The rise of consumer-facing companies that are easy to deal with and offer a fun customer experience bring a refreshing change for us as consumers.  And as I’ve written before, they are also setting a new bar for enterprise-facing companies.  For their day jobs many “consumers” also buy products and services for their enterprises. And rewarding customer experiences they have in their personal lives are raising expectations for how they interact with business partners.

Many B2B organizations need to raise their game to meet –or exceed- expectations their customers have.  As a marketing and venture-oriented person I may be more tuned into this than many, but I’m always on watch for good and bad examples of dealing with customers and thinking about how I can make my own company better.

The other night I was struggling to change the settings on an automatic withdrawal setting on my daughter’s 529 account, which is managed by one of the largest brokerages in the world.  I spent 15 minutes trying to resolve the issue myself, seeking some online FAQ related to the error message.

I eventually gave up and called Customer Service.  I was on hold for about 3-4 minutes.  The young man who picked up my call was very polite and able to answer my question instantly.  He offered up that he gets that question a lot.  If so, why wasn’t there a clear answer/tip/FAQ on the website?  He didn’t know.  I asked if he could capture the idea and pass it along to the web team.  He said, “Hmm.  That’s a good idea.  I’ll ask my manager how to do that.”  It surprised me that he didn’t have a readily available online form to capture that, but he seemed genuinely willing to pass it along somehow.

But before hanging up he then asked something like, “Mr. Lorion, it looks like you a lot of your holdings are in cash.  May we help you look at options for investing that money?”  I responded, “No thank you.  I am in the process of transferring all of my holdings to another institution.”  This happens to be true, but rather than simply saying “no thank you” which would have been easier, I offered that comment to see how they would handle me.

His response, “Oh, ok. Thank you for calling <company>.”  I’m not exaggerating to make a dramatic point.  I couldn’t believe it.  I gave him a slow pitch over the plate.  No swing.  He didn’t ask why I was leaving, didn’t try to save me, didn’t try to pass me off to someone, and didn’t even apologize for not keeping me happy.  Nothing.  They either missed a chance to surprise and delight me – or their data suggests that once someone offers a comment like that it’s simply too late and they want him to drop the call and move to the next support ticket.  I’m guessing this is really not how his company wanted him to handle me.

Maybe I’m getting jaded as a startup CMO who looks for, and deeply appreciates, remarkable customer experience.  But in a world where consumer-style companies are raising expectations for how customers should be treated, I don’t think any company can afford not to delight their customers.  As Mark Organ, my friend and founder and CEO of Influitive, advises: it’s so much more valuable to delight your existing customers and turn them into fans and advocates selling on your behalf.

I recently moved myself from an office out onto the floor and now sit directly between the Sales and Customer Service teams.  I love it and wish I did it months ago.  I’m able to hear conversations with customers as well as between team members.  I’ve got a better read from our front-line and have an improved sense of tools that our field need.

We are also embarking on a number of crafty cross-functional customer advocacy programs and I’m eager to see more of them implemented. Our competitors may be larger and outspending us, but I’m determined to show our customers more love.

What I’ve realized is that many companies are not aware of how their customers truly experience their own products and services.  Do you?  You may be surprised.

This is turning into a bigger and bigger mission for me and I hope that if you ever call us that we’re able to surprise and delight you :)