Does B2B Customer Experience Differ from B2C CX?

A Customer Is a Customer

July 12, 2012

There are a lot of myths about the difference between the B2B and B2C customer experience. A blog post by Tim Carrigan debunks five key myths. What it comes down to is that you can’t let arbitrary categorization, such as B2B versus B2C, to allow you to provide anything but the best customer experience for your individual customers, whether they are wearing a business or consumer hat.


There are a lot of differences between B2B and B2C strategies, but providing a great customer experience isn’t one of them. The relationship you have with a business customer is actually a deep relationship with many significant individual people within the organization (not just the decision-maker(s) and buyer, but also end-users and key influencers). You should apply the same ground rules for creating a great experience and relationship with business customers that you do with consumers. Remember that all customers want:

  • To trust their suppliers
  • To achieve their outcomes with a minimum of fuss and obstacles
  • To always get what they want in a timely (by their definition) fashion
  • To always know what to do to get what they want and need (no confusion)
  • To feel special and valued as a customer

A blog post by Tim Carrigan on the myths surrounding B2B customer experience provides valuable insight. We add our take to expand on Tim’s advice.


Business Customers Are People Too!

Early on in our working relationship (which began over 30 years ago), I remember Patty Seybold explaining to me that you can’t have a relationship with a company, only with people within a company. That made perfect sense to me, and I’ve passed on her words to many customers, colleagues, and friends over the years.

But there is still a perception that business customers should be treated differently than consumer customers. Although there are different types of details that are applicable in B2B relationships, such as negotiated contracts, service level agreements based on sales volumes, etc., I believe that if you identify the significant individuals within your business accounts—the decision makers, the influencers, the end-users, the internal support staff, and the purchasers—you can actually create relationships that are stronger and more personal than you can when you have massive numbers of consumer customers.

Debunking the Myths

I recently read an interesting post on the Customer Think web site by Tim Carrigan, Consulting Director at Andrew Reise Consulting, called “B2B versus B2C - Debunking Five Customer Experience Myths,” which supports my position. In the piece, Tim examines five myths about customer experience:

  • Myth #1: All B2B Products/Services Are Commodities – Removing the Need or Ability to Differentiate
  • Myth #2: B2B Buying Decisions Are Made By Committee – Making Strong Customer Relationships Impossible
  • Myth #3: RFPs Remove the Importance of the Customer Relationship in B2B
  • Myth #4: The Same Customer Experience Tools and Tactics Just Don’t Apply in B2B
  • Myth #5: Social Media Is a Broad Concept That Doesn’t Apply to My Small B2B World

I agree that these are all myths, and I admire his concise explanation of what’s wrong with this mindset. As someone who has done a lot of CX work with customers of both B2B and B2C clients, I also want to add my own take on each of the issues.

ALL B2B PRODUCTS/SERVICES ARE COMMODITIES – REMOVING THE NEED OR ABILITY TO DIFFERENTIATE. Indeed, this is a myth. As Tim points out, “What is lost with this myth, is that for a lot of industries it flat out isn’t true, and for all industries it doesn’t even matter that much. The whole point of customer experience is a company’s ability to go beyond the product itself and ensure the overall experience – from researching, ordering, using, and even replacing or renewing the product/service – is managed in a way that delights customers and provides exceptional profits.”

I agree with Tim. Describing all B2B products/services as commodities is misleading. There may be some types of products like office supplies that are truly interchangeable products. But there are often other differences, such as inventory availability and delivery times and service. If you need a commodity spare part in a hurry, you’re willing to pay more for the convenience of getting it quickly. And there are companies, like Grainger, for example, that specialize in providing fast turnaround. Also, bear in mind that there are many businesses buying products and services from other businesses that aren’t standardized products. An increasing percentage of all business products and services are customizable and/or configurable. We (Patricia Seybold Group) are a B2B business, and I would hate to think that our research and consulting services are interchangeable with all other consulting firms.

But Tim’s comments about B2B offerings as commodities are meant to make us think beyond using price as the consideration for what businesses care most about. What Tim seems to be saying is that, when products and services are commodities, the Customer Experience, itself, is the differentiator. And we can’t argue with that. But, remember, for those companies with business clients who aren’t in a commodities business, customer experience is only part of the equation; product/service quality and content are also significant differentiators. Many companies require that you always get ...

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