User Experience in B2B: How to Measure Up to the Best of B2C

In the “good old days,” user experience for companies that did business with other companies was an alien concept. Everyone just assumed their trading partners, suppliers, retailers, etc. were as fluent with the line commands of EDI as the other. The need for some “intuitive” interface was something only business-to-consumer companies had to worry about.

Then Apple introduced its iPhone and upended everything. Suddenly, every company, from industrial firms selling construction equipment to consulting firms selling advice, began to be held to the same standards of “user experience” as a Nike or Starbucks.

It’s all well and good to advise “stepping into your customers’ shoes” to envision what the most effect user experience is, but that’s just the first step (pun intended!). Here’s a brief framework to help B2B firms think about this new, higher bar.

Follow the Value Chain

In B2B, the user experience needs to be considered from a value chain perspective. As the end product or service moves from the supplier to the consumer, at every stage there are different users in touch with it. Whether it is a plant engineer, sales head or service technician, every user has a different understanding and expectation of UX. For example, engineering and the business team will have their own set of questions:

“Engineering”

  • Do we anticipate any tech or engineering challenges?
  • Will there be interoperability issues?
  • Will UX support manufacturability?
  • Should UX provision for serviceability?

“Business”

  • What will differentiate the product or service?
  • What would be its form and feel factor?
  • Why would someone use it repeatedly?

The responses can be seen as a “user experience continuum” where at one end of the continuum you have the most noticeable intuitive components such as the visual interface or physical design, and at the other end you have design components that are least evident such as the functional elements of the product or the architecture that hosts the product or service.

The key to UX is to recognize the functional aspect of the product or service while keeping the usability intuitive. This suggests a human-centered design approach that correlates how the user feels about and engages with the product or service.  Here are some examples of how can this be realized in various B2B scenarios.

UX Building Blocks

In each scenario below, whether you are a warehouse manager or run R&D, you can create an enhanced user experience by considering this simple formula:

Superior UX = functional and intuitive component + ‘user experience stickiness’ constructs

User Functional componentIntuitive component
Warehouse ManagersWearables for warehouse activitiesAutomate picking and storing activities by providing storage location and product information
  • Predict and offer forklift, special handling, or packaging-equipment recommendations depending on the workload, shift time, or importance of the delivery.
R&D

Sales

Service

B2B Customer

New product-launch feedbackEmbedded sensors to provide information on usage, performance, and failure
  • Leverage traceability and production batch identification; profile and predict upstream suppliers at risk
  • Predict warranty claims
  • Proactively offer service and OEM part replacements
Plant Maintenance ManagerSmart MaintenanceDigital maintenance worksheet on smart devices and wearables
  • Overlaying production schedule and predictive wear-and-tear data on an augmented-reality view
  • Recommendation on intelligent maintenance power tools

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“Golden Journeys” is an approach to identifying users who will buy products in the B2C online world. This critical insight, combined with Big Data and predictive analytics, enables an e-retailer to deliver a lasting UX. In the B2B world, such user journeys, combined with smart/connected products, will deliver superior UX. Today, technologically mature B2B industries such as aeronautical, industrial and automotive have already begun delivering customized experiences to their internal and external customers.  It is only a matter of time until the human-centered design approach is adopted by most of the B2B fraternity.

What do you think? How do you create better user experiences? Let me know.

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