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IBM comes out on top in customer service

March 22, 1999
Web posted at: 1:52 p.m. EST (1852 GMT)

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by Kevin Burden

(IDG) -- Vendors - especially Computer Associates International Inc. and Microsoft Corp. - could learn a lot from IBM about supporting software. In a customer-satisfaction survey, IBM emerged as the model provider of software support, while CA scored the lowest overall satisfaction score.

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We asked 151 information technology managers to rate the support from their primary software vendor. Although the phone surveys, conducted by Computerworld's IT Intelligence Unit, can't characterize the opinions of the entire installed base, they still point to pluses and minuses in dealing with five top vendors: IBM, CA, Oracle Corp. , Novell Inc. and Microsoft.

In product surveys, IBM's customer satisfaction often lands somewhere in the middle of the pack. But for service and support, our respondents said no other vendor comes even close to satisfying customers as well as IBM.

One negative mark on an otherwise shining IBM record: Some users said they had hoped that IBM's 1995 purchase of Lotus Development Corp. would inspire Lotus to show at least a hint of the same commitment to service by now. But so far, "Lotus hasn't shown us it's learning anything in the way of service from IBM," said Richard Wright, information systems director at Hazelwood Farms Bakeries in Hazelwood, Mo.

Oracle and Novell follow IBM in the standings, and survey responses indicate that both are equally capable of satisfying their customers' service needs. Both are customer-focused, and that orientation shows up in very respectable scores.

Microsoft, the surveyed IT managers said, has a lot of room to improve. We questioned Microsoft customers more closely in follow-up interviews; most said they would rather look for their own answers on the Microsoft Web site than deal with the company's technical support staff. It perhaps isn't surprising that Microsoft's Web-based support was rated the most effective of any vendor included in the survey.

The degree of irritation directed at CA, which placed last in overall support satisfaction, was remarkable. Users complained that the company supports its main products like Unicenter TNG and Jasmine well but nearly ignores its other products.

Software support, whether it comes directly from vendors or through third-party suppliers, will continue to be very important as the world moves more toward a digital economy, according to Chris Hoffman, research manager at Framingham Mass.-based International Data Corp. (IDC). "There's incredible pressure [on IT managers] to leverage technology just to keep up. And with availability of IT skills falling, users will lean heavier on vendor support in the future."

If high reliance on vendor technical support is the only criterion, the future is already here. Nearly one-third of the 151 survey respondents said they placed more than 100 technical support calls in 1998. (The average was 55.) And 37% said the number of calls they made in 1998 increased from 1997.

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IBM customer service survey results
Oracle customer service survey results
Novell customer service survey results
Microsoft customer service survey results
Computer Associates customer service survey results

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