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Building Broad Buy-In About the Customer Experience in B2B

Developing a strong customer-centric culture is just as critical for B2B businesses as it is for B2C businesses, but the complexity is greater — a lot greater. When B2B businesses talk about customers, it often feels like each part of the organization is speaking a different language.
In B2B, a single customer may purchase products and services from multiple lines of business. A single customer may also include a dozen or more stakeholders, each of whom interact differently with the B2B company – different departments, different people. With such a complicated web of relationships between a B2B company and its customers, it’s hard to form a definitive perspective on which issues matter most to the customer.
And that’s just the intricacies of one account. Multiply the complexity across all customers and all business units and the web of relationships becomes so undecipherable that individual teams within B2B companies become myopic. They can no longer see the customer from any other viewpoint than their own. With each individual team tied to its own perspective, the company loses a cohesive understanding of the customer.
Biotechnology product company Thermo Fisher Scientific might seem like a prime candidate for such problems. The company, with more than 50,000 employees across 50 countries, provides everything from laboratory equipment to gene sequencing to scientific consulting. What’s more, in the past nine years, Thermo Fisher has acquired more than 60 companies — each one bringing a fresh group of customers and a team with its own way of talking about those customers.
Yet Thermo Fisher tells a different story. Across the entire company, people are speaking the same language about customers, working collaboratively on pressing problems — and succeeding as a result. Thermo Fisher has grown its Net Promoter Score (NPS) every year of the past decade, even as it has significantly cut costs.
At Experience 2016, Medallia’s annual customer experience conference, leaders from Thermo Fisher shared their strategies for building unity and momentum.
Weaving customer experience work into existing initiatives
In 2009, Thermo Fisher aggregated all of its customer feedback into a single system, which is no small feat given the diversity of Thermo Fisher’s enterprises. This provided all employees with access to the data and in essence, created a single source of truth about the customer.
But the company understood that a unified view of the customer was not enough if the system simply gathered dust. To ensure employees acted on the data, Thermo Fisher wove customer feedback into work employees were already doing. The company revised a pre-existing, company-wide methodology for problem solving and process innovation called Practical Process Improvement, (PPI) to require the use of customer feedback.
This subtle but powerful decision embedded customer feedback into the problem solving machinery of the company, a change that transformed customer satisfaction from an isolated metric that was adopted irregularly to a core metric used daily.
And the company is using the data. For example, the business unit at Thermo Fisher that sells chromatography and mass spectrometry equipment and software discovered a persistent problem in that customers wanted more communication around the delivery status of their products. The customer experience team challenged all relevant factories and fulfillment centers to design and test ways of improving communication. The team evaluated each experiment using customer feedback and implemented the most successful ideas. As a result, satisfaction with the business unit’s shipping process increased 10 points and the “organizational distress” caused by shipping mistakes dropped, driving down costs and employee stress.
In another example, Thermo Fisher ran a training program to help field engineers communicate more clearly with customers. Taking hundreds of engineers offline for a day and a half of training was expensive and required executive approval. Was it worth it? Customer feedback helped figure that out.
The customer experience team piloted the training and evaluated the customer experience performance of engineers who had participated. When feedback showed that the pilot was successful, the customer experience team shared the findings with relevant executives, requested to conduct the training for a larger group, and repeated the process. Today, Thermo Fisher has trained thousands of engineers and increased the engineering team’s Customer Allegiance Score, Thermo Fisher’s term for NPS, by seven points.
Rather than treating customer experience as a standalone initiative, Thermo Fisher has woven it into the company’s critical activities and has given employees across the organization a compelling reason to collaborate on what customers want. And it’s created an engine for systemic, systematic improvement.
Perhaps the best sign of Thermo Fisher’s cohesion and action on customer experience is an email that Thermo Fisher CEO Marc Casper sent to the company after a recent quarterly earnings call. The first metric he mentioned was the company’s NPS score.
Photo Credit: Sandro Katalina

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