Guest Column | January 9, 2014

Become A Trusted Advisor To Customers — Manufacturers Can Help

By Cathy McHugh, DVTEL

Ideally, customers should be accustomed to depending on their IT reseller or integrator as a “trusted advisor.” This dependence is a core element of any reseller's value proposition. Savvy manufacturers look for ways they can help a reseller fulfill this important element of service to the customer. The best manufacturers act as partners with resellers to provide resources to encourage even greater trust among customers and a stronger bond with resellers. As resellers constantly seek to maximize their value to customers, there are several elements a manufacturer can add to the mix:

Develop products that require minimal training. Training in how to operate new systems enables end user customers to maximize the benefit of their technology investment, but providing that training can be a big expense for systems integrators. Manufacturers can help ensure well-trained end users — and minimize costs to resellers — by designing products that require as little education as possible. User interfaces should be simple and intuitive to allow integrators to save on training expenses while having the largest possible impact.

Provide electronic tools to enable integrators to get what they want, when they need it, regardless of time zone. Continuous access to electronic resources, such as how-to videos or tutorials, is a valuable component of effective system operation and customer satisfaction. Availability of online resources that integrators can access on demand can provide the greatest value at the lowest cost.

Offer continuous support. There are times when solving a problem simply must involve speaking with a human. Manufacturers can ensure availability of person-to-person support by providing online 24/7 chat lines to address the global market. Knowledgeable people who are accessible from anywhere in the world, anytime day or night, can be a valuable resource to augment an integrator's customer service infrastructure.

Optimize service and support. Much of the value of a service and support agreement (SSA) comes from how it is designed and administered. Effective and value-priced SSAs add substantial value to a sale. Ideally, SSAs should strive to be no-worry, no-hassle solutions to a customer's problems. They should offer high-priority, front-of-the-line service for a nominal fee. Manufacturers should communicate clearly to integrators the terms and conditions of an SSA, which are a useful tool for resellers as they ensure continuing best-value solutions for customers.

Generate leads. The first step to becoming a trusted advisor is finding new customers, and manufacturers can help there, too, by qualifying leads and bringing specific projects to an integrator. Fast access to quality leads provides integrators the information they need to establish and reinforce an advisory role beginning at their first contact with a customer.

Integrators and manufacturers should act as partners with a common goal of establishing trust with an end user. Integrators should also trust their manufacturers to play a valuable support role to help them assess and respond to customer expectations. Customer satisfaction depends on the best efforts of everyone involved in a system sale. It's a matter of trust.