Customer experience seems to be a primary focus in many B2B organizations, but which function is in charge of “owning the customer?”

Customer-centric, customer focused, customer obsessed.

ABMEveryone is talking about customer experience right now, but what’s really happening to make it better in B2B companies? What makes it so hard to deliver on these words?

Here’s the issue: In B2B, a number of functions can legitimately lay claim to “owning the customer”:

  • Sales is responsible for winning new customers and building strong, ongoing relationships. It also contributes to and maintains a significant amount of customer information in the sales force automation (SFA) system. If channel partners are involved in the sale or post-sale support, they can claim that customer relationship along with the data about it.
  • Account management (or customer success) functions are responsible for seeing that customers engage and get value. Again, they hold important customer data in the SFA or other systems.
  • Product functions deliver the day-to-day in-product user experience and its evolution, as well as gathering insights about customer needs as they relate to products and services. Data on product usage and other customer insights are held within this group.
  • From call centers to finance, service functions deliver support and resources at critical moments in the customer experience. They provide the master financial and contact data, as well as information about customer service interactions.
  • Marketing owns the brand and a variety of inbound and outbound communication channels, from online to events to email, that support ongoing customer engagement and advocacy. They often own the customer contact database and activity history for a range of touch points. They may also own any online customer communities and the information those contribute.

Last but not least are the chief customer officer or customer experience functions that some companies have in place. These teams may own some components of experience delivery (e.g. account management or service/call centers), and they are often responsible for gathering customer feedback and developing insights about where experience improvements need to be made.

Let’s acknowledge that there’s been a general lack of faith in most B2B chief customer officers and customer experience functions. So who does this leave in charge of the B2B customer experience? Today, since everyone is in charge, it generally means that no one is in charge, even if there is a customer experience function. This is not because they’re a bad idea, or the research they do isn’t valuable, or that they don’t have executive support, or that the people in charge aren’t effective. In fact, customer experience leaders are usually exceptionally good in other roles, which is why they get the experience job. The problem is this: Because all the other functions have such a strong stake in supporting the customer experience, it’s nearly impossible for an overlay function like customer experience to create cohesiveness and deliver change. The result has been siloed delivery of tactical improvement, not the strategic change that delivers exceptional results.

To realize the promise of customer focus, consider where B2B has been successful at delivering strategic change based on better alignment and coordination – around the buyer’s journey. In the most successful B2B companies, when it comes to helping buyers buy, sales, marketing and product have defined how they’ll align. Alignment and execution are based on what buyers need and do when making a purchase and how each group helps with that. Note that none of these groups insist that they “own” the buyer. They coordinate the role of each group, and each is accountable for its part in delivering growth.

A similar collaborative model can be developed around the customer experience. Each of the functions plays an important part, and interlock is in place to ensure collaboration. Rather than owning the customer, the focus is alignment around the customer, just as we do for the buyer. A central function for customer experience definition provides insights and a roadmap, and a cross-functional team collectively defines the path to deliver on the strategy. The goals are customer engagement, retention and advocacy, and each group measures its contribution to these goals. Which all lead to growth in the end, and that’s something we already know how to support. This approach is a practical model for delivering customer experience that is coordinated and truly customer-centric.