Episode 76 May 11, 2023

A Passionate Debate Between Two CX Experts

Price changes and churn threats occur throughout the customer journey. How your organization handles them determines how your customers will react: either positively or negatively. Do they stick with you and buy now? Or go elsewhere without a word? It’s up to you.

This friendly debate between two passionate CX experts – Zilliant Sr. Director of Alliances, North America Karl Helfner and industry expert Frank Borovsky – is a must-listen for commercial leaders looking to enhance the customer experience. Hear how pricing and sales leaders can team with their CX counterparts to improve customer attitudes and behavior with real-time pricing optimization and revenue operations and intelligence.

Read Frank’s CX-focused blog series on Zilliant’s site: Critical Calculations for Customer Experience in 2023

Featuring
Frank Borovsky

Frank Borovsky

Karl Helfner

Karl Helfner

Everyone should feel important. There's no question about that. But I truly believe that some customers are more important than others, and as a result, they should be treated differently than those who do not have as high a customer lifetime value. So the experience for a platinum customer who is spending a million dollars with you should be different than it is for a gold or a silver or a bronze that are below that million dollar threshold.
- Frank Borovsky

Episode Transcript

Barrett Thompson: The image that jumped to my mind is your dentist, when they take an x-ray, they put that lead apron on you. Right? Why? Because the x-ray exposure is cumulative. And what I heard in your story there is if you're giving a sour customer experience, certainly related to price, that bad experience, if you're not careful, it becomes cumulative.

Is that a fair characterization?

Karl Helfner: Well, absolutely. I mean, think about your own personal lives and regardless of the interaction, how often do you remember a good interaction that you have from a customer experience perspective? Now, when you have it, you tend to latch onto it. But I guarantee you, you will remember more of your bad interactions and they will stick with you longer than any good ones you have.

Barrett Thompson: Hello everyone. My name is Barrett Thompson. I'm the General Manager of Commercial Excellence at Zilliant, and I'll be your host for our podcast. I'm joined today by two dynamic guests. My first guest is Frank Borovsky, the former vice president of industry sales, manufacturing, at Salesforce.

Frank, welcome to the podcast.

Frank Borovsky: Thank you, Barrett. Great to be here.

Barrett Thompson: Also with us today is Karl Helfner, the Senior Director of Alliances for North America at Zilliant. Karl, it's a pleasure to have you on B2B Reimagined.

Karl Helfner: Pleasure to be here, Barrett.

Barrett Thompson: So both of you are industry veterans, and I know you've spent many years helping customers in B2B at various organizations.

I wonder, did you guys ever cross paths before your current roles?

Frank Borovsky: Thank God, no. [00:02:00] So actually we met at the Zilliant conference last year. And we had some very exciting conversations with a group that started to grow and grow around us. And so we kept in touch since.

Barrett Thompson: You mean a crowd gathered to watch the spat? Is that what you're saying? Well, Frank and Karl, I want to maybe capture some of that lightning in the bottle today. So thank you both for being here. And the topic that I would love to explore with you is really around exceptional customer experience and that has so many dimensions to it.

I just want to ask Frank, maybe if you will start. Would you sort of even set the landscape for us? What is the breadth of customer experience? Kind of what universe are we in when we're speaking about that? And then let's see if we can explore that in some very specific ways that our audience can think about applying in their own B2B.

Frank Borovsky: Sure. So I'm glad you keep on emphasizing [00:03:00] B2B because Karl, love him. He tends to come from a B2C type of approach, right. My entire life has been devoted to the B2B world, right? So we're usually talking about the channel, right? We're talking about distributors. We're talking about dealers. We're talking about contractors, right?

That's the world that I've lived in for roughly the last 20 years. And so I look at it in the same lens, but just with a different group of individuals. So it's all about the journey, the customer journey from the moment that they're thinking about a product, right? They're just thinking about something that they need to accomplish, a particular product, solution, et cetera.

Yes. From that very moment, from inception all the way through purchase post-purchase, repurchase, et cetera, and the number one [00:04:00] consideration. For customer experiences, how are you creating value in extending and growing the customer lifetime value for that particular prospect or customer? That's your job in customer experience.

How you do that is, you know, there are a million great ways to do that, but that's your job in customer experience is improving that customer lifetime value.

Barrett Thompson: All right. That sounds great. Karl, any expansions on that theme?

