Organisations are not always fully in control of all of their customer’s experiences. Whether it’s logistics partners supporting a retailer’s delivery experience, insurance companies relying on sales via brokers, or consumer-facing brands relying on retail partners to sell their products, an organisation’s end-to-end customer experience (CX) often relies on external business partners.
Across industries, brands rely on partners to support elements of their customers’ experiences across the customer lifecycle. These partners are responsible for presenting the brand’s image to consumers but are not accountable to a brand’s business the same way its own employees are. While such partnerships are needed to execute and support customer interactions, they also create challenges for brands as:
- Customers don’t differentiate between partner experiences and brand experiences. Organisations must align with and support their partners; otherwise, they risk facing disappointed customers who don’t know or care where shortcomings technically lie. The quality of a customer’s experience at a branded franchise or dealership will be associated with the brand rather than the independent dealer or franchise partner.
- Brands lack a direct or full view of their customer experience (CX). Partners may benefit brands by selling their products or supporting customer services, but working with them means that brands are one step removed from direct consumer interactions — and insights. Being a step removed from the customer makes it difficult to measure or even observe the experience. So B2B2C firms struggle to learn directly from the end customer, especially when nervous partners act as gatekeepers, intentionally keeping their customers hidden from the brand. Too often, B2B2C brands operate blind to the experiences in which partners deliver their products or services to end customers. As a result, these companies have a fragmented view of their end customers’ experiences and have difficulty assessing how their relationships with partners influence those customers.
Brands and partners must collaborate to deliver a coherent end-to-end journey and seamless experience. They must align on the brand’s promise and agree to collaborate to uphold that brand promise across the end-to-end customer experience they share.
Too often, brands and their partners have an adversarial relationship, engaging in a tug-of-war for control over the customer. Worse, partnership dynamics can focus on business-related targets and objective without appropriate consideration for the resulting impact on CX. In other words, they focus on the B2B2C at the expense of the B2B2C. Instead, companies should reimagine successful partner relationships that will put the customer first. To do this, brands should:
- Make partner experience as important as the employee experience (EX). Partner experience must be supported and improved, just as organisations do for their own EX (which ultimately benefits CX). Partners such as independent agents, retailers, and technicians can often sell or recommend whichever product they prefer. Brands must focus on creating a good experience for those partners, making their jobs easier by giving them the tools and support they need to sell and to serve customers. By doing this, they can make partners more likely to do more business with and for their brand.
- Sharing customer insights, and even loyalty, for mutual benefit. Brands and partners have the opportunity to work together for mutual benefit. Partnerships between Ulta and Target as well as Kohls and Sephora are not only extending sales reach but also connecting customer loyalty programs. Increasingly, enlightened brand and retailer partners are sharing customer insights to inform joint business decisions as they partner to enable a shared CX. Examples include using collaboration gateways and sharing a comprehensive view of performance and customer insight as they work together to improve sales and CX.
- Established a shared commitment to and accountability for CX. Brands must ensure that their partners are able to successfully implement established brand standards and mutually agreed service level agreements (SLAs). To do this, brands can align funding, investment, and even the partnership itself on CX performance — for example, by associating franchise or dealership investment tied to CX performance metrics with the partner customer journeys.