The channel has a customer support problem.
Subpar implementation and support from vendors have become the norm in the channel, according to partners. Many agencies have added services and personnel of their own to fill the massive gap.
“Suppliers should be handling most of that heavy lifting. I should not be the one that’s culpable if my project management team makes a mistake. Because we’re not the ones who are supposed to be doing it,” Salvage told Channel Futures. “And God help me if you leave it to the customer.”
Salvage broke the issue into two main buckets: implementation and support.
Salvage said approximately three in four (75%) vendors he works with underperform on deployments. Moreover, he sees suppliers shrinking the amount of effort they put into deployment.
“What I’m seeing is a shift where they are looking to put more of that onus on the customer or folks like myself… We’re doing a lot of this work for the supplier. And instead of charging, it’s almost like the supplier is getting free implementation so their team doesn’t have to do anything,” he said.
In addition, he said the quality of project managers is decreasing.
“It seems to me that the project management teams are getting worse, not better,” Salvage said. “When you do get a project management engagement out of these things, a lot of times it’s pulling teeth to even get together with these folks.”
Salvage said he often waits endlessly for email updates that the project manager promised, when all along he simply wanted to get the customer and the project manager on the same phone call to talk.
Matthew Toth, founder and president of Michigan-based consultancy C3 Technology Advisors, said he employs four project managers, and for good reason. Lack of project management on the vendor side helped create their roles.
“I’ve got project managers who essentially babysit project managers from other organizations. So the proof is kind of in the pudding. I wouldn’t need these people if all my vendors did what they’re supposed to do, but they don’t,” Toth told Channel Futures. “But that’s just par for the course. We’ve been dealing with that our whole lives.”
On one hand, vendors may be hiring from a shrinking talent pool. But Salvage and Toth note that their internal project management teams “outshine” those of their supplier partners.
“I’m not undervaluing my team here,” Salvage said. “I’m just saying that we shouldn’t be better at it than the suppliers.”
Salvage’s team holds multiple certifications, enough to in many cases handle the entire process. And often it must. For a UCaaS deal, that means building and designing call flow, initiating port requests and compiling user data.
“You’re talking about the broad range of everything that a supplier should be doing and should be getting done for a customer, because the customers are paying good money for this stuff,” he said.
Salvage said about four in five (80%) vendors underdeliver on customer support. For example, one cloud communications vendor left a ticket open for 40 days. He said he could spend an entire day escalating customer tickets that no one has opened.
“That looks bad. Because it makes the industry look like they don’t care,” Salvage said. “I think most of the time they do care, and certainly we care. But when you’re telling me you can’t get an issue resolved or get people to follow up with you for 40 days — that is just ridiculous.”
What about the companies that claim to provide 24/7 support?“They don’t do that,” Salvage said. “When I have a support center that is in San Jose, California, and I am on the East Coast, and that’s the only support I have, that’s not acceptable to me. You’re calling these people and getting a tier 1 person on the phone, and they’re asking for your account information.”
The problem looks even more ridiculous when you consider the nature of the type of solutions that Toth and Salvage sell. Typically these are not technologies that require an onsite visit from the vendor.
“You’re talking about software platforms,” he said. “They should be able to go in there and manipulate what they need to manipulate and be done with it.”
A vendor’s technology platform can help a partner address their customer’s business challenges. However, the vendor ceases to be helpful when broken technology starts to cause problems of its own.
“We are going to help you sell your stuff,” Toth said, describing what he tells his vendor partners. “If you support our customers really well, then we’ll continue to sell your stuff. But if in the middle you [stop] supporting our customers, then this virtuous cycle just stops, because we’re not going to continue to sell you.”
Toth said C3 has put multiple suppliers in “timeout.”
“You are not supporting our clients, whether it’s installations or whatever it may be. It’s just difficult to do business with you,” he said.
Toth and Salvage both noted that some vendors do support very well. Salvage said in some cases he can easily chat with an engineer on the phone about a problem. However, the majority of the industry is failing in customer support.
Fixing the Problem
Vendors could tackle these problems in a variety of ways.
The obvious one is investment in personnel. Salvage said vendors need to bite the bullet and spend more money on attracting technically competent support personnel.
“It’s an expensive proposition, but if you’re going to go out and be a Gartner Magic Quadrant leader, support to me is the number one challenge,” he said.
He also noted that one of his vendors compensates its support personnel based on how quickly they resolve issues.
Furthermore, Salvage said vendor bifurcation between indirect and direct teams means that Kairos can only get help from a certain amount of people. This occurs especially with the larger companies. Eliminating those silos can ensure that channel-transacting customers receive the same amount of support.“To me, support should be across the board with one organization or entity,” Salvage said.
Salvage and Toth do not stand alone in their exhortation to the industry. Numerous channel partners have told Channel Futures that they weigh customer support far more heavily than SPIFFs when selecting vendor partners.
“If someone could figure out support, they’d never lose a customer,” Salvage said.