Major hardware and software vendors are embracing multiple channels beyond existing portals and e-mail to provide better support to their customers says IDC Services and Support Analyst Elaina Stergiades. Each vendor has a different approach, however, based on its overall strategy. And these expanded services offerings can take months to put into place as the vendors build back-end systems to support them first.
Even when they are introduced, customers may be slow to take advantage of them. “Most of the customers I talk to typically don’t understand their support entitlements and haven’t used most of the resources available through their support services agreements,” she says.
“Some vendors have always put a premium on support deliverables and functionality, and some vendors are just now starting to look to support for differentiation and improved customer value,” she says. “Most support providers are constantly innovating around support deliverables and methodology to help customers realize more value from their software and hardware,”
Today that means delivering support to smartphones and tablets, both those carried by their external support personnel and those of their resellers in the SMB market, and directly to their ultimate customers. And it means moving beyond phone and e-mail to other communications channels such as chat, user forums where their customers can discuss issues with each other, and webinars.
EMC, which has always looked to support for some of its market differentiation, has been particularly aggressive in harnessing these new channels, most recently with its Agile Support initiative, but it is hardly the only vendor doing this. “Ongoing modifications, expansions, and additions to support services are fairly common in this market, while major changes happen much less frequently,” she says.
The vendors are motivated partly by a need to find new areas of differentiation in a market where some products are becoming increasingly commoditized. But while support levels do enter into purchase decisions, she says, they are seldom the deciding factor, and innovation is still powering differentiation in many hardware markets.
The main reason, she says, is that vendors are responding to user expectations including decreased time to resolution of customer issues and improved overall user experiences. Smartphone adoption has been at nearly 100% for IT staff worldwide for some time, and tablet use is growing rapidly. Users want their vendors to deliver support and other information to those platforms not just so they can show off their new iPads but so that they can easily access the information they need at the physical location where they need it. For an IT staff member dealing with a problem in a piece of hardware, a step-by-step video or slide show at the site of the problem is several times more valuable than the same video on a laptop on a desk in an office.
IT staff at all levels expect to communicate via chat, Twitter, and other new channels, both inside their companies and with their vendors. They are used to webinars and expect their vendors to deliver important information and access to key people through them rather than only at occasional public events where it can be hard to ask specific questions. It is often more convenient and easier, particularly when highly technical information needs to be exchanged.
Beyond that, she says, “CIOs and IT managers are starting to think of support in terms of the business processes they deliver to the enterprise at large, not just the servers and software in their data centers. They are looking for more support providers to approach support in that manner.”
None of this, however, does users any good if they do not use these expanded support delivery mechanisms. Users need to understand what each of their vendors offers and leverage those new capabilities to get maximum value from support. It is part of what they pay for with their license fees.