Karl Helfner: Yeah, absolutely. So I agree with Frank that yes, I do take or at least I look at it from a B2C perspective generally speaking, however, what I really try to focus on is the one constant thread, which is the human.

So that buyer, regardless of whether it's B2C or B2B, The buyer themselves and how humans work it with regards to the brand and the experience that you're providing them [00:05:00] throughout that interaction, whether it's buying, whether it's support, whether it's after sale support, whether it's expansion, you name it.

That interaction from a human perspective is, at least in my view, the most vital, and there's lots of ways to interact with that human to make them happy. Or to make them not happy.

Frank Borovsky: Okay. So this may be the only time that we agree, but I absolutely do agree. Most folks talk in terms of how organizations buy.

And that is true, right? There are a lot of decisions that are made in boardrooms in very large groups, but Karl's right, in the end, it comes down to human interaction. And in that, going back to the customer journey, right? You have to think about the human element from the very beginning, right?

How does a human being and who, which persona, which [00:06:00] individuals within that company are actually doing the investigation? Then within that who are the folks who are going to sift through? If there are five different potential suppliers in that particular space, who are the ones that are going to make that particular decision?

Then, you know, you've got down the final two. How are you gonna make the cut? Who's gonna make that particular decision? So there can be handoffs in this customer journey from one persona to the next far more complex in the B2B world than the typical B2C world where it may be around the family dining table, right?

But in the business world, there are going to be all these handoffs from one to the next. And they can be very complex.

Barrett Thompson: This makes sense to me and Frank, I wonder as you're describing and we're contrasting and comparing, you know, B2C and B2B experience, but acknowledging that buying always happens with a person in there, a human in there.[00:07:00]

Is it your sense that B2B buyers as people may be borrowing expectations from their B2C life and pulling that over into B2B and if so, what expectations do they bring with them?

Frank Borovsky: Well, that's a softball question. I appreciate it. But what I can absolutely say is there's no question right now if someone is doing particularly something online, the expectation is that they're getting the full experience as if they were a person who's buying, you know, a new pair of shoes.

And fortunately, the technology commits to occur so that B2B channel activities self-serve and what have you, are totally available. How that occurs needs to be slightly different. So that the mechanisms may not be quite as straightforward because there may be requirements for particular products to work together.[00:08:00]

Thus, the whole world of configure price, quote, CPQ, which is prevalent in the business world, where you have to actually configure your product the way that you want it to work. That can occur in the B2C world. And a good example there would be at Club Car where you're actually able to go to the Club Car website.

They're the largest manufacturer of golf carts and you can configure your own vehicle there. In B2B, that is much more prevalent.

Karl Helfner: To that end though, what I would say is that whoever is making the buying decision, especially in B2B, brings that B2C mindset of I need to feel important, right? So especially in a B2B sense, although you may not be directly interacting with a specific individual, it may be that you're interacting with their B2B commerce.

It may be that you're interacting with some other set of systems or tools, but they want to feel that you care about who they are, not only as [00:09:00] an organization, but as an individual, right? So that whatever you're providing them from a buying perspective is tailored towards who they are and their meaning and importance to you as an organization.

Frank Borovsky: I can't believe I'm agreeing with him again. No, wait a minute.

Barrett Thompson: That's twice in the same podcast.

Frank Borovsky: Exactly. Exactly. So here's the thing. When you go into, and I'll give you, give an example of an organization I, I recently worked with again at Honeywell, right? And we created a B2B portal for building technologies.

And immediately it recognized who you were as an individual and then it would identify you within the company that you were working with. And this is where I think maybe we depart a little bit. Yes, everyone should feel important. There's no question about that, but I truly believe that based upon the lifetime customer value [00:10:00] of the entity, the buying company.

That some customers are more important than others, and as a result, they should be treated differently than those who do not have as high a customer lifetime value. Of course, you're trying to move them on up. So the experience, for example, I call them the metallics, the experience for a platinum customer who is spending a million dollars with you.

Should be different than it is that for a gold or a silver or a bronze that are below that million dollar threshold, those experiences should be tailored so that your behaviors very similar to sky miles, right? That they lead you to want to aspire to be more and to increase customer lifetime value between the two of you.

Barrett Thompson: Could you give me three or four examples of very specific behaviors? Or [00:11:00] treatments that would be different for someone who's a platinum customer, right? The high value, high lifetime value customer, what might they expect to see different? Karl?

