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A Reputation for Stellar Service

12 Sep, 2008 By: Laurel B Sanders imageSource

A Reputation for Stellar Service

Good customer service is something we all expect. Yet defining and providing
it can be challenging, especially for resellers who stand sandwiched between
client needs and vendor solutions.  Like foreign language interpreters, they
serve as vital go-betweens, translating challenges, requirements, and solutions
for their suppliers & clients. Understanding the unique needs business managers
express and communicating them faithfully to potential vendors is tougher than
it sounds.  Some are verbalized; others, written, but even more remain unsaid.
Often you are expected to comprehend business pain by intuition.

Like an interpreter, you need a solid understanding of the bigger picture
before you start looking for and talking about potential solutions. Without
understanding the unspoken (or unrecognized) needs and issues, your service—even
with best intentions—may be insufficient, unappreciated, or result in lost
opportunities.  Reseller relationships are multi-pronged, and must involve
two-way communication at every level. Detailed and accurate descriptions of
needs help vendors provide fitting solutions.  Afterward, resellers must convey
these solutions convincingly to clients in a language they understand. 

Skilled VARs ensure that their clients feel served like kings, so are eager
to repeat the experience of doing business. Here are considerations to help you 
 refine your interviewing and interpreting skills; get the answers you need from
customers and suppliers; and deliver superb service that attracts repeat

5 Ways to Build a Stellar Reputation

1. Communication: is it proactive, reactive, or inactive?

In today’s world of email, instant messaging and Web inquiries, people
anticipate instant, accurate answers.  This presents challenges when potential
clients need information to make decisions and are on timelines that might
differ from yours or the vendors you work with. How can  you obtain timely
responses so you can satisfy clients & stay ahead of the game? As you evaluate
potential solution providers, look not only at their products, but beyond them. 

  • What kind of service does the vendor provide, and how? 
  • Who responds when you call the vendor’s support line?  Is it a person or
    only a machine? 
  • Can you reach someone knowledgeable?
  • Do they work at the company, or are they thousands of miles away? 
  • Do they respond promptly and professionally? 
  • Do they give knee-jerk reactions to inquiries, eager to advance to the
    next customer? 
  • Worse yet, are they completely inactive or unresponsive?

Proactive, reactive, or inactive vendor communications often foreshadow the
service your customers can expect if you sell their products or services.  Make
sure it’s stellar.  If not, your own reputation may be tarnished.

2. Skilled interpreting:  are you asking good questions?

Providing appropriate solutions means more than knowing which product best fits
your clients’ current needs.  A chosen vendor may be part of a much larger
business vision, or a stepping stone to another path.  Ask your client probing
questions.  Understanding the long-term plan may affect your recommended
solution, but it may result in a more satisfied customer. 

As an interpreter, a VAR ideally considers pieces and parts from diverse
vendors, envisioning and translating them into an appropriate and cohesive
proposal.  He must accurately portray individual product capabilities, yet
present a seamless solution.  Good questioning exposes true business pain and
ultimately reveals the best answers.  Clients may voice needs they hadn’t
previously considered, resulting in better and more comprehensive
installations.  As you ascertain the larger picture, it is important to ask each

  • How will you support my clients? 
  • Is specific training recommended and available?  Is there a cost? 
  • Can you provide a list of customers you have supported and trained?
  • What experience do you have integrating your products with other software
    and hardware vendors?
  • Can you name at least one customer who you supported through a difficult
  • What is your company’s customer retention rate?

 The reseller’s ability to recommend and deliver the most appropriate
products and services depends on the details collected about the client’s real
needs and each vendor’s strengths and weaknesses.  It also depends on their
ability to understand alternatives, and how diverse products and services can
interconnect.  The quality of communication is in your hands, and it is
evidenced by your questions.  Forethought puts you in the driver’s seat, giving
you the power to engage in meaningful business. 

Supplier teamwork:  is it for show, or for real?

Teamwork is the mantra of many companies, but the practice of it is far
fewer.  A good salesperson may convince you that their staff always works
collaboratively to ensure everyone is happy.  But what do you see when you talk
with members of staff?  Are teamwork, commitment, and a shared understanding of
your needs (and those of your customers) clearly evident? Is the vendor’s team
paddling toward the same shoreline?  If the project involves multiple suppliers
& products, teamwork will be critical.  Do they have the attitude and commitment
to pull it off?

Solid communication is a requirement for teamwork.  Voice your expectations
clearly.  Ask your vendor to rephrase them so you know they understand.  If you
are involved in a large project with multiple team members, make sure they
communicate well with each other, the message is consistent, and the
participants truly collaborate to meet your needs.  If they comprehend & strive
to fulfill your expressed interests – assuming your requests are reasonable—they
should be able to fulfill those of your clients.

Integrity:  what’s beyond the smile?

Honesty and integrity are critical to long-lasting relationships, especially
in business.  If your suppliers don’t fulfill their promises, your own integrity
and honesty may be questioned.  Your vendors should be able to demonstrate the
knowledge, services, reputation, and commitment they profess.  If they render
the kind of service they claim, their named references should describe them in
glowing terms.  Don’t let smiles and promises make the sale without looking
beyond them.  Does your vendor ask you questions that demonstrate an earnest
desire to address your needs?  Are alternatives offered?  Are complementary
vendors & services discussed?  As you work with business partners & clients,
show the same integrity you expect from your suppliers.

Your sixth sense: are you using it?

Sometimes your intuition may tell you that you should consider walking away
from potential business, even though it may seem illogical on the surface.  Is a
vendor promising the moon, eager to make a sale, but reticent to consider other
options or slow to provide answers?  Do their deliverables differ from what you
requested?  Do the partners you work with make mistakes on minor details?  If
so, what will happen when your customer has major requests?  This may be an omen
of not-so-rosy results—for you and your customer.  Have rumors circulated about
customer projects that failed because of a vendor?  Ask for references.  Our
reputations often precede us.  Those of our business partners, clients, and
competitors do, too.  Trust your instincts if you are unsure about a potential
vendor  or client.  Make sure their reputation—and yours—is positive.

Laurel Sanders is the Director of Public Relations & Communications for
OpticalImage Technology, Inc., developers of the DocFinity suite of imaging,
document management & workflow products (www.docfinity.com)

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