Choosing a TEM Provider: Why Customer Service Matters

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If you are an enterprise expense management leader overseeing a TEM program, you may be facing one of two situations: (1) You are considering your first TEM provider, or (2) you are evaluating other TEM providers to replace your existing TEM provider that you feel is subpar.  

Either way, this is an important choice for you. Choosing the wrong TEM provider to partner with is arguably as painful as not partnering with a TEM vendor at all. Perhaps more so in some cases. (The stories we’ve heard are plentiful.) 

Yes, of course, great customer service is critically important for the TEM provider you choose to partner with. And that will be our focus in this article.  

Getting this right is important, especially if you have had prior experience with a “bad TEM.” You don’t want to repeat your mistake and select another TEM partner that brings more talk than action to your relationship. 

We’ll cover in greater detail what is often overlooked by lesser-experienced enterprise expense management teams, especially those in their first experience choosing a TEM partner. Like one’s health, this is something that is often overlooked and underappreciated until a major issue arises.  

Keep these reasons for prioritizing great customer service from your TEM partner front of mind during your next TEM RFP discovery process and you will save yourself significant TEM grief in the future.

3 Big Ways to Tell if a TEM Provider is Committed to Great Customer Service

1. They have a verifiable commitment to customer service

If you are investing in a TEM partner, they need to reciprocate by proving their investment in your organization with great customer service. To be clear, anything short of this is cheap lip service.  

We’ve mentioned this in other articles but it’s worth repeating. Almost every TEM sales team will likely provide plenty of puffery amid a blizzard of TEM fairy dust claiming their great customer service. 

But how do you know if this is believable? Look more at how they are structured and what they do, rather than what they say. Like everything else in life, actions speak louder than words. Talk is cheap and bad behavior in terms of poor customer support will be expensive to your organization. 

Key TEM Customer Service “Tells” to look for:

• What is the size and ownership model of the TEM provider you are considering? 

As we’ve noted in previous articles, the ownership model matters (e.g., private equity, public, or private). Many of the larger and more well-known TEM providers get the bulk of the attention.

They do so because they typically have much larger marketing and sales budgets, amongst other factors that give them a competitive advantage in terms of market visibility.

Another consideration would be more specifically around the ownership model of the TEM provider. For example, private equity firms tend to prioritize short-term profits for investors (e.g., 3 to 5-year time horizon) over the long-term health of the customers, which often leads to poor customer service.

They have a hard time resisting making overhead cuts at the expense of the customer. And one of the easiest areas to trim these costs without it being easily visible is within the area of customer service.

For example, you can let go of more expensive and skilled talent to hire far cheaper but less knowledgeable employees (e.g., young adults right out of college). You can also offshore support tasks overseas, which we will further address below.

Neither of these moves provides immediate red flags for you the customer but they will eventually become noticeable. The investors will win here but you – the customer – will lose; you will essentially be funding the additional investor gains at your poor customer service expense.

In many cases with respect to PE-owned firms, they will have already sold the company by the time you are outraged with poor performance, but they will be off the hook because you are now someone else’s problem. They will be on to their next deal.

 • Does your prospective TEM partner outsource overseas for customer support functions? 

This is another biggie. It’s simple, this is most likely not going to turn out well for you if this is being done, especially at scale by your TEM provider.  

Again, this is certainly great for them as it helps them reduce their overhead, which is most enjoyed by their key stakeholders and investors. But strong customer service support in the world of technology, especially telecom/technology expense management costs more if done right. And a big part of knowing that this is done right is whether most key resources are within the U.S. and easily accessible.  

Be careful to probe long and hard in your TEM vendor discovery process as many sales personnel will try to gloss over this area or obfuscate in all ways possible. The interests of the enterprise customer and the PE firm owners will not always align cleanly. This area of contention is certainly one of them.  

In the end, it’s simply too difficult to get great customer service from a support team on the other side of the world if you, say, do most of your business in North America.

• What type of access will your internal TEM team have to customer service support? 

Will you have 24/7 x 365 support? Ask your prospective TEM to detail their process for support. Everything from basic access to the process of working through issues for various entities of your TEM business. What do resolution times typically look like for different types of TEM issues, whether they be TEM technology-related or more human and process-based items (e.g., trouble ticket backlog support). 

Again, aside from wanting experienced and knowledgeable subject matter experts working on your issues, you will want to know that thoughtful systems and processes are in place with your TEM provider that gives you confidence that you will be in good hands when the inevitable problems arise. 

And, hopefully, supported by staff relatively close by, not ten or more hours away in a different time zone.

2. They leverage one primary TEM platform, rather than multiple platforms

Is your TEM involved in significant merger and acquisition activities? Yet another item we have called attention to before but worth mentioning again.

Many of the larger TEM firms are larger because they are growing inorganically. Many of these TEM providers are owned by private equity and they are playing a game that is more investor-centric rather than enterprise-customer-centric.

In this example, all the excessive merger and acquisition activities result in the TEM provider having to digest multiple TEM platforms, with the goal of ultimately migrating all customer data to the primary TEM platform. (This is fraught with all types of challenges in real life; think of big data transfer issues, to begin with.)

If a prospective TEM provider sales team needs to broach this topic with you – and they should at this point given what we are highlighting here – they will likely have some story ready around migrating data to their primary TEM platform.

However, don’t be afraid to put it under a microscope because this is a troublesome area for TEM firms that must manage multiple TEM platforms under one TEM umbrella.

Pay special attention to what is said and trust your instincts.

3. They invite you to interview their existing customers

No one needs to be reminded that references are important, but we would just like to stress the importance of really having a penetrating conversation with your prospective TEM references.  

Really focus on the strength of their TEM platform, the skills of their subject matter experts, and the raw ability to fix both the TEM platform and business process challenges in an expedited fashion. Focus keenly on customer service and support. Its importance cannot be overstated. 

It’s easier to get caught up in narrower discussions around, say, savings derived from certain audit efforts or otherwise sexier items (e.g., optimization analyses) but you need to think about the integrity of the overall TEM program. And customer service is one extremely important area we hope you take to your next TEM provider reference interviews.  

Conclusion

It’s easy to lose sight of the basics in all things in life. That’s true for the world of TEM as well. There are so many things to focus on when considering a TEM provider to partner with. The purpose of this article is simply to make sure that this unsexy topic of customer service and support does not get lost in the noise of your next TEM provider discovery process.

If you’d like to consider Tellennium in your TEM vendor comparisons, contact us to schedule a brief demo of our solution.

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Rob Halik is a Senior Analyst at Tellennium, specializing in Managed Mobility Services, Telecom Expense Management, and Utility Bill Management. With over 25 years of industry experience, Rob provides enterprise expense management insights to help businesses optimize their operations and reduce costs. This article is a collaborative effort by our expert team members at Tellennium, including Greg McIntyre, Shawn Veitz, Matt McIntyre, and Todd Givens, who collectively bring over 100 years of industry experience.

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