Tech Buyers Vent About Vendor Satisfaction - InformationWeek

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1/22/2009
03:30 PM
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Tech Buyers Vent About Vendor Satisfaction

Find out what IT buyers hate and love about their vendors -- and what they can do to build better relationships.

Requirements Matter
When asked what vendors should start doing, the top response, at 34%, was, "Be up front about how their products meet my requirements" (see chart, "What Should Vendors Start Doing?"). The second choice, at a distant 16%, is closely related: Technology buyers want vendors to take the time to really understand their requirements.

That's a key concern for Stephen Hultquist, CIO at Firefly Energy, which develops lead-acid batteries for trucks and other vehicles. The 50-person company's IT operations are 100% outsourced, Hultquist says. Applications are delivered via software as a service, and infrastructure support comes from local IT services companies.

Because critical business apps are delivered as a service, Hultquist will work only with vendors that can meet his requirements. It helps that he used to run an application service provider, so he knows "the right questions to ask and the places to look for weaknesses in the architecture," he says. "They're forced to be clear with me because I know what goes on behind the curtain."

Firefly focuses on developing long-term relationships with SaaS providers over which Hultquist can have some influence. He's willing to change his own business processes to match the provider's capabilities, as long as that doesn't add complexity or create problems for users.

Desperately Seeking Support
The best way to win a customer's heart is through solid tech support, according to 37% of survey respondents (see chart, "What Qualities Do You Want In Your Most Trusted Vendor?"). Product reliability is a close second, at 28%, followed by having a knowledgeable professional services teams and honest pre-sales engagements, both at 27%.

To get a picture of what respondents think of pre-sales and post-sales technical support, we asked if they agree that their three largest vendors provide top-quality responses to technical questions within hours during the pre-sales period, with post-sales responses taking days. Sixty-one percent say they somewhat agree with that statement, and 27% completely agree; only 12% disagree.

The analyst at the financial services company says she generally gets good service when she has a contract that lets her deal with vendor engineers directly. Things can get tenuous when she has to deal with general tech support. "If things get too complex for tech support, they'll tell you to get another service contract or they bill you," she says. But when a company promises a certain functionality, and it takes hours to get it working, she thinks the vendor should swallow that support cost.

chart: What Should Vendors Start Doing?
A more widespread practice is to throw other vendors under the bus. Sixty-one percent of respondents say a vendor's first response is to blame the other guy if there's a technical conflict between two products. Only 15% say the first response is to try to fix the problem.

Doug Williams, IT director for Peconic Landing, a New York retirement community, knows firsthand about support nightmares. He spent a year trying to get a vendor to resolve a problem with four wireless access points that kept dropping connections for residents and employees. The vendor's tech support group suggested various fixes, including new software, Williams says, but nothing worked. Six months in with no success, Williams says he asked if he could return the APs, but the company declined. The support team eventually stopped trying to help. "They kept wanting to close the ticket," says Williams. "I wouldn't let them."

About a year after he had purchased the APs, he came across a beta copy of a new version of the software. When he called tech support to ask about it, they said if he installed the beta, it would void the warranty. But since Williams was stuck with the product regardless, he loaded the beta, and it fixed the problem.

"It shouldn't have taken a year," he says. "It almost feels like their products are in perpetual beta, and I'm paying support to be a guinea pig. I don't think that's right."

chart: What Qualities Do You Want In Your Most Trusted Vendor?

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