Shopping for customer service software: asking vendor references the right questions
When shopping for customer support or customer relationship management (CRM) software, talking to each vendor’s customer references is a critical step in making the right decision. During the sales cycle, it is very easy to get drawn into marketing messages and swayed by demonstrations of prototype products, customized for each demonstration. Customer references are the only way to determine what functionality actually exists, how easy it is to implement, how the vendor supports its customer base and how well it manages the overall relationship.
When the “short list” of vendors is determined, it is time to start understanding what their products really have to offer, and a key step in evaluating each vendor is customer references. Here are some tips to managing the reference process and maximizing the effectiveness of each reference:
- Insist on references for any modules or functions that are critical for a successful implementation.
- Ask about “out-of-box” functionality vs. site customization.
- Request references in your vertical market.
- Similarly, request references using your technology platform of choice.
- Go on-site. While some phone references are fine, go to a few customer sites and talk to the people actually using the applications, as well as the front-line managers for the service teams.
- Ask the tough questions. What worked and what didn’t? What would you do differently next time? What was more difficult than promised?
- Ask about “shelf-ware.” Did they implement all modules purchased?
- Don’t forget the “R” in CRM. These vendors are selling relationship software; they should be the relationship experts. What sort of relationships do they have with the customers?
- Conduct all or part of the interview without the vendor present.
- Finally, ask what the customer is getting in return for the reference.
For SSPA members, a more in-depth version of this article will be published on 10/31 and can be found on the Research Landing Page. By following these guidelines, more useful information will result from reference calls and visits. Productive customer references will drive the purchase decision forward by confirming vendor claims, confirming concerns already present, or by raising new concerns the vendor must address before a sale can be made.
I hope this helps! As always, comments and emails are welcome. Thanks for reading!