There are times, Lorna Brown admits, when she wants to stand on top of a box and warn those around her to “Be afraid of the evil.”
As the person responsible for managing business-to-business (B2B) customer experiences at telecom giant T-Mobile, Brown isn’t referring to evil as some kind of exterior threat. She means a tendency within many organizations to be myopically focused on the scores they receive in customer surveys, versus actually working to improve customer interactions with a brand.
“You shouldn’t be allowed to game who gets invited to a survey. You really want to be true to intent, and intent is about getting better,” Brown said during the opening session of CX Network’s Voice of the Customer event this week. “You don’t necessarily want all tens, and you don’t necessarily want all ‘I love you.’ the whole point of the program is to hear from those people who may think something doesn’t work well.”
While this might sound like common sense, Brown suggested “score watching” represents a real danger — not just to VoC programs, but to a brand’s overall fortunes.
“The more you score-watch, and the more your execs score-watch, the more you’re starting to drift away from the core of the program,” she said.
This is just one of the lessons Brown has learned after about seven years of working in customer experience. She came to T-Mobile via Sprint, which the former acquired in 2020 in a $26 billion deal.
Though obviously best known as a consumer-oriented brand, T-Mobile has been continuing to beef up its B2B offerings. Last year, for instance, T-Mobile launched small business rate plans, fixed wireless internet for small businesses and Facebook Advertising on Us with digital advertising and digital marketing resources exclusively for small businesses.
Around the same time, T-Mobile executives said the company was seeing traction for 5G-related products and services aimed at the enterprise, including public sector customers.
Brown noted that, even with a growing number of corporate customers to serve, T-Mobile has also had to contend with all the usual priorities that come following a major acquisition. That’s put the onus on her to knock on the doors of functional areas across the business to see who need a “listening post” to develop better customer relationships.
“Voice of the customer actually got a little bit nudged to the side (following the acquisition). It didn’t mean we weren’t building it, and we’ve come a huge long way, but we kind of did it underneath the radar,” she explained. “Our execs in the moment had really important things to get done.”
The Big Differences In B2B CX
Brown noted that developing VoC programs within a B2B context is also much different than trying to take the pulse of a wide swath of consumers.
“You’re talking about small volumes (of customers). Low response rates. And all the gold is in the open comments fields,” she observed.
That said, it’s important for VoC programs to identify both the rational aspects of a customer experience as well as the emotional aspects, said David Hicks, founder and CEO of TribeCX, who joined Brown during the decision.
Without capturing emotional sentiment, “You’ll be heading towards a commodity play,” he said. “You have to also be diving into the levers of advocacy and loyalty.”
VoC programs also need to be purposeful, Brown said. She gave the example of a program that might look at which customers were won or lost at the proposal stage of a bid. The questions of the survey should reflect the intent to know why, and what could be done based on the feedback.
This is another important element within B2B VoC programs, she added. Business customers expect the brand to let them know that they’ve not only been heard, but that action will be taken.
“When you’re starting a program and working with stakeholders, make sure you guide them, because you’re the one who knows what (those programs) can do,” she advised. “It’s really important to have closed loop feedback. Are you reaching back out, or are you a dark hole?”
Hicks agreed. “You have to show them you’re on the case. Otherwise you will see a decay in terms of your response rates,” he said. As for guiding stakeholders, he recommended helping them create problem statements — for example, exploring what might happen if the organization doesn’t address a piece of feedback.
In some cases simply communicating an understanding will be the extent of the action a brand can take, Brown added. Particularly within technology companies, pieces of an experience that need to be “fixed” can take years, not months.
“Sometimes that outer loop can be pretty stalled because we know and we’ve identified (the fix) and we’re prioritizing and building it, but you’ll continue to get feedback that that thing is still broken,” she said. “That is hard, because you know it is a continued complaint.”
This is why every B2B brand is probably a little unique in terms of the CX it provides. As a result, Brown cautioned against one organization comparing itself to another, or even treating all areas of its customer experience the same.
“Just be aware of the journey you’re measuring, because that matters,” she said. “I might have some journeys that get 80s from an NPS perspective, such as implementation, but there might also be those that are in the negatives,” she said. “Not every process will require the same investment, and there can be quite a bit of volatility. But this is all about growth, and making yourself better.”
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.