Created: 09 October 2017
“You’ve reached company XYZ, please listen to the following menu…” You patiently listen and anxiously hope to hear the appropriate menu option. After selecting the menu option, you are then routed to another recording, only to find it’s not answer you’re looking for. So you go back to the ‘main menu’ and attempt again. After patiently waiting through the list of options (again), the frustration sets in gradually. You are fortunate enough to find the option to be redirected to a live representative…only to find yourself on an eternity hold.
If the aforementioned experience sounds familiar, you’re not alone. This is the most common greeting practice that large companies use to filter and manage incoming calls for its call centers. This tactic was developed for cost saving measures. Understandably, it would be a costly investment to hire and staff people to handle a very large customer base. However, from a business owner or an executive perspective, this poor customer process would be costly and ineffective.
Fortunately, corporate America understands that process would not work too well for most businesses. To remedy, unlike normal consumers, most businesses can bypass the process by working through VARs (Value Added Resellers). Originally created as a way to better manage and offer suite of products (from different manufactures/vendors) including markets that were not reachable by the company themselves. VARs has become the staple in the IT industry and now further bridges the customer service gaps.
Many moons ago, while working for a large business software company, I was fortunate to manage a regional territory that encompassed nearly a hundred VARs or channel partners. From the experience, I was able to learn the effectiveness of the channel partners. But more importantly, I discovered what differentiated a great channel partner from a standard VAR. Here is what I learned.
As mentioned, larger entities face challenges of tendering to its high volume of customers effectively. Whereas VARs are focused on handling more manageable number of clients. This allows VARs to put energy on working with its customers including detailed pricing, product, and delivery logistics. While the effort is appreciated, there is an important element that are often spoken of but not executed too well– customer service. What sets a great VAR apart is the true customer centric focus and execution around the clock. One of the top performing VAR from the region shared how they were able to differentiate from its competitors by offering direct phone numbers (bypassing phone system and receptionist), returning and replying to voicemails/emails on same day, custom tailored logistics, courtesy follow ups, and even weekend calls. The extra availability beyond the conventional working hours was a key differentiator. I’ve seen VARs say they are customer centric, but when complaints were redirected to the software company, we found it to be on the contrary. Thus, it’s vitally important to actually execute on the motto. Be proactive with communications and talk to your customers in timely and professional manner at all times.
VARs range in sizes from a handful to few hundred employees. But what I learned is the potent efficiency of the smaller organizations. It was like the effect of a turbo charged 4-cylinder engine. Small but powerful output comparable to a V6 engine all while sipping less fuel (sorry for the automotive analogy if you are not a car enthusiast). Similarly, the top and successful VARs that I worked with had less than 50 employees but performed much like a well-greased larger company. These small yet mighty entities were able to make prompt business decision (less red tape) and consequently have quicker turn-around time. The attributes carried over to other parts of their business workflow including ability to shift workload (to focus on higher priorities) on the fly, address issues/problems promptly, communicate with less overlaps, and push a project through in timely manner. All of this resulted in more sales and better experience for its customers.
A good VAR builds a solid rapport and trust with its clients. One of the VAR shared an incident on how they were able to win over a client by being transparent. The VAR received a software order from one of its newer client. However, the after deployment, customer discovered the software did not have some of the features that the client expected. The VAR quickly reached out to us to verify the feature, only to confirm it was not an available function. The VAR promptly apologized for the oversight and offered to correct the situation. After active and open communications, the client was patient enough to allow the VAR to submit an enhancement request while offering a temporary workaround. Two months down the road, the enhancement was released which lead to additional module purchase for the software. The whole incident entailed the VAR to be forthright and open about its mistake with the client. Eventually, the transparency won over the business trust which lead to additional module sales.
As the name indicates, VARs is about value added process. So what dictates value? Most VARs can offer decent pricing, good products, and expected delivery. But based on top performing IT partners, they were able outshined their competitors because value was furnished beyond the mentioned elements. The ability to offer a comprehensive solutions and to deliver exceptional customer process garnered greater value for the client than mere pricing or product alone. In other words, successful IT partners were able to effectively consult, bundle appropriate solutions, deploy and offer top class customer service. A key IT partner shared a win story where they were competing against another VAR (with different software) for the same client. Although the IT partner’s pricing was slightly above its competitor, the prospect ultimately chose them. Reason for the selection was based on the following criteria including meeting engagements, demo presentations, training offers, prompt contacts, follow ups, and post sales support. Thus, it’s important to know that customers and prospects are not necessarily about pricing or even the product only, it is about the whole customer experience that can be the determining and winning factor.
In a world where instant gratification is expected and lack of customer service can be detrimental, IT partners are in a unique position to fulfill both concerns and requirements for businesses. There are hundreds of VARs out there fighting for your business. But with so many, the selection process and decision amounts to great confusion. Understandably, selecting the right IT partner is a long term decision that impacts your business. So every business should research and compare. But the ultimate factor to work with a specific IT partner comes down to the one simple question…are you going to be happy with your IT partner? This should be the driving force behind the decision.