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Recent research from CompTIA confirms that creating a positive customer experience is a growing, strategic focus for many companies, including the IT channel. And no wonder, as 89% of businesses say they now compete primarily based on the customer experience (CX) they provide and not so much on the products they sell.
Evidence suggests that the better experience that customers have, the more likely they will stick with your brand. But what’s the best way to engage with customers and ensure they get what they need? There isn’t one answer, according to members of CompTIA’s Channel Advisory Board, which last year helped define and map a typical tech buyer’s journey with our other industry councils.
From identifying a customer’s pain, through adoption and post-business reviews, the councils identified 17 unique steps in the buyer’s journey, many of them well-suited for solution providers to engage in with customers.
The good news, advisory board members said, is that vendors increasingly are relying on solution providers to ensure a positive customer experience, which in turn creates more stickiness with customers for those channel partners as well—a win-win-win scenario for all involved.
“I have seen attrition data for vendors selling and managing customers in a direct model and a channel model, and there is a clear benefit to vendors in having the channel manage the customer experience,” said Jason Bystrak, vice president, Cloud Business Unit, at D&H Distributing, Harrisburg, Pa., and a CAB member.
That benefit is even more evident when a distributor is engaged, and post-sale support responsibilities are optimized in a two-tier channel, according to Bystrak. “Vendors also need to realize that there will be more than one vendor in a solution, and the channel is the best way to manage the customer experience in a multi-vendor solution.”
David Landsberger, senior director of training and events, at TBI, a Chicago-based master agent of cloud, voice, data, mobility and managed services, believes solution providers are especially critical to driving a positive customer experience with the technologies that power CX, such as contact centers.
“Consider a contact-center-as-a-service that lets you do inbound and outbound calls, with sophisticated reporting and training of new agents. The channel is necessary to provide the education and training around that, and how they do could impact your business,” Landsberger said.
Kim Cesena, global director of channel marketing at Intermedia, said it’s incumbent upon vendors and solution provider to work in concert to deliver a seamless—and successful—customer experience.
“There needs to be clear understanding of roles and responsibilities, hand-offs and customer ownership decisions to make sure nothing goes into gray space and gives a customer a bad experience in ordering, renewing, or support,” Cesena said.
Increasingly, solution providers are integrating CX services such as chatbots into their own websites and tools to provide better customer experiences, according to Landsberger. “Channel partners are paying attention to new technologies and making sure they stay on top of the latest trends,” he said. “Customers are asking for CX technologies like chat and it gives solution providers a foot in the door.”
Solution providers can truly provide value in a customer’s buying journey around education because, even though customers know more about your solution and the market than ever before, there’s also a lot of misinformation that can cause unnecessary confusion, complexity and dysfunction, Landsberger said.
“The channel partner can say ‘that’s not right’ or ‘that’s right’ and help speed a customer through the process,” he said.
These changes, including who buys, when they buy, and how they buy, are changing the dynamics of how vendors and solution provider need to market to customers, said Intermedia’s Cesena.
“There are choices out there for customers and businesses. It is a differentiator to keep your customers loyal to your product or service. There has to be more awareness of the solution out in the market and marketing needs to be placed in areas where customers go prior to going to one of our partners,” she said.
Overall, the channel does a good job adequately preparing customers and helping them along the buyer’s journey, CAB executives said.
“While there is always room for improvement, I would say that we do successfully manage a positive customer experience,” Bystrak said. “One of the keys is mapping out the process with detailed roles and responsibilities for post-sale support, customer business reviews, and even validating there are proper contracts to establish clear solution expectations, service level agreements and remediation process in case of issues.”
TBI’s Landsberger notes the IT industry hasn’t always had a great reputation for customer service, but there’s been a lot of improvement over the last several years. “We’re headed in the right direction. There’s still a lot to do, but it’s not ever going to end either, which is normal and healthy. It’s never going to be 100% but it’s not meant to be a 100% endeavor,” he said.
Rather, Landsberger added, customer service is akin to IT security: it’s a constantly moving target that requires vigilance and a desire to want to be better—but never “ends.”
“CX is really is at the top of the hype cycle in a lot of ways,” he said. “What I’ve learned is customer fundamentals haven’t changed, but the tools and philosophy have. What’s next? AI is already starting to play a part into this. That’s something to keep any eye on. That’s the fun part of it. We’re always learning about new ways to make customers’ lives better—and we’ll never stop.”
For more information about the Customer Experience report and all of CompTIA’s research, visit our Insight & Tools page.