I use a lot of technology that is developed in the US, and, consistently, when they ship that technology to ‘rest of the world’ they pass their support responsibilities so a distributor. While this looks like a good idea, the service the distributor delivers is usually poor.
Why is this acceptable, and as a customer, why do I have put up with this ? All this ìcustomer focusî and ìlistening to the customerî that we hear so much about from the Executives, doesn’t translate into customer support ?
It started out as …
I think that the roots of the business model started ten or more years ago when the Distributor was a specialist network company, with maybe three to five products. Often, those products were complementary, and this meant that knowledge and skills built up with the Distributor. Today, distribution is handled by large monolithic companies with little interest in product support and pay lip service to the idea at best. Not surprising when you consider that warehousing and distribution is a business about buying tonnes to ship kilos. Profits are made by keeping costs to the absolute minimum.
A business that has a core capability of low cost and high volume is not well positioned to make a successful technical support ecosystem. They are not going to see the value proposition of a high cost tech support function, except at contract negotiation.
Tech Support is difficult to do, and difficult to maintain
IT Managers are well versed in how much it costs to build a team of knowledgeable people who can resolve support problems. It is also difficult to keep them motivated, up to date and to have 24 hour support.
Then you have all the support systems that you need to maintain – help desk software, telephone and email systems, click to talk as well as the administrative overheads.
However, companies such as Cisco and Microsoft have demonstrated that the customer will pay for technical support but it must be of excellent quality, it must be well manned, and results must be delivered. Cisco in particular, has a most outstanding service capability and I postulate that this is a significant part of their success.
Are Americans limited in view ?
I am regularly told by people who visit the US, that Americans as a group are insular and have limited awareness of the global village. On this basis, maybe American executives are simply ‘handing off’ the global responsibilities and focussing on their own market and thus not really doing anything globally. They may even falsely believe that they are ëmanaging their global customersë. For example, there are 500 million people in the European Union, and 300 million in the US. There is a much larger revenue opportunity in the rest of the world, how can technology companies ignore this opportunity ?
I have not had the same experience with vendors located outside the US (although I note in passing that global companies with US management do seem to have the problem).
Long on talk – short on action
I recently bought maintenance contracts for two products with this model. The local sales office told me that (1) they did not provide any tech support outside of of USA and (2) was provided by the distributor. I was tempted to change my product choice once this was discovered, and now regret the decision to purchase these products. In both cases, there is only one person at the distributor who knows the products, they are often on site performing installation or sales calls and it can take days to get answers to problems.
On contacting the sales office, one company does not allow calls on the US head office at all. For the second, I could place calls on the US help desk if I really felt this was necessary, but they would only respond in US office hours because we did not have a 24 hour service contract with them. Of course US time is not European time and this was not an adequate solution. When working in other countries, I had the same problem. Obviously, neither of these solutions was acceptable.
Staffing Levels in the US even
I recently was working with a second tier network vendor, and I asked the exact question of how many staff were in their 24 hour helpdesk. The response was that they about 40 staff. When you do the numbers on this, you realise that they could not handle more than one Severity 1 support case at a time since they could not have more than two staff online at any time, and mostly only a single person. Which is ridiculous.
The most obvious point is to investigate how maintenance contracts are delivered when you are considering your product selection. It seems to be human nature to believe that the product will just work, because so many people do not investigate maintenance or how the support is delivered. This is particularly ironic when you consider how much talk about service and customer focus comes from the vendors.
The second point is that you need to understand the difference between tech support and software updates. Many companies do a good job on software updates, but a poor job at customer service. It is worth considering what you actually want , and understand that difference.
This is a difficult piece to write without sounding vaguely anti-American. So lets be clear, I think that the US has an excellent model for funding and developing technology companies, and the products are often excellent and that is why so many tech products comes from the US. I suspect its a cultural or historical problem that support outside the US isn’t addressed as a priority, but it might just be some poor experiences on my part. If so, apologies to all. But I am going to be looking carefully at my vendor choices and checking their support carefully before I recommend them to management as part of an architecture .