Take the trust test
It's time for the channel to re-ignite trust by adding true value to the end-user experience to develop better relationships across the board.
According to a study by the acclaimed American social psychologist Amy Cuddy, business leaders are often judged by their trustworthiness. "Your ability to establish, build and maintain trust is critical for your ability to lead," she reportedly says.
In my experience, not all business leaders succeed in communicating their values and purpose clearly, contributing to trust issues among customers, clients, employees and other stakeholders.
I believe trust should be viewed as one of the most, if not the most, important attributes of the modern organisation. Trust is the confidence generated by two complementary qualities which should be evident in leadership: character and competence. In this light, success can often be related to the viability of the organisation's network of positive relationships which are supported by its leaders and reflect the corporate culture.
Bill McDermott, CEO of multinational software company SAP, says: "Trust is the ultimate human currency; it's earned in drops and you can lose it in buckets if you don't make it a priority." He adds that the "net present value of a more satisfied and more loyal customer is the biggest value driver [in business today]" and that "a 5% improvement in [customer] retention is the equivalent of a 95% improvement in profits".
While many companies are adept at measuring, from many perspectives, most metrics linked to performance (market penetration, revenue streams, sales objectives and the like) they are unlikely to measure their levels of trustworthiness.
Companies in the distribution chain need to maintain a deeper understanding of the complexities of customer experience management.
In the South African context, and within the IT industry characterised by its three-tier marketing model, trust must of necessity be multifaceted. Customers (end-users) need to have trust in their dealers who, in turn, must trust distributors for support, technical backup and training. Distributors must have faith (and trust) in their vendors to deliver on their promises when it comes to deadlines and technology advances.
If trust is not, or cannot, be effectively measured, then perhaps more effort should go into measuring and managing the customer experience which, according to McDermott, is closely allied to the trust factor.
For example, do channel partners (be they vendors or distributors) have appropriate management and reporting software in place in their contact and call centres, with the necessary applications, to ensure service level agreements (SLAs) are adhered to and user expectations are met and hopefully exceeded?
What do the various departments (sales, marketing, support, logistics) within IT companies contribute to the end-user experience and what systems are in place to report on their successes and failures? Perhaps more importantly, what systems and policies are able to manage the customer experience?
Organisations should thus be challenged to review their SLAs with a view to tightening their objectives against the backdrop of the increasing need to remain viable and relevant in a changing and ever-more competitive marketplace.
Managers should look beyond the simple dictum that all telephone calls must be answered within a specified time, to examine the performance of key staff and how effectively and professionally incoming calls are handled and how efficiently queries are resolved.
Are problems surfacing due to a staff member's lack of knowledge and insightfulness? If so, what remedial action or training programmes are in place to improve service delivery to the caller?
In my experience, and relating the issue of trust within the enterprise networking environment with which I have been linked for decades, companies in the distribution chain need to maintain a deeper understanding of the complexities of customer experience management.
Executives need to have detailed knowledge of what motivates both customer-facing and support staff to do better and follow the corporate vision. It is not as easy as offering competitive salaries and shorter working hours. It starts with leadership that earns trust through behaviour that is commended, applied and replicated.
I am reminded by Simon Sinek, the author, motivational speaker and organisational consultant, that trust is built where there is shared risk. Thus, all participants in the distribution chain, from pre- and post-sales staff and call centre agents, to account managers, marketing professionals and company bosses, must be as invested in the selling of solutions and the garnering of profits.
Over the years, many industry insiders have seen the distribution channel as a necessary evil. Some view it with suspicion as, to them, it apparently provides few value-added benefits to resellers and end-users.
It's time for the channel to re-ignite trust by adding true value to the end-user experience and in so doing develop better, more trusted relationships across the board.
As minister Pravin Gordhan is quoted as saying: "Building trust, a spirit of co-operation, [is] about looking after today and investing in tomorrow." He adds that "trust needs to be a top-down organisational imperative that is framed against the economics of your operating environment. A culture of trust is led by credible leadership and maintained by every person within the organisation".
Paul Stuttard is a director of specialist distributor Duxbury Networking. Currently Cape-based, he has been with the company for 29 years and has extensive experience in the IT industry, particularly within the value-added distribution arena. His focus is on the formulation of future-oriented network optimisation strategies and business development objectives in collaboration with resellers and end-users in Southern Africa.