Expert Insights

Are you really listening to your customers?

Over the past decade the likes of Amazon and Apple have transformed the way we buy and use products. The key to their success has been a complete focus on the needs and experiences of their customers. So could B2B organisations learn from their B2C cousins and do more for their customers? Peter Fisher, an expert in customer focus, believes so.

Peter says that in general B2B has lagged behind B2C when it comes to putting the customer first. One of the reasons for this is because of the fast-paced nature and intensity of the need to compete for consumers and build brand loyalty. B2B businesses tend to be built rather differently, relying on relationships that are more personal; more one to one between an account manager and his client.

“As a result, a lot of B2B businesses are still focusing on processes that make it easy for them rather than their customers,” he says. “While some B2B companies have made changes, some are only just waking up to the fact that they need to think more about their customers.

“Of course it can be a bigger challenge for B2B; there may be a number of different channels and organisations through which they have to market themselves. For example, if it’s an Infrastructure Maintenance company, they may have to go through various bodies, including framework agreements, asset investors, asset managers and group procurement, to get to the end customer.”

Desire for change from the top

So what can companies do? Peter says the key to becoming more customer focused is a desire for change, and that has to come from the board.

“When I’m brought in on projects like this, the first thing I do is speak to customers and do a gap analysis. What do your customers expect from you and how does that match up to reality?

“The solution almost always comes down to three things: processes, tools and people. So, it could be that the processes you have in place are not really geared with the customer in mind. Then, there are the tools – the way you communicate with your customers, such as website or online portal. Are they easy to use and do they provide the functionality your customers expect? Finally, the people: when a customer has a problem, do your people own it?

When I’m brought in on projects like this, the first thing I do is speak to customers and do a gap analysis. What do your customers expect from you and how does that match up to reality?

Embracing new technology

“Improving processes is about training and changing the way you work cross-functionally. For tools, it’s about technology that’s easy to use and helps your customers. Remember, your customers are also B2C customers themselves; they’re used to the Amazons of the world whose websites and apps work so well. They look at their suppliers’ tools and wonder why the interface is so poor and not user friendly.

“I think sometimes businesses are wary of spending the money, but you can actually cut costs by introducing apps and other self-serve technology. For example, technology can reduce the need for your people to spend so much time on the phone to customers.”

People and culture are also very important. That’s where strong sponsorship comes in. “Employees will only change if they want to and if they see management walking the talk. As well as speaking to customers, I also speak to staff – frontline people in particular know why customers are unhappy and what blockages are preventing them giving customers what they want.

A change champion

Peter says that a change programme typically takes a year but with some quick wins you can notice a difference straight away. Alongside a keen, board-level sponsor, you also need a champion within the business to drive it through. Sometimes this is an outside expert like Peter, other times the resource can be found within the business.

“The MD or CEO has to be personally committed and know that this is the way forward for the business,” he adds. “Although it can be difficult to prove the value of a change programme like this at the start, the benefits will become clear in terms of customer retention, staff retention, improved efficiencies, customer satisfaction and, ultimately, a healthier business.”


  • B2B companies can learn from B2C when it comes to customer focus.
  • Change programmes need to be sponsored at board level.
  • Embracing new technology can save you money and give you a competitive edge.
  • Don’t get left behind, your competitors will already be doing something about this.

Peter Fisher

Peter Fisher is an experienced transformational change practitioner having previously managed a number of businesses. He’s worked across a wide range of leading, finance, utilities and business services brands. For almost a decade he’s worked as an interim manager helping both B2B & B2C brands put the customer at the heart of their organisations.

Williams Bain

Williams Bain is an exclusive hybrid interim and change management provider. We’re trusted by some of the UK’s largest organisations to support the implementation of complex strategies that accelerate results and lead to definitive, positive and measurable change.