IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Customer Support in the Cloud Era

Vendors are offering your customers cheap or free tech support for many cloud services. Where does that leave you? By James E. Gaskin

Applications moved to the cloud and customers followed. Vendors like Microsoft are offering cheap or even free technical support for many of these cloud services. Does that leave resellers stuck in the mud? “The trend now is disintermediation, which is a fancy word for cutting out the middleman,” says Michael Klein, president of Computer Directions Inc., located in the greater New York area. “We explain that there are things we do that they do not do.”

Big cloud vendors already control the servers, says Klein, which makes support easier. “But we can go on-site, and the big vendors can’t.” He’s had a few customers leave for free vendor support, but the majority returned.

Dave Seibert, CIO of IT Innovators Inc., in Irvine, Calif., believes cloud support is a disruptor, but not a new paradigm, because vendors have been offering at least warranty support for years. “There’s still a unique place for manufacturers to play in this area, but that support isn’t the level of real support a customer needs,” he says.

Seibert sees a consistent trend across his customer base: The larger the company, the more it demands superior support. “A VP doesn’t want to be on the phone waiting for support.” He admits that some customers need reminding that his company offers higher levels of support than basic vendor support. Huge vendors, says Seibert, have millions of customers. “But when you call a solution provider, you talk to a person who will promise to take care of you,” he says.

Klein sees a similar situation. “We work with a lot of attorneys and architects and others who bill at high hourly rates. They lose money if they do their own support,” he says. That’s why they call him even for products that are under warranty, so he can deal with the vendors.

Customers Seek Advice
Rochelle Coleman is director, partner strategy and marketing for Concerto Cloud Services, part of Tribridge, a national technology services firm in Tampa, Fla., specializing in business applications and cloud solutions. She says, “VARs and MSPs are primed to continue to be the trusted adviser, and more than ever the customer base is looking for that type of offering.” Coleman adds, “The big cloud vendors themselves acknowledge that their support is built for the masses.”

She also believes service providers can craft solutions for specific customer needs. “They enable the customers to go across cloud applications and their own on-premise IT without the customers having to deal with a multitude of different vendors.” Coleman’s experience is that customers are proactively seeking that type of partnership.

Of course, as a service provider herself, Coleman sees the business value in bundling full support into a single monthly price for customers. And when working with a white-label cloud services provider, the support of that provider becomes essentially the support delivered by the reseller.

Many clients have found the cloud vendors are too large and impersonal. “If the first person answering the phone can’t answer your questions, it’s a bureaucracy,” says Klein. “When you call a cloud vendor for tech support the least-qualified person answers.”

Seibert echoes those comments. “When customers call us, we’re immediately at support level three,” he says. Local resellers know the customer’s business beyond just the product with an issue. “Remote vendors can’t see network problems and don’t understand the client environment.”

Klein has worked directly with a large accounting provider. “I explained that tech support is not consulting. There are things like training, installation, and customization that we can do that they can’t,” he says. In fact, Klein sent the vendor a list of things he does over and beyond the vendor’s own support that ran two full pages.

He also knows customers want a “better than basic” experience. “Not everyone wants to eat at McDonald’s,” he says. “People like to go to restaurants, often small ones where the owner is on-site, where they get better service and personalized attention.”

About the Author

James E. Gaskin's picture

JAMES E. GASKIN is a ChannelPro contributing editor and former reseller based in Dallas.

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