Size really does matter

It appears the Middle East's smaller businesses and vendors are winning the battle to keep their customers satisfied.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  May 20, 2008

What does it take to keep a customer happy?

Well, one would say lots of things. There is the reliability of the product or solution itself. Then comes how scalable the solution is for the future and how much it would cost the organisation. After which, there are considerations of support and service.

This last point is gaining in importance among end-users in the region as the number of vendors offering similar products increase and as they realise the importance of picking products from companies that are in the region to stay and are willing to invest money to create effective support options.

This need for support extends from the initial consultation phase, through the implementation where the vendor's team needs to be a strong guiding force, onto post-deployment service elements, which are crucial for the long term success of the project and for ensuring continuous customer loyalty.

More than anything else, the key to keeping the customer happy might lie with the unquantifiable and innately non-measurable quality of trust. Trust for an end-user can intermix the qualities of how comfortable he feels with the vendor he is dealing with and how much he believes that that particular vendor will not guide him astray, and if problems do occur with solutions, will be with him every step of the way to solving it.

In the Middle East region, this notion of trusting the vendor often means trusting one person on the vendor's side. One single point of contact for the customer who he knows means well for the enterprise, and believes has the authority enough to move the vendor to support the organisation in any way that is necessary.

In this game of comfort and trust, it is often the small vendor that wins out in comparison to larger vendors. While this might be a bit difficult to digest, one only has to dig a bit to realise that the logic is infallible.

Small vendors have a lot going for them when it comes to gaining trust and confidence from the customers they address. Having a lean team that is on the ground and on touch with reality, means people with higher designations in smaller firms will have to constantly deal with customers. To give you an example, you will see a general manager of a small firm interacting with customers more often and more willingly, than general managers from larger firms with more widespread operations.

When a firm grows big, it becomes imperative that it decentralises the decision-making process and creates more autonomous units - internally and among partners - in order to ensure stability and create a platform for growth. This however, works against it sometimes when it comes to customer satisfaction.

Decentralisation means that the vendor loses control or no longer can directly deal with every customer on the ground, and therefore, is unaware of how each customer is being treated. Of course, big vendors try to address this lack by initiating feedback loops wherever possible and bringing partners and customers together for training and discussions as often as possible. However, this remains an essentially flawed process (there are only so many discussions a vendor can do and so much you can trust any feedback loop).

This problem is almost non-existent for the small company. Working with a restricted number of employees mean that when a customer is dis-satisfied or believes he is not getting enough for his money, he can reach and convey this message easily to the highest management of the firm. With fingers on the customer's pulse, the higher management can be involved and can rectify problems in a more proactive manner as well. All considered, the smaller firm often wins the battle when it comes to a consistent customer experience, thereby winning his trust and loyalty for the long term.

In the Middle East, one can see this (apparent) paradox played out everyday. Over the last year, the number of small, niche players has increased in the market and they are beginning to exhibit a hold on customers - large and small - across the region.

Smaller firms do tend to grow large and decentralise in the process. However, till they do so, they can teach some lessons to larger vendors on how best to make sure that your customer remains your customer, and display that size does matter.

Sathya Mithra Ashok is the editor of Network Middle East.

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