Karl Helfner: So for an example, let's just say you're dealing with, you know, from a buying perspective, I'm buying and I'm working with a sales rep, right?

That sales rep should be armed with all the information that is relevant to me, right? They should be armed with what my contract compliance is. What my current spend to date is, what products I've been buying, what products I haven't been buying, right? They should understand what white space is available on my account, right?

They should understand what cross sells, what upsells they should be armed, and with all the information that's going to make that interaction be more than just a call about a product. It should be a call about me. As an individual, but also me as who I am from a buying perspective and what my company's book of [00:12:00] business is with you or isn't.

Frank Borovsky: I agree with Karl yet again this is amazing. But it shouldn't just be the sales folks that have that. It should be the customer experience folks. It should be your field services folks. More importantly than anything else, it should be the customer. So when they sign in and they do business directly online, that is the first thing they should see.

Hey, you're a gold customer and you are entitled to these particular privileges and Barrett, I am gonna answer your question. And if you get to another 200,000, you will now get to platinum. And so that can be a whole host of both pricing and non pricing types of privileges, let's put it that way. So you may get either discounts or rebates based upon that particular level, but you might be able to also get white glove service and that could mean, hey, you can call a rep hotline that is [00:13:00] going to be picked up within 10 seconds. It could mean things like you get particular shelf space in a particular store. It could mean that you get marketing dollars co-op dollars, right?

To be able to spend as you see fit. It could be, oh, the other big thing is, availability. So yes. If you think about the days in particular, maybe a year ago where when the supply chain in particular was highly disruptive and you weren't able to get a widget right then what should you be doing?

Give your platinum customers first in line for that widget. And that is a very powerful incentive to keep you coming back to that particular entity, to rebuy, repurchase because you know you're going to get what you were promised.

Barrett Thompson: Karl, are there some specifics you're thinking of about the customer [00:14:00] experience that would Val vary according to the value or identity of the customer?

Karl Helfner: Yeah, absolutely, man. I think that my value must always be recognized regardless of the channel that I'm working in. Right. So whether I choose to pick up the phone, whether I choose to use the website, whether I choose to use email, right, who I am as customer, should be just as Frank said, should be prevalent throughout your organization.

It is. It is paramount that you know who your customer is. You should never be repeating yourself 15 times throughout an interaction, regardless of the channel that you're in, right? That's one of the big no-nos, right? That said, one of the things where I think I'd fall in line with Frank, but I also think I might deviate a little bit, is that he's right.

Right. So if you say, Hey, you're an important customer to me. I know that you want this widget and this widget is backward, and, or maybe I only have five in market and I won't have any more until, you know, six months from now. Right? Not only [00:15:00] do wanna offer that to those customers at the top of the list, but also understand that the price that goes with it can also be at a premium, right? And you know, it's okay to be able to say, Hey, you know, you're an important customer to me. I don't have very many of these, but I will make you sure that you're at the top of the list because of your level of importance to my organization.

However, here's the price, right? So pricing, generally speaking, although most people don't think of it from a CX perspective, It's very much a CX perspective because it can very much determine whether or not the B2B buyer is invested in the business that he or she has with you.

Barrett Thompson: Karl, let's continue on that theme for a minute.

If we can, and Karl and Frank both, talk to me about some of the pricing specific expectations that lead to great customer experience. What is the market looking for and seeking in a great pricing experience? Karl?

Karl Helfner: I think first and foremost is that your pricing is accurate. I [00:16:00] know from a buying perspective, the most annoying thing that you will find out is that you interact with an organization, you get a price, and then 24 hours, 48 hours later, when you're ready to make your buy, the price has changed, right?

That just creates nothing but conflict. And when you look at the human aspects of that interaction, that conflict stays with you. It's important to remember that. Humans, generally speaking, remember the bad interactions, that 80% more than they remember the good ones, right? That type of interaction where you're changing pricing or you're bumping up pricing after the fact, right?

Because of a long, drawn out, you know, pricing cycle or quoting cycle, right? That can damage your credibility, your trust level, right? And your relationship with an organization.

Barrett Thompson: Karl, the image that jumped to my mind is your dentist, when they take an x-ray, they put that lead apron on you. Right? Why?

Because the [00:17:00] x-ray exposure is cumulative. And what I heard in your story there is if you're giving a sour customer experience, certainly related to price, perhaps related to other non-price factors as well. Sure. That bad experience, if you're not careful, it becomes cumulative. Is that a fair characterization?

