Each year the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) Report measures customer satisfaction in a number of industry segments, one of which is internet retail. As you might expect, Amazon has been ranked number one for six years in a row, and they have either topped the list or tied for first place for 14 of the last 16 years (when ASCI first started tracking internet retail as a vertical). Add to this the fact that 69% of people in the United States (72% in Germany, 68% in the United Kingdom, 67% in Italy) shop on Amazon, and you have found an effective benchmark for online purchasing customer satisfaction.
Like it or not, there is a natural tendency for B2B buyers to base their expectations of eProcurement and demand/inventory management on their B2C experiences. After all, if a product is easy to find, order, and receive quickly and cost effectively on an individual basis, the same – or more – should be possible when a predefined range of products and services are made available through strategic corporate purchasing.
Although it may seem extremely challenging (and not a little unfair) to expect an order of replacement parts, office supplies, or fleet decals to lead to the same level of satisfaction as buying a new book by your favorite author, a flag in support of the local sports team, or a killer pair of the season’s hottest boots, B2B procurement must address the high bar for customer satisfaction set by companies such as Amazon.
In order to learn from the customer satisfaction generated during the B2C buying process, we should closely examine some of the influencing factors to determine which are transferable to B2B – and then incorporate them as possible.
The top ranked factors affecting customer satisfaction within the internet retail industry are all closely tied to the technology used to facilitate those purchases. Customers – whether in a personal or professional context – want technology to be easy to use and intuitively accomplish the task at hand. Technology must make it convenient for buyers to learn about and find products, not to mention have helpful images and product descriptions. Unlike eProcurement solutions that have been able to count on corporate mandates and lack of available alternatives to drive usage, B2C websites have to entice their customers to make purchases. The fact that they have perfected this approach often makes their B2B counterparts seem behind the times and lacking in terms of the level of engagement they provide. As a result, any evaluation of eProcurement technology should weight user interface/experience as highly as functionality and security.
In addition to looking at the role of technology in each segment, any comparison of B2B and B2C purchasing must also consider their ‘philosophical’ differences and the impact this has on customer satisfaction. B2C purchasing sites naturally encourage customers to spend as much as possible because this grows the company’s top line. Corporate procurement, on the other hand, has to make products and services accessible while also addressing demand management and compliance in order to protect the bottom line. At times, this requires procurement to be in a position of simultaneously facilitating and discouraging demand. The key to addressing this seeming conflict while also emphasizing customer satisfaction is communication: making sure all terminology is positive and rewarding rather than corrective or punitive. Purchases that are either delayed or redirected should be positioned as opportunities to increase efficiency or strategically allocate budgeted funds rather than making the buyer feel scolded.
Staying on the topic of issue resolution: in both B2B and B2C purchasing, problems will arise. How they are resolved creates as much of an opportunity to increase loyalty as a completely positive experience does. Amazon’s customer service is highly automated – to keep costs down, as many problems as possible are managed through forms and emailed interactions. Only a select few issues rise to the level of human customer support. B2B issue resolution should strive to do the same. In the cases when a buyer comes to procurement looking for support or assistance, that person must be prepared to rise to the occasion. The issue should not be perceived as a distraction from procurement’s main focus – it must be handled as if that is their reason for existing. The satisfaction that results will pay dividends far into the future.
It is easy to use the expression ‘customer satisfaction’ loosely, but for procurement and supply chain organizations to be successful, they must build programs with the same level of focus and purpose as B2C retailers that know they are fighting for every sale against a whole range of viable alternatives. In fact, as supply chain expert John Manners-Bell, CEO of Transport intelligence explained, Amazon’s greatest risks are those that threaten the reputation for exceptional service that they have built. They see the connection between customer satisfaction and a robust top line and will go to great lengths to remedy potential threats. By employing the right technology, positioning, and issue resolution strategies, there is no reason procurement can’t achieve the same level of customer satisfaction as Amazon and other popular consumer sites.
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