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Customer Satisfaction: The New Imperative

Originally published May 27, 2004

It is no secret that, during the go-go years before the technology bubble burst, relations between enterprises and the software technology vendors that serviced them were frequently strained.  Those were the days when technology was the master and innovation for innovation’s sake was more or less accepted. Overly engineered, overly featured, under tested code that didn’t solve a user’s problem created nightmarish scenarios for most CIO’s.  And that was just the beginning of the problems.  

Listening carefully to CIO’s stories about these times, several themes emerge:

  • Poor product quality.  Too often, technology companies brought products to market that were incomplete and riddled with flaws.  The products simply did not function as advertised nor solve the problems they were marketed as solving.
  • Manipulative selling techniques. Technology sales forces, armed with shallow product knowledge and fueled by overly aggressive compensation plans, committed too many ‘drive-by’ selling violations. Their sole focus was moving product today, not solving the customer’s business problems and generating measurable results.
  • Out of control implementations. Getting the technology installed, customized, and integrated with other systems was, in many cases, a multi-year experience.  It simply took too many people, too much time, and too much money to get systems operational, pushing results too far into the future. Sometimes, systems never did work!
  • Spotty customer support. Doing ongoing business with technology vendors was difficult.  Whether customers were trying to renew maintenance agreements, schedule training, evaluate new product offerings, or install upgrades, it was a challenge to find the right vendor employee to help, to communicate the problem, and to get it resolved quickly.

Not a pretty picture.

As our economy emerges from the doldrums of the last three years, corporations are beginning once again to increase their investments in business intelligence and performance management technologies. But today’s customers are different.  They are no longer interested in buying technology for technology’s sake.  Nor are they willing to take huge up front risks, betting on measurable returns somewhere down the road. 

Today, customers want proven solutions to critical business problems delivered faster and more cheaply than ever. Addressing their specific business issues is no longer a coincidence.  It is an absolute requirement. And customers demand a return on their investment in the short, medium, AND long term.  

Times have changed for the software industry which is challenged to evolve into a more customer-focused way of life. If it doesn’t, it will not realize its full potential.  Size, reach, social impact, contribution to productivity and general ubiquity of software today means the industry must grow up and function like other more mature industries. This suggests the modality of enterprise software vendors must change in kind. They must shift their focus from internal company needs to the needs and wants of their customers.  They must truly bridge the customer satisfaction gap.

How exactly do they make this happen?  How do software companies bridge the customer service gap?  There are many answers to these questions, both strategic and tactical.  We plan to identify and share those answers in this and future columns by fostering a dialogue between customers and vendors on these pages.  Through this dialogue, we will provide insights into what customers really want and need, and into how vendors can begin to provide the right mix of products and services to satisfy those needs. 

One answer we can share with you right now is: It all begins by asking the customer what they want, early and often, and then listening closely to their answer. Software companies need to hear continuous feedback from their customers.

Tell Us What You Think

We’d like to hear from you! If you are a technology buyer who has an opinion about software vendors can better service your needs, let us know! Send us your ideas, anecdotes, questions, and complaints.

If you are a software company who has implemented uniquely effective methods for bridging the customer satisfaction gap, we’d like to hear about those too.  What are they?  Why do they work so well?  What challenges did you face implementing them?

  • Bob Butchko

    Bob is a veteran technology entrepreneur with more than 20 years experience managing technology companies at all phases of their development, typically at the level of president or CEO. Bob has both extensive Silicon Valley experience and considerable government sector knowledge and marketing expertise. He has founded, turned-around and taken companies public in a variety of disciplines, including hardware, software and the Internet. Bob's expertise carries a particular emphasis on turnaround and transition scenarios, and positioning companies to tap emerging markets. Bob can be reached at C-Level Leadership LLC. 703-245-1270 or bbutchko@clevelleader.com

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