Fancy Yourself as Your Organisation’s Transformer?
Customer-centricity in the B2B context is empathizing and finding solutions to the B2B client’s real-life problems. As a supplier-client relationship is often multilayered, linking several people and systems together, understanding the real-life problems in all those layers is essential. The question is how to create digital platforms that nurture customer-centricity and create joint-success?
For the followers of the CXPA, customer-centricity is a familiar concept. In a broader context, it has been a topic for a couple of years and its importance has not faded, quite the opposite. This blog is about opening the complexity of customer-centricity from the perspective of the B2B context: mainly sales and account management.
How do you create digital platforms that nurture customer-centricity and create joint-success then? These joint digital platforms (i.e. systems accessible by both the clients and the suppliers), such as portals, extranets, extended CRM systems etc. are nothing new. What makes the difference is changing the perspective and creating the platforms from the customer-centric perspective. The focus should be in the customer’sprocesses, motivations, daily activities, needs and bottlenecks, instead of the supplier’s.
As we all know, there has been a lot of discussion about the impact of digitalisation. There are companies that are prepared and have the structures in place to support this transformation. Yet, especially in the traditional business environment, focusing on services and products, such as food services, the growing competition and rapid technological change can create a huge transformational need to change the way of handling client data. They have different needs than for example software companies that are already focused on systems.
This is one reason why companies are adopting new development principles, such as service design, agile design and lean as part of their strategies. They are starting to see their own bottlenecks, and hopefully, also possibilities to use their existing data in a more efficient way .
Customer-centricity is also a challenge, as it should be built in the overall way of doing business, including systems. Even if the customer-centric mindset exists and is a part of daily routines, the question remains, how to make sure customer-centricity is also the foundation of systems and processes?
Let’s go first into what customer-centricity is. From various different ways of seeing customer-centricity, here are some definitions. Customer-centricity can be seen as defining the most valuable customers and aligning the company’s services to fit their needs .
In the B2B context, it is also about enabling interaction between the client and the service provider, and all the other relevant parties. This interaction is needed for value co-creation  and customer success. Customer-centricity is about having customer in the center of all creation and co-creating with them. What does this mean when talking about digital platforms?
Switching from the provider-focused world into the customer’s world can be eased by using service design. Its tools, methods and processes are customer-centric and can be used to discover the client’s needs, challenges and wishes. Creating digital platforms with clients is about understanding their daily actions, benefits, goals, wishes, pain points, daily struggles and bottlenecks. It is about turning that insight into a system of features and functionalities that really help the client in their daily routines and interactions.
Co-creating digital platforms with clients, testing and defining the features together with them, is not only a customer-centric building process, but also provides the possibility to create long-lasting relationships. Even better, building platforms by understanding the client’s business and challenges can support the face-to-face interaction. A system can’t replace human interaction, empathy and trust, but it can be built to support them.
The magic of creating high retention rates and new sales in B2B still lies mostly within people. The fast changes in this “era of information explosion”  has not erased the need for face-to-face communication. This is where experience and client knowledge come in.
It is highly recommended to listen to people, who for years have been involved in these B2B relationships, participating in sales meetings, client appointments, etc. Gather the deep unwritten insight from not only sales, account and customer success managers, but also from other roles, such as controllers. They are the ambassadors of your organisation’s endeavor towards customer-centricity. Respect their knowledge; make them feel an important part of your development activities, so that they are motivated and willing to engage the client, for example in the use of a new portal. Make them part of the service design project.
Ensure also that you do not lose this insight when these people retire or change jobs, and make sure that this knowledge is shared with others. The more insight that is left unregistered, the less there are possibilities to share it with others.
LOOK BEYOND THE SURFACE
Remember to gather insight from all layers, as B2B has several touchpoints and people behind decisions, and multiple layers of interaction. It is not as straightforward as B2C.
Customer-centricity is finding out what happens in your client’s organization when your company is their supplier: what steps do they take, what actions do they have, who updates the information, who influences the company from the outside, what are their closest stakeholders etc.
BEING CUSTOMER-CENTRIC IS SEEING HOW DIGITALISATION AFFECTS YOUR CLIENT
As B2B is multilayered, so is the impact of digitalisation. It is important to not only address your client’s needs at this very moment, but also to foresee the direction their business is heading to. The tricky part is transforming your organisation into a company that understands not only its own transformation in all layers, but also its clients and client’s clients needs.
How can you continuously understand the surrounding of yourself and others? A customer-centric company sees the digital transformation from the client’s perspective. In the B2B context, digitalisation has an impact on both parties – the client and the service provider. Creating services that match the client’s transformational needs is what companies should focus on.
“If the B2B environment is layered and you can’t connect with the customers directly, how can you be customer centric? Service design offers tools for understanding the customer, and most importantly: service design encourages to empathise with the customer’s actions, needs, pain points and other meaningful things in their life.” (Päivi Pöyry-Lassila)
COMMUNICATION IS IN THE CORE OF CUSTOMER-CENTRICITY
According to the research presented in the RESER2018 conference, enhancing communication is what matters the most for clients. In the project, a customer-centric concept was created and its main elements were all linked to interaction and sharing information. Communication was present in the client’s every wish of feature, benefit and need of content.
Creating customer-centric digital platforms, and better extranets, can create joint-spheres (a concept defined by Grönroosand Voima2013) for clients and service providers. It is a way to connect to help the client the most, providing several people with the same information through the same channel, and sharing it to others. It overcomes the boundaries between a service provider and their client by connecting all people from different layers from both sides, all having the same goal – boosting customer success and creating fruitful long-lasting client relationships.
Does your company have digital client relationship platforms? Make sure to ask yourself whether your systems are based on your own processes and needs, or are they built by understanding the client’s real-life problems and motivational triggers?
The ideas in this blog post are based on a paper presented at the RESER 2018 conference, Göteborg, in September 2018, addressing the question “Customer-centricity – how can it be used in building a digital business-to-business client relationship tool”. The research related to the paper was conducted in a Finnish company employing over 15,000 people. A portal concept was created by using service design and a customer-dominant logic approach. The paper was co-authored with Principal Lecturer, PhD, Päivi Pöyry-Lassila, Laurea University of Applied Sciences.
Eliisa Sarkkinen is a fresh Senior Lecturer of International Business and Service Design in Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences. She has worked in service design, B2B sales and marketing, as well as digital development and research. She focuses in customer-centricity and value-adding service development, and in the big sees huge opportunities of the Finnish service design competence in the international perspective.
 Bagheri, H. & Shaltooki, A. A. 2015. Big data: Challenges, opportunities and cloud-based solutions. International Journal of Electrical and Computer Engineering, 5(2), pp. 340-343.
 Fader, P. 2012. Customer Centricity: Focus on the Right Customers for Strategic Advantage. 2nd edition. Philadelphia: Wharton Digital Press.
 Grönroos, C. & Voima, P. 2013. Critical service logic: Making sense of value creation and co- creation. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 41(2), 133-150.