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What customers are looking for from the channel

Service tops the list of things customers want most from the channel

Since mid-summer I’ve asked the question: What do customers want from its channel partners? to a variety of people, and while everyone is different, there are certainly common themes that emerge.

One of those is service.

That sometimes means hand-holding, but not always. Some customers – especially consumers — expect to be able to call you when they just don’t understand something. This is a tough expectation to meet – and pretty nearly impossible if you try to offer the lowest prices. You may have no choice but to disappoint the most demanding of these customers, unless your business model is to charge high prices in exchange for all the hand-holding the customer wants.

Lots of customers don’t expect hand-holding. But most expect service.

And good service starts before you sell anything. In fact, it may determine whether you sell anything.

Bill Currier, a Boston-based IT executive in the financial services industry, has a whole list of things that add up to good service. “Short wait times on the phone. Order confirmation. Shipment tracking. Billing when shipped. Communication with the customer in backorder situations. Company pays return shipping when issue is the company’s fault. Thirty-day “no-fault” returns…. Same-day turnaround on email inquiries. Answer the phone during stated business hours and keep the voicemail message up to date. Return calls.

“There are many more,” Currier concludes, “but all reduce to treating the customer’s concerns as more important than your own. “

Peter Connolly, owner of KP Direction LLC, a web development company in Salt Lake City, asks for “immediate pricing – none of this ‘call us, we’ll give you our best price’ rubbish.” That’s another I’d personally echo. Good service is about recognizing that the customer is a busy person who needs to get things done now, and aiming to make it easy for him or her.

Many of us think of service as something independent retailers do best. But not always. Jim Rudnick, chief executive of web developer KKT Interactive in Hamilton, says he’s a Dell customer partly because of service. KKT always opts to pay for next-day on-site service, he says, and it works. “Truly insurance against down time is what we enjoy.” Though Rudnick finds Dell’s online service slow and confusing, but adds that after seven years as a customer navigating it “has become second nature.”

But service can be more than responding to calls. Nick Ametrano, vice-president at Monster Mortgage in Toronto, says he wants someone who’ll act “as an extension of our management team,” helping his company make better use of IT. “I want you to act as though you’re sitting at the table and have a vested interest in how we’re doing,” Ametrano says.

Service is one of the top concerns for people who buy technology products. But one thing came up more than service, price, technology expertise or anything else. I’m saving it for last, and it will be the subject of the last Clipboard of 2009, in the next issue. I won’t tell you what it is until then. Let’s just say that I was surprised to hear so much about it, even though it would be the top of my personal list of what I want from anyone I do business with. I guess I thought it was just me.