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What customers want from the channel: honesty

Above all, customers say they want honesty. And many feel they're not getting enough of it

I’ve written two columns recently – one in October and one in November – on what people who buy technology say they want from the channel.

Since midsummer I’ve talked about this with a dozen or so people, some who make their living buying and managing IT, some who just shop for a home computer now and then. I heard quite a lot about service and surprisingly little about price. But one thing was mentioned more than any other.

As I said at the end of the second column in this series, that one thing would probably top my own list of what I want from anyone I do business with, but I was a bit surprised to hear it from the majority of people I talked to for these articles. Why was I surprised? I guess because we don’t hear all that much about this one essential ingredient of a business relationship.

That one thing is honesty. More than half of those I asked what they wanted from the channel brought it up without any prompting from me. And they didn’t say – as some did with price – that it was just understood. They said there wasn’t enough of it.

Some readers will feel that’s unfair. Sometimes, maybe it is. Honest mistakes and misunderstandings can get mistaken for deliberate lies.

Indeed, part of the problem appears to be lack of knowledge, and the clear message from customers is, you don’t have to know everything but whatever you do don’t pretend to know more than you do.

And some of the problem is saying what customers want to hear without making sure it’s true.

Dave Aronson, a software engineer at Comcast Cable in Washington, D.C., speaks for many when he says he wants “a straight deal, even more so than a good deal. They don’t have to be experts, but they must know what they’re talking about, and not snow me, like the guy who steered me towards a cellphone that won’t even sync with my Mac, though he said it would.”

Or like the guy who assured me I was eligible for the posted price when I got a new BlackBerry recently and that he’d call as soon as the back-ordered device came in. He didn’t call, and they charged me more than double what he led me to expect.

Mike Cuddy, CIO at Toromont Industries Ltd. in Concord, Ont., tells resellers to “stop pretending you know what the product does when you don’t, and stop the rampant misrepresentation of products and services.” He defines that as honesty, and adds integrity – “do what you say you will do, know what you say you know.”

Nigel Fortlage, chief information officer at GHY International in Winnipeg, bemoans the rarity of honest, non-biased information.

Some of this may sound harsh. Many of us are trying to do our best, and being accused of dishonesty is painful. If it’s not really dishonesty, it may be failure to understand the customer’s needs and expectations. Cuddy has some suggestions that can help avoid that too. They start with knowing the products you sell, and doing some research on the customer (he’s talking about corporate customers, but even if you sell to consumers you should understand them as a group). And, he says, “ask questions, and listen. Stop talking non-stop.”

That’s always good advice.