Karl Helfner: Well, Absolutely. I mean, think about your own personal lives and regardless of the interaction, how often do you remember a good interaction that you have from a customer experience perspective? Now, when you have it, you tend to latch onto it. But I guarantee you, you will remember more of your bad interactions and they will stick with you longer than any good ones that you have.

Barrett Thompson: Yeah. Yeah. You'll be telling that story five years from now, right? At the dinner table with somebody else. So how I got a worst, do you think you had something bad happen? Let me tell you the bad thing that happened to me. Talk to me also about the customer expectation in this digital world, in this highly interactive world.

Speed. I hear the notion of speed all the time, right? People want, they want to be [00:18:00] faster. They want to be more empowered and in charge of the transaction of the relationship. Frank, what's your point of view? What are you seeing there? What are you hearing from customers and how do you recommend our audience think about those dimensions and their customer experience?

Frank Borovsky: Well, that's actually a very good transition. Accuracy is a requirement. The issue is, accuracy at what point in time when the world was, I'm gonna change my prices once a year. You know, anyone? Remember those days? It actually occurs in some businesses. I don't know how, I don't know how they're able to maintain their margins, but at any rate, you know, at one point it was, here's my pricing sheet.

What a pricing sheet that it's printed and you look at it and you expect that to hold for, you know, a year or longer, those days are gone. Yeah. You mentioned expectations [00:19:00] that the expectations now, and particularly given the dynamics with, again, the supply chain, inflation, recession, whatever, you know, you wanna call all these things that have occurred.

Is you have to have dynamic pricing. And they may be based upon conditions that are macro environmental. They may be based upon availability, they may be based upon market demand, all those sorts of things. So I think the expectations similar to the higher expectations you have about what interacting online, you actually, you also have to have a change expectation about what pricing will be.

So dynamic pricing is, I think, becoming more the norm and how long that pricing stays in place for the decision makers is becoming more and more finite. Right? It's a little bit like purchase. I'm gonna go back to purchasing [00:20:00] a seat on an airplane. Right. I can go to multiple different websites and get different pricing based upon what I'm asking for, and it's going to change minute to minute, right?

The same expectations are really happening across the board because of the change in dynamics overall, and I think that is evolving in the B2B world where before they may have had a particular price in mind. If it's contractual, great. Fantastic. Right? Again, you've set those tiers, right? And what's also important is that the companies keep their customers accountable for those contracts, right?

What you see is if you're only looking at that on, let's say a monthly or quarterly basis, how are you really keeping your customer accountable for what they said they would do? If you have it real time, and this is where it's really important. If you're showing at this moment, this is what [00:21:00] your contract says you will do, here's where you are against that.

That is very powerful in creating the behaviors of additional sales and increasing customer lifetime value.

Karl Helfner: To add on to that, I think it's important to remember that you know, some of some customers and prospects out there, they have hundreds of thousands of customers. They have hundreds of thousands of SKUs.

So imagine as, you know, imagine a company that, that has half a million SKUs that they're selling on a day-to-day basis. That pricing, right, that they have in place and their ability to update it in real time and quickly. The days of, Hey, let's figure out the price and we'll put it in market three months from now are long gone.

If you're not able to put pricing that your buyers are gonna accept, right, or that you need to put in market. Then all you're doing is leaving margin on the table every minute that you can't make those changes. But also to Frank's point, [00:22:00] right? I think that understanding where and empowering your sellers to be able to identify those contract compliance issues, right, or those gaps in contract compliance or you know, how to narrow a gap with a customer to get them to the next level.

Right. If you can empower your sellers to not only have good pricing, but also understand those contract compliance details, right? Then what you're doing is you're creating a much stronger bond and relationship between buyer and seller.

Frank Borovsky: Agree. Again, I just wanna step in and say not just the salespeople, right?

Your customer support folks or customer experience folks. They have to have the same knowledge so that when someone's calling in, they know, Hey, did you realize that you are $20,000 away from. You know, meeting your contract requirements, that's gotta be in their hands at the moment they're making the order.

Same thing with the folks in the field, et cetera. So it just be, [00:23:00] should be visible and in your face for everyone. Period. If you'll allow me, I'm just gonna geek out for one, one moment. So Yeah, go right ahead. And I had the benefit at Club Car to be both the CIO and the Chief Experience Officer on both sides.

