Customer perception about IT Professional Services in the Greek market

For all of us working in the software services sector in Greece, it is clear that the effort of computerizing the Enterprise does not end with the installation of the software. After the software has been “sold and purchased” (either in the traditional delivery model or in the SaaS model) there is, or can be, a series of actions that take place, in the form of Professional Services. These services typically include:

  • Start-up services for the initial parameterization of the business application (standard packaged products such as office suites are excluded from this category). During this cycle, some very basic questions need to be answered, like what are the geographical locations of the serviced entity, what are the cost centers, what are the taxation schemes that are going to be used in purchasing and selling goods and services etc. One very common misunderstanding on behalf of the end-user is that – because these issues, given time, have become trivial for them – they are also trivial for the software vendor and so such start-up services should be offered a) free of charge and b) for as long time as needed to accurately describe all aspects of the business model of the said entity.
    They couldn’t be more wrong because the vendor will – at best – use own judgment to tackle these issues (with not the best results, at times) or – at worst – will do nothing to tackle them (since they could very well be unknown to them!).

  • Initial loading of data is among the first problems that software companies face when starting up a new installation. For every kind of software that someone is marketing, we can assume that they have built-in functions for the initial uploading of data, in case the customer is replacing an older system. Customer data in case of CRM systems, accounting data in case of financial systems, warehouse data in case of ERP are just three of the most common cases that we face every day. The customer’s expectation that existing data should be uploaded in the new system is just and reasonable. What they sometimes fail to see is that the target system (the new one) has obviously a working set of uploading programs and procedures that cannot be “bent and twisted” for each new customer case. It is the customer’s responsibility to provide good, readable data to be uploaded to the target system. Otherwise, the vendor can do it for them… yes, for a price!

  • Training for the end users. This issue has two different angles:
    - First of all, the customer needs to understand who is going to be initially trained: Are all the users part of the training program (even those residing in distant geographical locations?) or is this going to be a “train the trainer” approach?
    - Secondly it has to be clear that the initial training will of course cover all aspects of the “standard system” but will probably not include any special reference to the specific business problems or issues that the customer is facing. These are things that a software trainer simply cannot know and solve. They are the responsibility of a business consultant and they most probably have to follow another training cycle, different from this of the “system start-up phase”.
    These issues can very easily lead to misunderstandings and false expectations from the “start-up training program”, especially in the most common case where the vendor will require additional fees for additional training services. It is safe to assume that the initial training will be part of the “purchasing package” (or, if not, then there should be a clear reference to the relevant cost on the Software Offer that is displayed to the customer). But additional training (asked for after weeks or months since the system start-up) will incur additional fees.

  • Customization is another pain point on software deals. “How much” business-specific intelligence should the initial system provide, out of the box? How many different business cases? How may reports and dashboards? Should “this” or “that” be part of the standard release of the software? Customers (software buyers) tend to see themselves as “business models” (at least in their specific industry) and believe that all of their specific business rules and requirements should be mapped or constructed on the initial solution. In most cases (at least according to my experience) the problem is not the hourly or daily cost of “customization professional services” but the very existence of them!

  • Telephone support is the kind of service that will surely be needed at some in time, even in the simplest business case (where customization is zero and additional training is minimum). Telephone support is a kind of tool that keeps the software running with fast and easy answers and also low cost for the vendor end. But, being such a wonderful tool must come at some expense. Again, one common misunderstanding is that since I bought your software there must be someone “out there” to help me, 24x7. It is often not clear that purchasing the software does not mean that you have purchased unlimited hours of free telephone support because the call center employees have some payroll and training cost. And this cannot be part of the initial business deal, since the hours of the engagement cannot be predicted, per case!

    All of the above are significant sources of revenue for the software provider and most of them are far beyond the scope of the initial software purchase. There have been numerous cases where customer expectations reach and even exceed those limits and for an expected zero cost. This is a Greek phenomenon that, in my humble opinion, has been the result of many years of “price wars” among software companies. In their effort to acquire bigger and bigger market shares, some companies offered “more for less”. This resulted in a general “educational result” for the customers that comes down to “software costs a little and professional services cost nothing, since they are part of the vendor’s effort to get and retain happy customers”. This does not happen in other parts of the world where it is clear that the software itself encloses some quantity of brains and experience but the following professional services include much of the same.
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