Why the clock is ticking for digital B2B services

B2B service providers: it's time to think like consumer services and invest in your customer experience.


For the longest time, B2B services have traded off the fact that they are typically sold into an organization, which then dictates to its staff that they must use it. So as a service owner, you sell in Service X to a buyer (typically not an end user) at Company Y, and the service is used by tens, hundreds or thousands of Company Y’s staff, whether they like it or not.

User satisfaction is rarely factored in to whether a B2B service was considered a success by its buyers: instead, they focused on hard measures like process efficiency, cost savings, or simply whether it offered a lower cost-per-seat than its competitor’s competitor. Keeping the buyer happy is the absolute top priority; keeping the user happy is less of a priority.

As a result, B2B services have boasted some of the worst-conceived experiences and the most appalling interfaces in the digital world, all while generating the kind of income that many B2C services would kill for. There’s no £1.99 a month here – many B2B services charge eye-watering subscription fees that can run into the millions, all for the type of service experience that no consumer would ever put up with.

And that’s the rub. The users we’re talking about here – those poor souls at the hard end of the service experience – are consumers. They’re the very same consumers who use some of the slickest digital experiences on the planet in their personal lives.

For a generation, B2B service providers have been able to get away with interface murder, delivering substandard experiences to end users. The perception (correctly, one could argue) has been that the value of the data, content or functionality they provided was enough to substantiate value and make them secure. They’ve forgotten that the users at the end of their service are the very same consumers who order shopping, check the weather, message their friends, book flights, watch videos, play games or use one of a thousand other things that form a part of everyday life.

There are people at the end of these services, but where is the focus on people in B2B services? All too often, it’s nowhere to be seen.

At the same time, the business world that these services are sold into is changing. Organizational hierarchy is collapsing up, with less isolation of purchasing power at the top and an increasing amount of influence over purchasing decisions placed in the hands of the people who use tools and services.

Ignoring that B2B users are regular people who want a great experience in everything they use could just be considered outdated. Add the accompanying increasing influence that these same people have over what to buy, and the lack of focus on the standard of experience in B2B services seems downright suicidal.

Right now, there remains a window of opportunity for many services in the B2B space: contract terms may provide some protection from competitive threats, but contracts don’t last forever. If B2B service providers don’t start to invest in delivering end user experiences that match the best consumer services they could quickly find themselves booted out in favour of a competitor that does.

Ironically, in our experience, it’s often easier to craft a highly customer-centric experience in ‘professional’ services than it is in their consumer counterparts. Target customers are often more narrowly defined and they often have more easily identifiable needs. They can play a direct role in the design process more easily too, as they’re often better known to the company behind the service and can be brought into the design process more easily and with more vested interest than the average user of a consumer service.

When it comes down to it, there really is no excuse for services aimed at people in a professional context to be anything less than excellent.

It’s time for B2B services to delight their users as much as consumer services strive to. Over the coming years the notion of a B2B experience will die: it’s a way to think about commercial models, not a way to think about users. People are people, whether they’re at work or at home, using a device that’s their own or their company’s, sourcing information for personal or business use, or conducting a transaction on behalf of their company or themselves.

The people are the same, and there’s no reason to believe that they won’t be as discriminating about the services they use at the office as they are out of it. To paraphrase an old adage, seller beware.

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