So it was great to be able to have these abilities to go back and forth. What I can tell you is that making these pricing decisions real time is not easy from an IT standpoint, right? You're usually interacting with your ERP, your enterprise resource planning system, you know, whatever you're using, and hopefully you're using Salesforce as your front end to be able to provide all this information.

And connecting those and making sure that they are truly real time, that you're not doing some sort of overnight batch processing that delays all of this interaction that can actually kill you. And then to Karl's point, [00:24:00] you've really lost the accuracy component that you really needed to have when you're, particularly when you're online.

Barrett Thompson: So we've talked about the table stakes, if you will, and we've talked about a set of expectations that customers bring in to this new world and how to meet those in CX. Can you think of examples where beyond the table stakes and beyond the expectation that the customer brings in, what are some examples of innovations you're seeing?

Where it's delighting the customer even beyond their own expectations, the customer says, I didn't know that was possible. I'm so glad my vendor of choice, my supplier is providing me this in my customer experience.

Karl Helfner: Yeah, so I can think of one in particular. So there's an electronics manufacturer out there that had a very human-centric quoting process, and that quoting process took days, if not weeks, right.

Pretty common which is common, right? But again, days and weeks mean margin, right? They [00:25:00] just do. And you know, what they were able to do was they were able to take, you know, tens of thousands of quotes that had human interaction on every single one of them on a weekly basis, right? And auto negotiate those types of interactions so that, you know, from a human perspective, time means everything to me.

They know that timing's everything for their buyers. So they were able to auto negotiate those things so that in cases where, you know, I need to be able to get these products out of your warehouses so that I can distribute them, right? So the customers are asking for them. I'm not waiting weeks or days to deal with this.

I can get my prices right now, and if I don't agree with them, it auto negotiates and says, okay, well what about this price? Well, you don't like that one. Well, what about this price? Right? And it enabled them to be able to take their quoting time down to seconds. For the vast majority of their interactions.

Now, from a buying perspective, as a distributor, that's amazing for me because A, do I necessarily want to deal with a human? Eh, maybe, [00:26:00] right? But B, right? I don't have to wait weeks. I can literally go online. I get accurate pricing, I can negotiate my pricing in real time, and I can get my quote and make my buy within seconds or minutes.

That's huge for me as a distributor, but also huge for me as a manufacturer.

Frank Borovsky: It is a great example. I'm gonna go into a slightly different space, but I think that one is really fantastic because I, again, as I've said before, I always expected auctioning to have a resurgence during a lot of this economic uncertainty, and I really haven't seen it come back the way that I anticipated.

But this dynamic negotiation, I think is really a stellar concept. But I was gonna kind of go in a different direction, which is the Amazonian approach. And the little twist that I would add here was not just having the, hey people who bought this widget, also bought that, this widget, but [00:27:00] also adding a component that folks didn't expect, which is, ah, you purchased this particular unit.

Would you like training with that? And by that I mean being able to provide. Direct or online training associated with the installation. And in the B2B world that's critical. And being able to look up, Hey, do you have the proper certifications? Let's say you're a contractor. Do you have the proper certifications to actually install this unit the way that it's intended to?

Oh, you don't. Okay, here's a course that you can go to online to be able to address that. And, you know, for a few shekels more. Right. And so I think that's another way of looking at the whole experience, not just a product specific, adding in solutioning and services as well.

Barrett Thompson: Listen, those are great examples of really elevating the ease of doing business, right?

[00:28:00] The whole offering and transacting that quickly and fairly appreciate those examples. Thank you. Well, Frank and Karl, it's been great to have you on the podcast today to share your point of view on customer experience. I really appreciate it. Frank, thank you for being with us and sharing with our audience.

Frank Borovsky: My pleasure. Thank you,

Barrett Thompson: Karl. Always great to have you with us as well. Appreciate the point and counterpoint that you brought to the conversation with Frank. Thank you for joining us on B2B Reimagined. Thank you as always, Barrett. I want to thank each of our podcast listeners for being with us today.

Please check the show notes for links to other podcasts and resources related to our conversation and our speakers today. We are committed to your success, and if you need any assistance, please reach out to us here at Zilliant. Would you do me one favor before you leave today and rate the show in your podcast app, that helps us to continue to put out great free content.

Until next time, have a great day.

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