Whether you’ve just launched your channel partner program or you’ve had one in place for a while, there’s so much to do—so many different facets and relationships to manage—that the element that’s the farthest removed from your desk can start to feel like a distant abstraction. That part of the channel equation is your partner’s customer.
But those customer relationships are the most important, especially in a channel that’s increasingly focused on cultivating relationships that will yield ongoing revenue through subscription-based services.
So what are the best ways to reach out through your channel and make sure that everyone down the value chain is taken care of and set up for success? These simple do’s and don’ts of customer service in the channel will help you make sure that nothing is overlooked—and everyone’s team thrives.
One of the great things about the channel is that your partners know their customers well. They understand their needs and what they can get out of your solution. But that doesn’t mean that you can expect them to do all the heavy lifting. Customer service in the channel isn’t about doing a full hand-off of responsibilities.
That’s because a partner’s customer service is your customer service. If a customer is going back to a trusted partner about a misunderstanding with your solution, it will reflect on your solution as much—if not more—than on the partner. So it’s critical that you’re not thinking of these relationships as ways to foist customer service onto someone else entirely. Sure, part of what partners do is bear some of—even a large amount of—that burden, but making sure it’s handled right is the difference between an end customer who’s satisfied and one who drops a subscription after the first cycle.
There are three best practices that can help you take this approach. The first is to…
No matter how skilled your partners are, how technically sophisticated their IT teams are, and how robust of a customer service presence they offer, they need training on the specifics of your solution. Every time an update rolls out, your partners need to be able to understand the changes, know how to field the new questions that they’ll be receiving, and be able to demonstrate that understanding.
Don’t just turn over the keys and expect your partners to take care of the rest; instead, train, test, and continue to be proactive, to increase partner activation and engagement.
A given partner may either be in a position to provide lower-level support on your product or have another partner that will fill that role. But that is not permission to stick your partners with higher-level responsibilities that they might not have the acumen or bandwidth to handle. Do an honest assessment of their capabilities, their understanding of your solution, the way they’re using it with customers, and anything else you’ll need in order to make sure that they aren’t getting hit with questions that they can’t handle.
A healthy customer-support relationship with your channel team means providing the higher-level support as necessary to your partners or even to their customers directly. Having a clear line of escalation for the most serious customer service problems is not only necessary to make sure your solution is being properly supported, but it can be instructive and beneficial to your developers. Through the channel, you’re going to have your solution used in different areas and alongside other solutions in ways you’ve never thought of. That allows for on-the-fly QA testing that you couldn’t get anywhere else. So if there’s a problem—a real problem—you’re going to want to hear about it as soon as possible, learn from it, and fix it.