Blackboard, SunGard and rSmart : A Client’s Take on Support, Oh My.

“Support” in the context of this posting is that service for which a client contracts that includes a way to report issues to a vendor such that the vendor is expected to respond with a resolution. That’s just basic, right?

Unfortunately with technology vendors the evaluation of which vendor to choose for ones initial purchase is so complex that it can not and does not include an evaluation of the structures and process the vendor has in place to provide that support. This leads to wide disparity among technology vendors as to how they resource support and what they think support does for their bottom line.

I know these three companies fairly well from personal experience. Here’s this year’s report card from me:

  • Blackboard    A
  • rSmart             B+
  • SunGard         D

In every single encounter the following is what the support structure must deliver.  Here are my ratings for these three vendors on a 1-5 scale; 1 being exemplary and 5 indicating you’d be looking for another vendor if it were your cellphone service:

Parameter Bb rSmart SunGard
Timeliness 1 1 5
Expectation Management 1 4 4
Trustworthiness 1 1 3
Accuracy 2 3 4
Knowledge 2 3 5
Meaningfulness 2 3 4
Totals 9 15 25

So vendors, I’ll say it straight out: Your clients expect to be able to contact you quickly, receive immediate word that you’re working on their issue, and have a meaningful resolution in a timeframe commensurate to their urgency.

We want what you tell us to be truthful and timely and we don’t want promises to guestimate to a greater degree of accuracy than you’re able to deliver. If you say the service pack which includes my issue resolution will be available “soon” – tell us if that means 3rd quarter or next year and get it to us by then. If you say, “April” – you’ll lose points for Accuracy, Trustworthiness and Meaningfulness if you then deliver in May. And God forbid that what you deliver should end up being nothing like what you told us it would be!

“Meaningful” – let’s talk about that specifically. No one wants repeated “We’re working on it,” messages. Even if you personalize those messages, they aren’t meaningful. 

“Knowledge” – SunGard has a lot of knowledge, but I can’t locate it myself in their huge knowledgebase site – so what good is that?

“Expectation Management” – I’m not sure I have any help for you vendors on this one. On the one hand, I appreciate multiple ways of communicating with you. On the other hand, if none of the people who say they’re going to escalate my problem actually do, or attempt it, but don’t understand my problem well enough to communicate it, I’m still looking for someone who can. I should also remind you saying “no,” is sometimes the right answer. But if you say that to a new client there could be a deeper issue. The fact that they asked the question in the first place probably means you didn’t manage their expectations well when you sold them whatever they bought from you in the first place.

When I started this post I thought I had a bias toward smaller companies. It’s true that larger companies with complex products often have unwieldy support structures that make self-service almost always impossible, however, larger companies that keep it personal and pay attention to quality follow-up can still effectively meet my needs.

At least when they’re not in the middle of a merger.

7 thoughts on “Blackboard, SunGard and rSmart : A Client’s Take on Support, Oh My.

  1. Ah, SunGard. One of my co-workers times calls for when the competent person for her program is on duty.

  2. Thanks for the insight Laura. We’re going to work even harder for that “A” by focusing on Expectation Management.

  3. You have really hit on something here. It is unfortunately true that most vendor selection processes, be that RFP or competitive bid, fail to account for the post sale support side of things choosing instead to focus on shopping for the feature that will make them happy.

    That is in part because most people, including the IT folks, don’t know what they don’t know let alone how to ask for it during the RFP or during due diligence. Vendors know this and exploit it.

    It’s like using an online dating site (as best I can imagine) to choose a mate solely based on looks or their marketing pitch without regard to what it will be like to live with them.

  4. Laura, great post. I like your ratings form, though I might weigh some parameter more then others. With all the crowdsourcing tools available it is hard to understand how some IT companies can miss the mark by such a large margin.

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