Where the chips fall



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9 January 2018 | 0

Billy MacInnesIt would be fair to say that Meltdown and Spectre dominated the technology headlines as 2018 began. Not surprising really when you consider just how widespread the extent of the microprocessor chip flaws and just how many PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones are affected.

At times like this, there’s a tendency on the channel side of things to look at the role that partners can play. For example, an article in MicroScope argues that they can help users to deal with their fears over Meltdown and Spectre. There’s no doubt that channel businesses will be getting questions from customers over them and what they can do to mitigate the risks and, quite rightly, you would expect partners to be in a position to provide some level of guidance.

But just how much should partners be expected to do? This is not the first time they have been called upon to help customers contend with serious shortcomings in vendor products. And it won’t be the last. Given that many of these problems occur at a structural level in a product, often where partners can have little, if any, chance of intervening to correct the fault, it’s hard to see just what they are expected to do. Or rather, it’s hard to see what they can do. It’s fairly easy for people to think they see what partners might be expected to do, but that’s often not in the realms of what they are capable of achieving.

Aside from the reality of their limited ability to fix these types of problems, channel companies also have a difficult balancing act to maintain when it comes to representing the best interests of their customers while preserving strong relationships with their vendors. Customers will, with justification, blame the vendor for the situation they find themselves in because of a faulty product. They will, equally rightly, expect their channel partners to do whatever they can to help fix that problem.

At the same time, the vendor will, very probably, seek to downplay the issue initially, possibly to deny it altogether. Tried and tested crisis management techniques require vendors in such situations to engage in a pattern of minimising the effects of a problem until such point as it becomes incontrovertible. At that stage, they might plead humble ignorance of the scale of the issue as the last line of defence.

Depending on how much partners buy into the vendor’s damage limitation strategy, they can run a very serious risk of becoming viewed as a vendor’s apologist, rather than a trusted advisor. The last thing a channel company wants is to be a ‘Comical Ali’ for an errant vendor, busy reassuring customers there’s really no problem at all while their systems are crashing all around them.

So what is the best service partners can provide for customers in these types of situations? The glib reply would be: “To continue to be a trusted advisor”. It’s also the right reply. But trust can be very easy to lose. And it’s worth noting that there are occasions when the consequences are potentially more drastic for the partner than the vendor. If the partner’s trust in the vendor is misplaced, it is the partner who will bear the brunt of the customer’s disappointment and disillusion, not the vendor. Partners need to make sure they’re not trapped in the role of messenger between vendor and customer because, as we all know, people have a nasty habit of shooting the messenger.

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