Market Focus: High-Tech -- The Complexity Chasm

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CRM within the high-tech industry is—unsurprisingly—complex. First, customers can be anyone: an indirect partner, a product reseller, a client, or a consumer. Given the intricate nature of the technical product being sold and the multifaceted relationships required to get the product out the door, maintaining positive customer experiences requires a holistic approach.

“What I often find is that customer service [in the high-tech industry] is sort of hit-or-miss,” says Kimberly Collins, a Gartner analyst specializing in CRM. She points out what many might intuitively suspect: “The more [customers] pay for solutions, the higher the expectations for customer service.” However, the relationship of cost to customer service doesn’t seem to universally apply in high-tech. The problem, Collins says, is that high-tech firms often don’t truly have the customer experience at heart.

Even high-tech companies with rich customer data and frequent customer touch points can still miss out on delivering positive customer experiences. Take, for example, the typical paperwork for terms and conditions: The information is presented in a minuscule typeface, and in verbose and complicated jargon. Lior Arussy, president of customer experience consultancy Strativity Group, pointed to this during a session at CRM’s destinationCRM 2008 conference this past August. “It’s intimidating,” Arussy told the crowd. “It’s not customer-centric.”

A rift may exist, to a certain degree, between customers and high-tech companies, but some in the industry are recognizing that and trying to remedy the problem. For instance, credit-card powerhouse MasterCard—which provides technology solutions to its network—acknowledges that its processes, deals, and customers are diverse. According to Greg Box, the technology relationship manager for global markets with the company’s St. Louis branch, there are people devoted to taking technology out of the equation and bridging the gap to address customer needs. The technical account manager’s role is to work directly with customer accounts to understand each customer’s particular business and the goals that customer wants to pursue. Box says the managers align the customer needs with appropriate applications that will drive the most value.

“There’s an investment that needs to take place on both sides,” says Mike Manchisi, chief technology officer of MasterCard’s St. Louis office. The level of involvement, he adds, includes not just having a detailed understanding of MasterCard’s products and services, but also reading the customer’s Securities and Exchange Commission regulatory filings and knowing what each company is doing. Manchisi and Box both say that MasterCard tries to eliminate the techno-jargon, speaking on the customer level with the goal of transparency always top-of-mind.

This all comes back to Collins’ point about customers expecting more service when they’ve paid a higher price. She says it’s especially true with high-tech software that asks for a hefty upfront licensing fee. When the provider charges maintenance fees, too, customers expect an even further level of support. “Once the customer pays upfront licensing and is now paying maintenance, the technology provider has them,” Collins says. This can lead to feelings of suffocation and frustration. The vendor, no matter the level or quality of customer service provided, has a captive customer—and customers don’t always respond well to captivity.

“At the end of the day, the [high-tech] customer doesn’t care how their issue is being tracked or how you’re dealing with contact information,” says Joel Bomgar, chief executive officer of Bomgar, a provider of virtual remote-support systems. “They care about how you can [solve] their issue.” Bomgar’s firm essentially takes over customer support, remotely controlling a caller’s cursor or computer, putting an end to the miscommunication or flawed Web self-service all too common to high-tech customer service.

Another problem in high-tech support is the help desk itself, which is often outsourced overseas. “[It’s] one of the things IT companies have done most poorly,” Bomgar says. “Not only is this a frustrating experience [for customers], but it becomes twice as frustrating with language barriers.”

And, as Collins points out, a customer calling a support outlet is already frustrated. If a contact center or service page cannot solve the issue, the customer experience basically goes out the window.

Collins does say, however, that she sees live agent chat as a possible mechanism for helping customers with highly technical needs. (See “Contact Centers Chatting to Success,” for more on chat.) As for other recommendations for high-tech companies looking to improve the customer experience, she advises thinking about client retention in the long term. As in many other industries—and perhaps even more critically given the specialized world of high-tech—creating community forums and gauging customer feedback is a good place to start. 

SIDEBAR: Top 3 Vendors in High-Tech     Source: Gartner

  • Salesforce.com
  • Oracle
  • ADempiere or Eloqua [for campaign management]

Top 3 Vendors in High-Tech

Several of the stories in this month’s Insight refer to information and presentations from our recent destinationCRM 2008 conference. For more of our coverage from the show, please visit http://snurl.com/dCRM08.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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