“Reaching trusted advisor status in a B2B relationship is paramount to long-term loyalty.”
— Brian Atkinson, Head of Collaboration and Customer Experience, Cisco UK & Ireland as told to KPMG
We all know trust is the precursor to any meaningful relationship. Children trust their parents, players trust their coaches, employees (hopefully) trust their employers. Marriages don’t work without trust. Heck, taking an Uber wouldn’t work unless we trusted the driver.
Buyers, ultimately, must put their faith in the people and companies they choose to do business with. In high-risk environments like B2B, where purchases are fraught with uncertainty, trust is the universal factor that will make or break an opportunity.
No trust = no deal.
To me, customer experience is about managing every opportunity we have to create, or lose, trust with our buyers.
And as we head into 2019, trust is at an all-time low.
The scope of the trust deficit
Last year saw the largest decline in trust ever seen in the 18 years Edelman has conducted its annual Trust Barometer survey. The 2018 study found pervasive global mistrust in four of our major cultural institutions – government, media, NGOs, and of course, business. The sharpest decline was right here in the US, as 42% of buyers reported not knowing which brands they could trust.
That means nearly one out of every other prospect you hope to do business with is riddled with skepticism that you and your content, sales team, or executive leaders can be trusted in the first place.
The danger here is, as Atkinson articulated above, in B2B our only path to customer loyalty is by being perceived as a trusted advisor to our customers.
Trust will be the #1 charter of the CMO in 2019
CMOs are feeling the pressure.
Whereas in prior years, our biggest challenge may have been differentiation and earning the attention of distracted buyers (both still a struggle), in 2019, differentiation is not enough, and earning attention is not enough.
Our new charter is truly to take steps to position our company as one that will deliver solutions to customers’ problems, one that can be believed, one that keeps our word, and one that lives up to our promises.
95% of CMOs said “establishing trust between my brand and the consumer” was a top issue that keeps them up at night in a recent survey. This pain extends to the rest of the C-suite; in that 2018 Edelman study, CEOs claimed their #1 priority over the last 12 months was to ensure their company is trusted (per 69% of respondents).
Both CMOs and CEOs know that buyers have a plethora of options today at their fingertips, when every industry is heavily commoditized. (Just look at the marketing technology landscape.) Strong competition means there’s less of a margin of error to screw up the trust game.
CX and trust are inexplicably linked
CMOs surveyed in this year’s Gartner CMO Spend Survey cited CX as one of the top three capabilities vital to their marketing strategies in the coming 18 months.
If CX is vital, then earning trust is vital. Don’t forget, a good customer experience is predicated on trust.
To fix the trust deficit, CMOs in 2019 should focus on improving the steps along the customer journey where trust can fall flat. KPMG calls these the “moments that matter,” and in their excellent State of Customer Experience report, found what works at every stage, including:
- Pre-purchase – Ensure the brand has a positive reputation, stands for something, can demonstrate its competence, and keeps its promises. This can be achieved with proactive, relevant thought leadership, and addressing the needs of all stakeholders into the pre-purchase process.
- Purchase – During the sale, personalize the offering to the customer’s strategic needs, focus on their long-term goals (not simply your goals of attaining quota), be transparent, and don’t over-promise.
- Immediate post-purchase – Deliver on the promise you set (and set those expectations accurately!). Keep things easy, straightforward, and create a positive user experience and on-boarding process. Help the client operate well within cross-company team dynamics.
- Ongoing – Respond with urgency when things go wrong with emotional intelligence (these are human beings, remember, with fears and worries). Anticipate issues and resolve them proactively with timelines, updates, and plans for problem resolution. Provide a single point of contact for issues, and be present (not purely transactional).
- Renew/dissolve – Make renewal easy by becoming indispensable to your customer. Help your customer maximize the value from their time investment with you. How can you save them costs, or re-use existing assets? How have you proved your value to their business and their strategic/personal goals?
Ultimately, in an age of mistrust, managing CX requires us to look at every stage of the customer lifecycle with our own skeptical eye. Take off the rose-colored glasses, marketers, and take the lead in asking yourself where trust is currently breaking down, or has the greatest potential to derail a customer on their path to renewal/loyalty.
As CX has seeped into the vocabulary of the marketing organization of B2B firms, it’s asked us to re-evaluate what role marketing plays. Are we truly just purveyors of attention and brand awareness? Aren’t we simply responsible for delivering good leads to sales? Isn’t anything post-sale a customer service priority?
The truth is, trust is a perception problem, and brand perception is our purview. We have the responsibility today to affect the full brand experience – which is the culmination of every touchpoint a customer has with our brand. This ball is in our court, whether we like it or not, to treat every stage of their journey like a marketing problem, because ultimately it is.
Customers are more likely to share their experiences when they’re very good – or, on the flip side – very bad.
As Steve Cannon, the former President & CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA said a few years ago, “customer experience is the new marketing.”