I can’t get no (customer) satisfaction

“Sometimes they over-promise or simplify. They say that something can be done in three months, but in reality it takes a lot longer. A lot of solutions providers in the Middle East don’t think long-term — they are just too inflexible."

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  May 10, 2009

“Sometimes they over-promise or simplify. They say that something can be done in three months, but in reality it takes a lot longer. A lot of solutions providers in the Middle East don’t think long-term — they are just too inflexible."

Not my rhetoric, but the words of a leading CIO in the region. One, in fact, who happens to preside over an IT budget running into the millions and has years of experience dealing with systems integrators.

In these challenging times it is inevitable that VARs and solutions providers must work doubly as hard to ensure customers are content — and more importantly remain that way. With most IT departments feeling the pinch one way or another, organisations don’t need an excuse to reduce technology expenditure or even change suppliers.

Which begs the question: what should resellers be doing to ensure the customers they serve today are still their customers tomorrow?

There are myriad answers to that poser, but to begin with they could do an awful lot worse than manage their customers’ expectations better by listening to what they actually have to say.

Vendors and partners are fond of talking up implementations that have been carried out exceptionally well, but it is often the projects that don’t go to plan which provide the real learning blocks that companies can benefit from.

In the latest issue of the magazine we have gone straight to the source by quizzing a number of influential regional IT managers on their relations with the channel and the aspects that matter to them most when they engage with an IT provider.

Needless to say, it doesn’t all translate into pleasant reading for the channel, but it does provide plenty of food for thought.

To get a comprehensive picture of how CIOs view the role of the modern-day reseller you will have to read the full article in this month’s Channel Middle East, but several points were raised that highlighted areas IT providers should be giving consideration to if they wish to gain credence among prospective customers.

One of the most serious concerns plaguing CIOs is that an unhealthy amount of staff transience persists in the channel.

They complain that the personnel they deal with for Middle East projects often changes from one minute to the next, casting doubts in their mind over the long-term strategy of the IT provider and its ability to cultivate a team that isn’t dependent on resources parachuted in from outside the region.

There is a much bigger picture as far as this issue is concerned, particularly when it comes to the process of improvement, but those resellers that presume a coherent management strategy doesn’t matter to IT managers are very much mistaken.

As CIOs look for more meaningful supplier relationships and evaluate the companies they are procuring services from with greater scrutiny than before, the channel has to base its proposition on more than just price and a handful of case studies.

The most recurring theme to emerge from surveying CIOs about the areas where resellers could do considerably better, however, is the simple issue of communication.

While it may seem a trivial point — especially when discussing projects that rely on intricate technical skills and complex integration — CIOs protest that the failure of the channel to be completely honest and transparent is the thing that irks them the most.

In the highly accountable and under pressure world of the CIO, sharing bad news is actually good news, it seems.

“I’d be happy to pay a premium to a systems integrator who drops me a call each day as a project progresses to keep me up to date,” admitted one regional IT manager. “If something is going to be delayed, the sooner I know about it, the sooner I can put measures in place to cope with it.”

So there you have it. Customers ostensibly want relationships that are built as much on trust and transparency as they are on price.

Resellers should be very careful about taking that point too lightly because the market is crowded with competitors ready and waiting to comfort customers feeling aggrieved with their existing IT suppliers

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