Modern B2B buyers have more options at their disposal than ever before thanks to the internet.

Rather than relying on a solutions-provider for information, they are empowered to research options and narrow the possibilities before they ever engage with a company. Once they do, their expectations for service are high. In this new climate, customer experience has emerged as a key differentiator for forward-looking companies. According to an Accenture study of B2B executives, 74% of respondents see customer experience (CX) playing a larger part in corporate strategy over the next two years.

What exactly is customer experience? According to Gartner, it is “the customer’s perceptions and related feelings cause by the one-off and cumulative effect of interactions with a supplier’s employees, channels, systems or products.” The financial impact of a CX program can be significant. According to McKinsey, it has the power to build customer loyalty, increase employee satisfaction, achieve revenue gains of 5-10%, and reduce costs by 15-25% within 2-3 years. In fact, by 2017, 89% of marketers expect customer experience to be their primary differentiator.

For companies seeking to start or expand a customer experience initiative, following are some key considerations:

CX Puts the Customer in the Center

Developing an effective CX program starts with seeing everything through the customer’s eyes. Increasingly, this means providing an experience similar to that found in the B2C world from companies like Google and Amazon. In fact, research shows that 75% of buyers expect service within five minutes of initiating contact online. Seeing the organization through the customer’s eyes—whether through surveys, qualitative research like interviews and observation, or secret shopping programs—will uncover areas where the experience breaks down.

CX Moves Beyond Touchpoints to Journeys

Traditionally, marketing and service professionals have focused on creating memorable touchpoints to engage potential customers. However, companies that are creating stand-out CX programs focus on the entire customer journey from initial need identification to post-purchase activity. These leaders understand that the customer’s experience is the cumulative impact of every touchpoint. While individual interactions may be performed well, the overall impression can still be less than positive. In fact, research shows that 25% of customers will leave after a single bad experience.

CX is Cross Functional

While customer service is often seen as the realm of an individual department, customer experience is the responsibility of every part of the organization. As a potential buyer navigates an organization on their way to becoming a customer, they encounter every aspect of a business’ operations. Even though they may never interact directly with an area of the company, policies and procedures set behind the scenes still impact their experience.

CX is Interdisciplinary

Understanding the customer journey and designing an effective customer experience program taps into several disciplines. Data analytics reveals the sources of customer satisfaction as well as the behaviors that produce the most economic benefit. The results of this analysis can sometimes upend preconceived ideas about what matters most to customers. For example, a study conducted by an airport found that security personnel’s behavior had a greater impact on customer satisfaction than the time customers spent waiting in line.

Additionally, behavioral psychology can help firms to design experiences that positively impact satisfaction. Different stages of an interaction can be merged to diminish their perceived duration. Ways to give the customer a sense of choice and control can also be infused into the journey.

CX Takes Time

Creating and implementing an effective customer experience program doesn’t happen overnight. Companies that are leveraging their CX programs as a sustainable competitive advantage have invested the time and resources to transform their operations from top to bottom. Executive sponsorship is critical to demonstrate that CX is not just a new initiative that will fade away in time, but rather it represents a new way of operating at every level of the organization. Sufficient time mapping and designing optimal customer journeys must also be invested. Training for all employees, but particularly frontline staff, is critical so that they embody a customer-first mindset and understand their role in the customer’s journey. Metrics and data analysis are baked into the process to continually capture customer feedback, measure economic impact and iterate new solutions.

Customer experience is a powerful differentiating tool. B2B companies that are embracing this new discipline are realizing significant gains in revenue and reductions in cost. It won’t happen overnight, but with leadership and commitment, a well-designed and implemented CX program can transform a company from top to bottom and inside out.