Stuck on hold? Why resellers deserve better support

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This article appeared in the August 2017 issue of CRN magazine.

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Stuck on hold? Why resellers deserve better support

COMMENT  If vendors are serious about having a partner channel, they could shine by offering better options for technical support. 

Resellers know the frustration of being stuck in a support queue, sitting on their hands waiting for support, rapidly chewing up their change window timeframe. Some resellers would even be happy to forego higher commissions for the ability to skip the level one support queue, which would lead to faster outcomes and happier customers.

Services have never been more important for the partner channel. The game has changed for IT resellers. As cloud adoption has increased and become favoured by the large software vendors, the days are gone of large profits on software licences. This is especially true in the SMB market and hasn’t been helped by a squeeze in hardware margins, too. 

This leaves resellers looking more closely at their own service offerings. Cloud migration and adoption projects are the new black, with or without ongoing support. Instead of being a single vendor solution, this is likely to be a bundled deal – a total solution for the customer instead of just a CRM system or just a collaboration platform. One thing that hasn’t changed is the reseller’s own need for technical support.

In the Australian and New Zealand markets, it’s common for the person selling technology solutions to have a technical background themselves. It’s also assumed by the customers that the reseller knows how the technology works. Vendors are more approachable now for not-for-resale (NFR) licences,  or resellers to cut their teeth on, but it’s not enough.

The first roadblock is the learning curve that a reseller needs to go through before they put a product near a customer site. It’s no surprise that resellers favour what they already know. They take time to get up to speed with new product offerings. Vendors and distributors don’t want to have resellers associated with their brand when a reseller doesn’t technically know their stuff. The customer experience of a product is a direct reflection of how successful the reseller was at implementing it. 

But in addition to this, it’s time consuming and inefficient to hand-hold every new reseller. The answer for most vendors is to construct a training and certification program, sometimes even as a pre-requisite for a reseller to be able to order their first licence. But making resellers sit through two hours of video content and quizzes before they’ve touched a product is a frustrating experience for the reseller. In reality, they’ll assign it to their lowest paid tech and they won’t be able to retain the 3000 things covered in the training material.

A better solution is to move to a “just in time” training model. Break down product training into the components that are relevant to the different steps in the process. Create training content on how to use the ordering portal, how to provision licences for customers and how the licence pricing models work. Then give the reseller access to the software. 

The next obvious step – installation. How do you plan a rollout and install and configure the software, cloud or no cloud? Complement this approach with an overview of the product features and an easy way for the reseller to get an answer to “does it specifically do X or Y?” before they’ve done the training.

The next roadblock is support during deployments. It’s rare that implementations occur during standard business hours but vendors don’t want the cost of offering 24x7 support. If they already do, the response time on that support can see a reseller hit a snag and get stuck on hold as their change window timeframe rapidly narrows. For a customer that doesn’t need 24x7 support for normal operations, it would be worth paying an additional fee for fast telephone access to level two or three support only during the deployment.

The final roadblock is the one resellers hit when they need product support, after the deployment is live. Customers are more likely to call their IT reseller than they are the product vendor, especially if the reseller is also their service provider. This leaves the reseller jumping through the product support hoops. 

Acknowledge that resellers already have technical skills and don’t put them through your level one support questions. Give them priority access to product support and the ability to fast track support escalation after confirming what steps they’ve already tried. Premium technical support will make a channel partner feel less like a reseller and more like an IT channel partner. 

Put a training certification program in place for the reseller to earn the privilege to skip the level one support queue. Service‑focused resellers would take that over higher commissions and the customers will be happier.   

Some vendors are starting to understand this concept, but the execution isn’t quite right. Microsoft offers a paid premium support arrangement for partners that may be acceptable for bigger resellers but is too expensive for the SMB market. That’s ironic given the SMB resellers are more likely to have less in-house technical expertise and therefore a greater need for support. 

Some vendors offer product certification programs (splitting sales and technical topics), but the benefits are unclear. 

Resellers don’t care about gold level badges if they get no more support than an untrained end customer who purchased a product directly.

The pace of product innovation has intensified. Resellers have more choice than ever before of affordable solutions that will meet their customers’ needs. Partnering becomes truly successful when the channel feels supported, technically empowered and recognised for the value they add to the entire customer experience of a product.

Get those things right and word of mouth alone in the reseller community will see a product being favoured.  

Sonia Cuff is the co-founder of The Missing Chair consultancy based in Brisbane.

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