Show me the love, forever

Vendors must change how they deliver "the customer experience"

IDC is reporting that staffing of the "customer experience" function at major IT vendors will grow by more than 40 percent per year through 2008. Nice euphemism. I think what they really mean is “customer love”’ teams -- the people who go in and make really, really sure that customers are happy.

Unfortunately, there’s a little confusion about exactly what these people are supposed to be doing. IDC VP Bob Johnson explains that “Too often, vendor leadership gives high praise to the role of customer experience teams but does not empower them to drive marketing, sales, and operational change.” In other words, they’ll buy you some dinners after the contract is signed, but they actually don’t have enough clout to get your ongoing issues addressed.

Johnson predicts this will change in 2006, when vendors “will invest in better management of the customer experience from an end-to-end perspective across awareness, consideration, purchase, application, leverage, and advocacy.”

Why change? Vendors have always put their best people in sales, people who show you lots of love until the deal is signed and then drop you like last year’s iPod. But the market’s sweet spot is changing, with more SMB deals and more subscription deals, with yearly or even monthly renewals. So the celebrations may not be as big, but love needs to be an ongoing affair, with love-bringers who have the clout to get issues addressed. Note to vendors: Customer experience is the new sales; better figure out how to deliver it. Love is forever.

Heard today on the radio Apparently Chinese Chinese auto exports have now overtaken its auto imports, a first step toward China’s goal of overtaking Germany as the world’s No. 3 auto-producing nation. And although domestic demand currently is soft, the Chinese auto industry is taking the long view, even investing in car racing tracks to stimulate future domestic demand.

What’s this got to do with IT? For starters, China will become one of the world’s largest OEMs, given all the IT that’s going into cars these days. More importantly, there are some parallels to the challenges China faces in exporting IT services. A recent Gartner report lists no fewer than 25 key success factors for Chinese IT firms trying to sell overseas, everything from basic marketing and name recognition to preparing for backlashes.

Gartner’s top advice for Chinese IT service providers is to focus more rigorously on a few target markets and stop trying to beat Indian competitors at their own game, focusing on their own core competencies instead. Who knows? Maybe Chinese IT services will specialize in giving customers the love they need. With the new globalization, everything is a commodity, right?