Support and Partner Relationships

This post came to life as a response to a linkedin question on the Association of Support Professionals group (see the entire exchange here, join the group for valuable information).  The discussion started with a question about differentiating partner cases from direct customer cases.  Below is my response, a little enhanced and slightly cleaned up and edited to stand on its own:

When evaluating the way partner cases should be treated it is important to take a look at high level partner relationships and the way they apply to the support world:

The partners’ interests in many cases are:

  1. Get the maximum amount of discount from the vendor,
  2. Invest as little as possible in non-project oriented activities
  3. Deliver a working implementation and charge for the project
  4. Do the minimum supporting the customer and throw any case over the fence so they do not disrupt current projects

Additionally, the partners’ operating environment is such that

  1. Their investment in the product is not high
  2. Switching costs to a competitive solution are not high
  3. The main asset is the customer relationship

Therefore partners tend to always be operating “on the brink”, doing the absolute minimum they can and attempting to get the most out of it.

The challenge support operations face is removing their relationships with the partner from the transactional project-oriented MO of the partner and transition it to a continuous dialog.  In order to do that, it is important to realize several things:

  1. Partners are allowed to take an extra cut of the software maintenance fees for providing support (your contract with them should give you the right to demand some things of them in return, from service levels to auditing rights)
  2. Partners main source of revenue is from professional services projects and not in providing maintenance and support services
  3. Vendors are interested in the long term retention of existing customers and in the reputation their products have in the market served by the partner, which they have outsourced to the partner for the extra cut of the maintenance fees

Looking at it this way, it becomes much easier to provide answers to your questions:

  1. You must treat partners differently, after all they are an important participant in the support chain and therefore should be measured, praised or made to face the consequences of poor performance in the same way as everybody else.  If you treat them like customers, why not treat your own Level 1 team as customers as well?  Most likely they cost you way less than the partners.
  2. Having a separate team or routing directly to level 2/3 is probably an individual operational matter and has more to do with workload, scheduling, availability of expertise, etc., but if you route partners through level 1, then why pay them in the first place?
  3. If you think partners are part of your overall ability to deliver excellent customer experience then you absolutely have to ensure they have the same access as your employees (point made by David Kay).  If you do not give them access to resources how can you expect they do a proper job?

Additionally, I like David’s suggestion of “invalid escalations” – it gives you the ability to both gauge the partners’ effectiveness as well as the ability of your knowledge base to serve them correctly (the suggestion was to measure cases that could have been resolved with existing information without escalation to the vendor).

So, how do you create a successful support partnership with your resellers?  We’ll discuss that in a future post.

Interesting?  Anything to add?  Write a comment or drop me an e-mail.

3 responses to “Support and Partner Relationships

  1. Haim –

    I’m delighted to see that you’re blogging! I’m subscribed.

    I really like the overall point — that of turning support partner interactions from transactions to relationships. I think you’ve correctly highlighted the reasons that there’s ambivalence in how each side views the other in the relationship. And I like your three suggestions.

    Thanks for the shout-out, and I’m looking forward to reading your upcoming posts.


  2. Thanks David – I have several posts in various stages, some of which on topics close to your heart. Stay tuned.

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