I was lucky enough to be at an IDM ‘Greatest minds’ event at TFMA last month. The keynote was from Dr Nicola Millard a Futurologist at BT – yep the irony didn’t escape me either.

Anyway, the ironic irony of the moment was that it got my ‘not so great’ mind thinking about the real challenge of what drives loyalty in B2B and what role does social media play.

According to vast amounts of research by BT around the evolving habits of the ‘autonomous’ customer it would appear that the most significant driver of loyalty is simply being ‘easy to do business with’. Forget brand pull, price or even great sales people – easiness wins.

We probably don’t need a crystal ball to tell us that, but it’s defiantly a timely reminder in the über complex world we have created for ourselves and our customers that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – I think it was that Da Vinci chap who said that.

So the big question you need to be asking is: “How easy are you to do business with?”

This is clearly a huge subject matter; but before we skim over this point there are two trends we need to be mindful of.

The first one is the trend towards an always on, multi-channel approach to serving the needs of B2B customers. The truth is, trying to manage a consistent experience across these channels and touch points is a real pain in the ass. Could using few channels more effectively actually increase loyalty and revenue?

Secondly, as B2B buyers we are pretty sophisticated in the way we skim and scrape the web for information about products and services. This means when a customer contacts you about an issue or a problem it’s often a very real and complex one that needs routing to a specialist not a generalist. There is nothing more painful than being passed around a call centre and having to repeat your problem a hundred times.

So what’s the answer?

Well firstly, depending on your go-to-market model i.e. online, direct, indirect you need to be using social listening tools to get a general vibe for the type of issues, problems and appreciation that customers are showing to your sector, your competitors and your own company. It still amazes me how few B2B brands are using social listening tools to ‘pulse test’ their market; especially since the cost/value ratio is such a positive one. Once you’ve assessed this conversational data you can make plans to do something useful. Check out tools like BrandWatch, UberVu and SproutSocial.

Next, what are you doing to respond to these issues and opportunities?

Your customers are either prepared to waste half their day going through your call centre to solve a complex issue or in anticipation of your inability to solve their problems they are taking to Twitter or forums to vent their frustrations. Either way, those companies that make this process frictionless and easy will be the ones who get the positive social mentions. @BTcare does a great job of managing BT complaints.

Finally, one interesting business metric that might be inspired by this topic is the creation of a so-called Net Easiness Score (NES). Effectively this means isolating the key variables that indicate whether you are hard or easy to do business with, relative to your market and then measuring them on a bi-annual basis. Once you have created a baseline NES score you can then implement ideas to improve it and track it to loyalty and revenue.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It’s anything but.

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