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In this multi-part series, we explore how modern business pivots around work, experience and technology, all seamlessly engineered to deliver high performance results. By examining the combined power of these forces, businesses can enable connected ways of working and deploy a holistic approach to reshape their organizations for the post-pandemic economy.

Experience has a new mission. In the post-pandemic economy, it’s emerging as the ability to connect all stakeholders — employees and partners as well as customers.

But experience’s roots in customer organizations run deep. Now, as companies build out their experience ecosystems, applying the well-honed principles of customer experience (CX) to launch similarly personalized, intuitive interactions across the enterprise can pay off in stronger, more resilient operating models. Recently commissioned Cognizant research arrived at similar findings. (Click here to read more.)

The streamlined employee and partner experiences — powered by a modern digital backbone and technology-enabled workflows — result in organizations that are better equipped to compete and thrive.

B2B experience takes its cue from CX

The path to superior CX is well trodden in B2C. Digital capabilities have supercharged CX, creating frictionless, seamless interactions that are personalized and almost clairvoyant in their ability to predict next best actions. The goal: apply technology — from AI and analytics through automation — to uplift experiences that feel intuitive, empathic and quasi-human. The most successful solutions are designed to stoke emotional response — and result in lasting brand relationships.

What if businesses in the B2B space applied this same CX approach to power new ways of working in their operating model?

It’s a big idea, with perhaps potentially even bigger outcomes for business. Putting CX principles to work throughout the extended B2B enterprise is a work in progress that starts with a strategy refresh. The refresh should examine your organization’s business model and uncovers its true raison d’être; that is, where it’s placing its big bets. Most organizations have conducted similar exercises already. Yet the global pandemic provided enough of a shake-up to business that it’s critical for every company to revisit its strategy and know where it fits, based on level of end-customer knowledge and role within the digital value chain.

Once organizations review where they fit on the grid, the next step is a straightforward evaluation to identify what they’re good at and what’s better done by others. This assessment homes in on the extended enterprise and provides a new perspective on how employees and partners enhance organizations’ operating models. Equally important, it highlights how organizations can use the post-pandemic insights to re-energize market presence and ultimately deliver exceptional experiences.

Five key findings from CX

Like CX, memorable experiences are personalized, seamless and intuitive. The following findings, gleaned from our research and client work, reveal how organizations can apply the principles of CX, built on a modern technology backbone and use of behavioral, attitudinal and transactional data collected across the extended enterprise, to replicate those same qualities for employee and partner experiences (where collaborative relationships are key).

1.    Understand what drives your business and those of your partners.

In partner relationships, it’s important to align each business’s metrics and rhythms so partners create greater value together. Review the hard and soft characteristics of your business — finance and operations, plus culture — to better understand how decisions are made. In the simplest terms, how things get done. Doing so sets the stage for better alignment of partners within an ecosystem and improves the odds of better experiences across the extended enterprise. It leads to a set of operating principles that espouse shared values and establish the desired behaviors, decision-making and actions required. For example, one company may be risk averse and conservative, while another is unbounded in its thinking and built on modern tech. Alignment on key performance indicators (KPIs) and objectives and key results (OKRs) is a first step in connecting cultures and setting the tone for the right behaviors and habits for both your team and that of your partners.

2.    Make it easy for partners to do business with you.

Data is the magic ingredient fueling the digital agenda, and a company’s ability to collate, curate, analyze and act on it is the defining characteristic of the digital age. Superior partner experiences are built on the same data strengths. Integration and connectedness without vulnerability should be the overarching design objective and can be achieved through a modern data platform. Coming in many shapes and sizes, the platforms typically perform data ingestion and store information in data lakes. The best ones offer a combination of pre-engineered products and accelerators. The result is data that’s more accessible and compliant and ready to empower real-time business decisions. (See part 2 for a more detailed exploration of the optimal digital technology foundation.)

