Hearts and minds hard to win in IT land

Despite the big marketing and branding bucks vendors spend to win and retain IT customers, IT managers claim they have little loyalty to vendors.

And they believe there's little loyalty between customers and vendors in the industry, although a few did admit to sometimes favouring a particular brand.

They agree vendors try all sorts of techniques to retain customers, but when it comes to making purchasing decisions IT managers say they are emotionless.

Tony Harris, IT support at AP Eagers, judges vendors on the level of support they provide.

But overall, Harris said he doesn’t see any vendors making a successful attempt to create loyal customers.

“I think there is customer loyalty is some cases, but in our case we simply have favourite brands because they provide good service and support,” Harris said.

IT project manager Bev Welsh at Oil Drilling and Exploration, said there is little loyalty in the IT industry.

“We like IBM and Toshiba because of the products they provide, as well as the support and service. But although we have our standard vendors that we choose to stick with, it is largely because of the product itself, not because of any sense of loyalty," Welsh said.

John McKillop, Sylvania Lighting's MIS manager, admits to having a favourite brand and supplier.

“It just makes things easier from the administration side of things. But we don’t feel any loyalty towards that vendor,” McKillop said.

“However, I have to admit for the past eight or nine years we’ve gone to tender for our communications network every 18 months, and we always end up picking the same vendor. It just offers the best and most cost-effective service.”

Vendors willingly admit they keep dipping into the marketing budget attempting to understand their customers. EMC Australia marketing director Clive Gold is a big believer in customer loyalty.

"We are always trying to add value with quarterly breakfasts and other events because customer loyalty is essential," he said.

“We try to get embedded in just about everything our customer does. And to do that, we have to work with the customer over a long period of time; it just doesn’t work when customers are making short, tactical decisions when buying products."

In the IT industry Gold believes loyalty is actually growing.

“Customers are now thinking about the total cost of ownership when purchasing a product and are therefore going with vendors they know and trust,” Gold said.

Pragmatism rules over loyalty

Microsoft public sector director Kevin Acklehurst admits to being a bit of a doubting Thomas when it comes to customer loyalty and isn't sure if it exists at all.

Despite this, he does believe customer loyalty is vital for an organization to be successful.

“It really depends on who you’re talking about. With technical people, you find there is a little bit of loyalty to certain vendors, but this doesn’t necessarily drive implementation decisions,” Ackhurst said.

“And those making the business decisions will often be a bit more pragmatic and won't make a decision based on emotion and loyalty to a certain vendor.”

While unwilling to disclose the amount Microsoft spends on customer loyalty programs, he admits it is a large portion of the marketing budget.

“The money spent on customer loyalty programs would include all sorts of things like carrying out assessments of customer satisfaction and attending workshops to assess and interact with customers. All this adds up,” Acklehurst said.

In an attempt to better serve customers, Microsoft has verticalized and segmented its business.

“We’ve been doing this for 12 months now and it has completely changed the culture of our company and how we carry out business with our customers,” Acklehurst said.

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