Building B2B trust can enable businesses sustainable growth, customer-centricity, and employee satisfaction. Learn about a model that can help companies integrate cross-team collaboration and break silos effectively.

In my many years as a practitioner and consultant in the field of Customer Management, I’ve often wondered why a business treats its Voice of Customer (VoC) and Voice of Employee (VoE) studies as completely different and dissociated practices.

The links between customer and employee satisfaction are very well established, and yet the programmes to understand and manage these are all too often divorced within the organisation.

Typically, the Market Research or Customer Experience (CX) Department will manage VoC, and the HR Department will run VoE programmes. Each will have specific research objectives, methodologies, and key questions. Both may be outsourced to different agencies, or one outsourced and one conducted in-house. Such studies tend to be repeated, so both have rich historical data. Rarely they will be aligned, coordinated, or even correlated.

The three signals of non-customer-centric organizations

  • The leadership doesn’t see or is unconvinced about, the causal relationship between employee engagement and customer experience. This often leads to misalignments between employee performance management and customer satisfaction. Moreover, leaders keep their eyes closed to high employee turnover in key customer-facing roles (contact centre staff, account managers, etc.). It is substantial that leaders foster a culture of mutual value and respect throughout the whole value chain. This approach brings together suppliers, staff, outsourced capabilities, partners, intermediaries, distributors, customers, and (in B2B) customers’ customers.
  • It is not rare that businesses operate in silos without mechanisms to enable cross-team collaborations. This causes isolated silo-specific objective measurement. Why would someone help achieve somebody else’s aims when they’re struggling enough to meet their own?
  • Effective methodologies such as Agile and Design Thinking help identify employee and customer needs, but they are often limited to a specific digital product or service. To achieve the overall customer experience perspective, they have to be scaled up on every organizational level.

The issues above point to an organisation that is fundamentally not customer-centric (despite what its vision statement says!). My much-missed late colleague Doug Leather (1961-2016) defined customer-centricity in his book “The Customer Centric Blueprint” as follows:

“The eco-system and operating model that enables an organisation to design and deliver a unique and distinctive customer experience.” 

I would argue that everything stated above applies to all business models – B2C, B2B, intermediated, voluntary/charitable, and public sectors (and combinations thereof).

Rather than trying to cover all the distinctions and intricacies of these models in one article, let’s focus on business-to-business (B2B), where building and protecting trust within relationships is vitally important.

The Importance of VoC and VoE for B2B Relationships

My colleague Dr Mark Hollyoake has recently completed his seminal work on B2B trust, which established how trust works on a multi-level context on both sides of B2B relationships.

The research shows that the triggers and critical incidents for deepening or damaging trust are not the same (or have equal importance) across both sides of the relationship and within different levels of seniority and engagement. It has resulted in a ground-breaking redefinition of B2B trust:

“The willingness to be vulnerable to another party and the decision to engage in
actions based upon an interpretation of their ability, credibility and the
expectations of mutual value exchange over time.”

Hollyoake, M. (2020)

One of the strengths of this definition is that it clearly works both ways. Each side is entrusting an element of the success of their business to the other.

B2B Trust Relationship Building

Trust development requires an organisation-wide approach, and Mark’s work has resulted in the Trust DNA™ model (illustrated), which enables the proactive and systemic nurturing (and rebuilding if required!) of trust within B2B relationships. You can see a detailed unpacking of this model by clicking here.

This model also powers the B2B Trust Evaluator, which is more than ‘just another survey! It is directly built upon the academic research, which confirms that a “one questionnaire fits all” approach can only skim the surface of B2B trust. Mark’s analysis developed an indexed catalogue of incidents, behaviours and attitudes that either build or impair trust. This new approach draws down the right questions to ask the different stakeholders that have been proven to matter to them. 

The key benefits of B2B trust building

Having trust embedded into your corporate purpose, culture, operating system and ways of working will deliver improved customer acquisition, retention and depth of relationship. This enables your company to shift from “selling stuff” to be trusted advisers and making yourself invaluable for the success of your clients. Whilst the definitions and elements will differ for other business models, I believe that the fundamental principles illustrated for B2B can be applied elsewhere if there is a genuine will to optimise both the employee and customer experience for long-term sustainable business value.

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