Thursday, April 16, 2009

Is Your Software Vendor Your "Friend?"

How do your software vendors keep you up to date on known issues, features under development and best practices for configuration or usage? Do they wait for you to ask questions before telling you these things? Or only reveal key information to those who pay a huge fee to attend a “users conference” once a year or less?

If you do not receive frequent useful communication from your vendors, find out why. Perhaps the company decided to cut back on printing and postage costs as their business dropped off. Or they may have cut their long-distance and travel budgets, meaning fewer phone calls and visits. It takes very little time or money to send out an email update to important customers (and you know they can use email, right?).

These days, however, with so many more immediate and inexpensive ways to keep customers connected to their product issues and development plans, you have to wonder why a vendor would "hide." Social media is not just for socializing. Twitter users are not just your typical teens and twenty-somethings, either, as noted in this Reuters story.

Some vendors already “get it.” Twitter traffic overall has exponentially grown, and businesses are part of the momentum. See this Comscore article. A quick search on Twitter for the word “software” yielded 588 results. Coffeecup, the maker of Free Zip Wizard, FreeFTP and Free HTML products, has a Twitter stream with almost 1,800 followers and Opera, the maker of what it claims is the “fastest browser in the world,” has over 3,000!

Customers and prospective customers can see what is going on or about to happen. On FaceBook, over 500 pages have the word “software” in their titles, including those with that word in their job titles. You can find companies such as AfterCAD Software and Epicor (who boasts over 20,000 customers) there. Over on MySpace, SmartSound has a full-featured page. Others like NewDawn Technology and Ilium Software have staff blogs that are frequently updated. Even others have "Wikis" inside customer pages secured by logins where interactive discussions with staff and other customers can occur.

Before you buy, ask your prospective vendors these questions:
1. Do you have a product update feed or stream?
2. Do you inform customers of known issues as you discover them?
3. If the answer is "no" to either of these, why not?
If they squirm, it is not a good sign. Are they behind on the latest technology? Are they afraid to show their blemishes? Do they choose to hide from problems (i.e., "go into a cave") rather than openly work with customers? Do they care about profits and sales more than customer service?

This does not apply only to software companies. With plenty of good options for even restricted-access updates, there are really no good excuses anymore for businesses to hide from customers and users. It is a good marketing strategy if you have a good product backed by good service professionals--and the cost is negligible. High tech companies, however, should already make good use of the technology widely available to reach customers and their users. If your vendor is hiding, you should wonder why.

(If you are a business and do not understand the technologies described above or how to get started, read my earlier posts, including “Develop a Twittering for Your Causes” and "Tweets & Twitters" for the basics.)


David Estabrook said...

Ask for the vendor's last few messages to all their clients, and check the dates. Ask about their operating system, too. For the long term, look for Unix rather than Windows. Unix can simulate Windows, so you lose little by going with a Unix based vendor, and you will have more options now and in the future.

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