With social media an increasingly popular customer support tool, "humanising" business has become vital to sustaining customer relationships that last beyond a single transaction. All business relationships can be volatile if not carefully nurtured or backed up with the right support and guidance.
It is therefore crucial for the channel to make correct - and truthful - choices that incorporate the best levels of co-operation, transparency and honesty.
In addition to communicating clearly when it comes to the cost of products and solutions, the length of the product warranty should be featured. Businesses that do not set out clear information about the statutory rights of consumers to return goods under warranty may find themselves subject to an increasing number of legal challenges.
In addition, customers can feel they have not understood the terms of sale, which can create an uncomfortable atmosphere if something goes wrong.
For those customers with smaller budgets, transparency and honesty is even more fundamental because of their pressing need for systems that can last for years.
With peace of mind from an extended warranty whose details have not been buried in the small print, SMBs and even larger enterprises can feel better and more secure about their purchasing decisions. No one likes unpleasant surprises.
To improve relationships, the channel needs to take a more active role in educating customers, and one of the most effective methods is to make this process as simple as possible for them.
A clear yet thorough overview of the product and its vendor is something so many companies fail to provide, yet this could make all the difference to someone having doubts about a purchase.
Having an honest warranty is the first and most important step, but good businesses must go beyond this and also offer a full package that helps it gain trust, loyalty and, of course, understanding within the customer organisation.
This should include providing adequate product training, guidance and expertise for customers requiring a holistic view or experience. Effort in this area should guarantee that more customers stay long term, and pay off the investment made.
Obviously this is easier said than done, as customer demands evolve, presenting new challenges to the channel.
Businesses have their work cut out to find effective solutions to overcome these things. It can be about anticipating the customers' needs, creating personalised experiences, or solving problems rather than pitching, and being available and accessible when and where the customer wants. Customers will say: "I prefer to deal with companies that know me and listen to me."
Customers want more than a full understanding of their technology decisions; they want to be actively involved in selecting and managing the tools that will play a critical role in their future success.
Provide a supportive environment to customers. If a customer calls, call him or her back. If you offer support through email, have a real person reply, confirming receipt of the enquiry, and outlining how it will be handled. Similarly, if you say you're going to do something then do it - or at very least let the customer know you're trying to.
The channel must truly understand that trust can never be bought, it must be earned. Providing a clear, honest and humanised approach to customers will cement long-lasting relationships and ensure a great return on investment.
Lee Marsden is president of ZyXel Europe
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