Superior Tech Support NowBy Lawrence Walsh | Posted 2009-02-09 Email Print
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Solution providers rely on vendors’ tech support services to ensure customers get the solutions they want and need. Vendors that fail to provide adequate tech support run the risk of losing partners and customers.
Five years or so ago at a different publication, I oversaw what was a very unusual test of anti-virus products. Rather than running a set of applications through the paces to see how many malware samples they could detect, our test was designed to evaluate the level and quality of tech support.
We went to great lengths in our test and, of course, we didn’t let the vendors in on our plans. We set up a dummy company, stealthily bought site licenses from five vendors, and developed four different failure scenarios that would require Tier 1 and, possibly, Tier 2 support. We looked at everything, from the vendor support teams’ technical knowledge and how well they resolved our issues to how long we had to wait on hold to the quality of the phone line.
The results were astounding. There were incidences where our tester was left on hold for an hour or more and where the quality of the phone line to some overseas call centers was so poor that it inhibited communications. Often, the quality of the support teams’ English was subpar. And, worst of all, the recommended remediations often left our test environment less secure than the failure state.
That was five years ago. Surely things have improved, knowing partners and end users have complained of similar issues. However, in talking with solution providers, poor tech support—that includes all of the above problems—persists to this day.
Yes, overseas tech support call centers are often less expensive to operate (or contract) than hosting domestic facilities. Even with the constricting economy and pressure on wages, tech talent remains expensive and hard to come by. But vendors that fail to place a premium on superior tech support and availability to partners and customers are running a huge risk.
For George Kafkarkou, tech support is a serious issue. As head of CA’s Internet Security Business Unit, which has one of the anti-virus products tested five years ago, he knows service and support issues have plagued the company’s relations with partners and customers. If CA has any hopes of rebuilding its security and channel presence, Kafkarkou knows it needs to demonstrate a commitment to improving support.
"No vendor in the world will say that their tech support is perfect, but we’ve made a world of difference in making improvements," Kafkarkou says.
Where the average hold time for CA security support was once 13 to 15 minutes, investments and improvements have brought hold times down to an average of just 3 minutes. "I would like to get it down to 1 minute, but 3 minutes isn’t bad," Kafkarkou says.
Superior tech support is one of the pillars of Kaspersky Lab's growth strategy. Its solution providers say that price and margins are more than reasonable, and capabilities and performance of products are great, but it’s the quality of tech support for them and their customers that’s making the Russian anti-virus company their choice.
While somewhat more expensive than the offshoring of support centers to India or the Philippines, Kaspersky locates its tech support centers in local markets, so its partners will have quick and easy access to tech support.
"If you want to achieve the best quality of product and service support, you need to have it local and close to the customers," says Eugene Kaspersky, founder and CEO of Kaspersky Lab.
And that’s a notion that solution providers are gravitating toward. When it comes down to a matter of price and margin vs. service and support, solution providers naturally want both. However, nurturing customer satisfaction resides solely in the degree of service provided, and solution providers need that first. A good product will win the sale today; poor service will deny a sale tomorrow.
As the recession wears on, vendors will ask for sacrifices and concessions from solution providers, and ask for their understanding when they do unsavory things to their channels in the name of self-preservation. Solution providers should, at the very least, demand and expect superior support. After all, solid support benefits both direct and indirect channels.
And if you think you have to accept poor tech support, think again. Scores of solution providers are making their supplier choices based on tech support. Solution providers own the customer relationship, so they should only recommend vendors that will ensure the customers’ total satisfaction.
Lawrence M. Walsh is vice president and group publisher of Channel Insider.