3.    Optimize the employee journey, end to end.

When attrition is high and loyalty is scarce, creating a reputation as a great place to work becomes critical for every enterprise. Map the touchpoints of the employee journey just as many organizations have done for the customer journey. Start by segmenting the journey into its major stages. Look at how people are thinking and feeling and what they are doing at each touchpoint, during the onboarding, for example, and throughout their time in a given role. Then identify pain points they might encounter, such as navigating the organization to find the right person and information, or negotiating a complicated career development pathway.

Possible strategies can include:

  • Providing knowledge management that’s accessible and user-friendly.
  • Creating a learning ecosystem based on modern technology and snackable learning trends, such as 10-minute videos to explain a specific topic, rather than a day-long course.
  • Developing a career framework that defines pathways individuals can take to achieve their professional goals.

In addition to segmenting the major stages of the employee journey, it’s critical to understand the day-to-day experience as well. The accumulation of what might be perceived as minor inconveniences and frustrations eventually creates an unsatisfactory employee experience (EX). That is, sometimes small improvements such as intuitive expense and timecard systems have the greatest impact.

4.    Remove friction.

Make it easy for employees to do their jobs. EX falls short when the workday is made up of low-value tasks that add friction and frustration. Despite digital advances, many companies continue to rely on hard-coded legacy processes and workflows that haven’t changed in years. Great experiences, however, come from better, technology-enabled workflows. For example, tools that recognize the task that an employee is doing and make available the next best application to complete it, that help navigate the business and automate repetitive tasks, or that let you mine the vast reservoir of information in your organization’s knowledge management systems, providing greater transparency and self-service. A simple example of technology-enabled workflow is an expense system that allows users to photograph physical receipts and then applies an artificial intelligence (AI) reader to pre-populate an expense line item by identifying the type of receipt, its value and date.

5.    Empower employees.

When our team created an integrated application that enabled ground agents for a multinational airline to handle passenger requests on the spot, the defining aspect of the EX wasn’t the technology but the staff’s ability to make decisions without a manager’s approval. Empowering employees is one of the toughest hurdles for companies as they adopt new operating models. Yet while organizations often struggle with decentralized decision-making, empowerment is a key CX lesson for the workplace: 70% of customers use self-service to solve problems, according to Gartner. In their role as consumers, employees and partners are used to doing for themselves.

In the Agile environment, employee empowerment is an essential ingredient to success. For a new hire joining a virtual team, the social guiderails that help calibrate an employee’s actions are absent. It’s hard to tell whether the boss’s backing is there, or whether the team trusts its members.

Leadership plays a key role in establishing the trust that’s at the heart of empowerment: For trust to flourish from the bottom up, it has to come from the top down. It’s leaders’ job to create a sense of trust in the extended enterprise by modeling the following characteristics:

  • Be reliable. Be there for people and make them a priority. Key message is I respect you and your time. Where possible, avoid back-to-back meetings and remember people have a home life outside of work.
  • Demonstrate credibility through storytelling and openness. Key message is one of empathy: What you’re going through must be hard.
  • Create intimacy through shared experiences. Key message is We’re in this together and I’ve got your back.

Fragile trust can develop early in a virtual world, but without constant attention, it can soon dissipate. Using the right language and messaging, and planning work patterns that strike a balance between continual connectedness and downtime can lead to a productive, creative and empowered virtual team.

As experience ecosystems expand to connect all stakeholders in the post-pandemic economy, the principles of CX will serve as a guide to creating streamlined employee and partner experiences and resilient operating models.

Read parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series to learn how ecosystems power a modern business.

This article was written by Rupert Chapman, Vice President of Digital Strategy, Cognizant Consulting; James Houghton, Global Leader, Cognizant Digital Business Consulting; and Paul Everson, an AVP in Cognizant Digital Business & Technology line of service.

To learn more, please visit the Cognizant Consulting and Digital Strategy sections of our website or contact us.