must be nailed down; otherwise, the experience a new customer has will slide downhill rapidly. Similarly, your website should deliver an experience that handles most of the customers’ most frequent questions and concerns easily. That experience is what customers really prefer; spending time on the phone with a friendly agent may be pleasant, but it’s still time away from their real jobs and thus not an optimal B2B experience.

The other problem businesses have when they claim to be all about customer experience is that they fail to plan for the customer to have a say in whether that experience is working for them. In 2014, IDC reported that 80 percent of all voice of the customer data goes unused – meaning that many businesses take the effort to listen but then never use the information they collect. Often that’s because there’s a breakdown between the collectors of the data and the people charged with collating and analyzing that data; it’s easy to acquire customer data, but it takes a lot of time to understand that data and often that task isn’t given enough priority. When that happens, can a business really say its focus is on the customer’s experience? In reality, its focus is on an experience that the business imagines is a good one for the customers, and that can differ greatly from what customers really experience.

The right approach is to first consult customers and to take their input to envision a customer experience that works in the context of your customers and your business. Once you have a vision of the customer experience you’re trying to deliver, you can use it as an objective and start taking steps to make it a reality. Including the voice of the customer into the process will allow you to understand how close your processes come to delivering on your goals – and whether your goals should be changing in response to shifting customer expectations.

Using this process allows your business to honestly claim that customer experience is really valued by the organization and to take steps to make changes in order to create the customer experiences that actually provide a competitive advantage. If you don’t include a process for defining the experience you wish to deliver and using the voice of the customer as a tool to verify that you’re acting effectively to deliver those experiences, then stop kidding yourself – you’re merely using “customer experience” as a buzzword to fill airtime in corporate discussions, and you’re setting the stage for a competitor to show you the real value of valuing customer experience.

To learn more the value of an improved customer experience, check out Clicktools’ Customer Experience Calculator.

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