Companies doing business in the information technology (IT) industry channel are making modest progress to improve their customer experience strategies, according to a new research report published by CompTIA, the leading trade association for the global technology industry.
About two-thirds of the 400-plus channel firms surveyed by CompTIA say they've made changes – major and minor – to their approach to the customer experience. Another one-third of companies are considering such actions.
"The customer's demand for flexibility is the primary driver prompting companies to examine their customer experience practices," said Carolyn April, senior director, industry analysis, for CompTIA. "Clients want to deal with their technology providers on any device they choose, at any time they choose."
Three in 10 responding channel firms say they've moved to an 'omnichannel' approach for interacting with customers, using a variety of tools and platforms to foster better communications. An equal number of companies have embraced a hybrid approach, combining some new elements with more traditional go-to-market practices, such as in-store sales and basic e-commerce websites. The balance of companies – about 40 percent – are sticking with a traditional approach to customer engagement.
"The biggest challenge to enhancing the customer experience is a lack of resources, both financial and staff, especially among the small companies that make up the large majority of the channel," April explained.
Asked about how well they are doing with their current customer-focused activities, channel firms generally give themselves good ratings.
"Companies feel they're doing the best job in technical support, which is not surprising given that many channel firms are run by individuals who are technologists first, and businessmen and women, second," April said.
But challenges occur at the front and back ends of the customer relationship; beginning with customer recruiting and business development and ending with client renewal and retention.
"Companies recognize that having difficulties in attracting new customers and in keeping the ones you have is not a sustainable business model," April said. "They acknowledge the need to create more customer-friendly options for engagement and to improve the actions they take to measure the success of their efforts."
On the staffing front, 43 percent of companies surveyed have retrained technical staff; 36 percent have retrained sales staff; 33 percent hired dedicated customer service staff, and 31 percent hired full-time marketing and/or social media professionals.
They study also reveals that 41 percent of channel firms introduced a multi-device approach to serve customers; and 37 percent redesigned websites with new automated tools such as chat bots, video, and artificial intelligence.
Companies are also stepping up their use of data and metrics to evaluate how their efforts are paying off, with 55 percent rating analytics as "very useful" in measuring and improving the customer experience.
The CompTIA report "Customer Experience Trends in the Channel" is based on a survey of 406 U.S. IT businesses. The complete report is available free of charge here.