Q&A with Jesper Thomsen, VP Sales & Customer Service, Maersk Line on B2B Customer Experience

Peter O'Neill here. I hope that most of you would agree that mastering customer experience is just as valuable for B2B firms as it is in B2C. And yet, there isn’t much information around on B2B customer experience, let alone case studies providing practical advice on how to get B2B customer experience right.  Well, at Forrester’s upcoming EMEA Forum dedicated to Customer Experience (London, November 6-7), I am hosting a “virtual track” of four sessions that debunks myths about customer experience for B2B companies. In one of the presentations, Jesper Thomsen, VP Sales & Customer Experience, Maersk Line, one of the largest shipping companies in the world, will discuss how his company improved its Net Promoter score from -10 to +30 over 30 months – an improvement program that involved staff throughout the enterprise. I recently caught up with Jesper in preparation for his session – for a sneak peak on how Maersk mastered B2B customer experience, check out our conversation below. I hope to see you in London where Jesper will share the full story!

PON: What have been some of the key components to the Maersk Line Customer Experience Program improvement program?

JT: We have focused on changing the mindset of the organization as, at the end of the day, the customer experience is improved when it is integrated into your existing processes and not so much when it is running as a stand-alone project. With this in mind the key components have been the Customer Experience definition, the governance structure and the solution packs.  To start with the definition, our defined Customer Experience is that we want our customers to feel trust, cared for and pleased whenever they are dealing with Maersk Line. This has been the focus in the solution packs, which are essentially small solutions that have been tried out in some countries and proven to work. This could be anything from how the phone system is set up, how work hours are structured between teams in different departments, how we write in mails, to new tools such as “customer mirrors”. The local organizations select whichever they think is most suited to their situation and has the greatest impact. From a central perspective the key has been that the solutions drive a change in mindset, and this is the same with the governance structure we have put in place, with Customer Experience Councils at multiple levels of the organization. The aim of these is to have a place where customers – and only customers – are the topic of the conversations.

PON: What are some of the specific challenges you faced as you rolled out the program internationally?

JT: Although everyone claims to be different we have found more similarities between countries than differences. The small solutions that we initially rolled out turned out to work quite effectively wherever they were applied, and there was no pattern that countries of type A picked this solution or type B picked that solution. There are differences between Northern Europe and Latin America, in terms of how people celebrate, show emotions etc. but nothing that changed the solutions fundamentally. Only how the artefacts supporting them were structured. However, where we have observed a great difference was between how quickly the concepts were picked up in the front line compared to Head Quarter or Regional functions. The closer to the front line, the more intuitively they bought into the thesis that the customer experience has an impact on loyalty, buying decision etc. The feedback loops are simply so much faster in the front line: you implement something and the customers notice (almost) immediately. In the head quarter you are waiting for reports and data that just takes time. The only way to overcome that is to have head quarter colleagues visit the front line, but you obviously can’t have everyone travelling all of the time either.

PON: To what extent do you believe the impressive jump in your Net Promoter score is down to the CX program, and has this achieved an improved perception of the Maersk brand? And does this matter?

JT: The improvement is not just the Customer Experience program that has had an effect. However, we did a comparative study between the countries that had gone through the training package and countries that had not. Both groups of countries improved their NPS, but the countries that had done the Customer Experience training improved at twice the rate of the others. However, that being said we are not so concerned about being able to isolate the effect of the Customer Experience program as the cost of it is relatively insignificant – and at the end of the day it is about integrating the mindset into all decisions and processes.

PON: What is the main piece of advice you would give to your peers in B2B as they set out to implement similar customer experience programs?

JT: The key has been top management buy-in and involvement in the process from day 1. This is obviously true for most projects, but even more so when you are trying to change the mindset and culture of the organisation. Letting top management define the customer experience has made them take these considerations into other initiatives that have been running and as such the journey has become easier. The other part is to keep it simple (and cheap). For us it hasn’t been about redesigning everything we do, but rather to accept a gradual change of our mindset and processes. This can frustrate the central team running the program, but when we take a step back, we can see how other projects have started to involve customers much earlier in the process and take the effect on the customer experience into consideration. Not all, but more and more. If you build it big and expensive you need to demonstrate concrete results very quickly and this puts a pressure on the system that becomes unproductive in this case.

PON: Finally, what would you say to people who argue that customer experience is a discipline less valuable to business-to-business (B2B) companies than to business-to-consumer (B2C) firms?  

JT: At the end of the day, Customer Experience is about improving your business and your ability to convert opportunities into sales. This is no different in B2C from B2B. The purchasing process is likely more complicated in the B2B environment, and with procurement specialists trying to make as objective decisions as possible, it is difficult to quantify the benefits of a good experience.  However, a recent study we've done, shows that a stable service and personal relationships creating trust is very important to our customers, not only rates. So understanding their business, challenges and needs is fundamental for us to deliver a good customer experience. By focusing on the customer experience, we have seen improvements in primarily customer life time and customer share of wallet, but we are yet to see significant premiums over our competitors and this will be our focus going forward – as we obviously feel we deserve that :o).

By the way, if you’re in the US and interested to learn more about B2B customer experience, join our Customer Experience Maturity In A B2B World Panel at the Customer Experience Forumin Los Angeles (November 14-15).