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Tech mainstay shares tips on how to keep a customer

Oct 22, 2018
Tech mainstay shares tips on how to keep a customer

What 20 years at the helm of a tech company taught me about staying in business – how to keep a customer

Just 10% of tech start ups survive and the average life span of a tech company is six years. In 2018, 190 tech companies are expected to close their doors.

Bill Gross, founder of Idealab believes the key factor for tech start up success is timing.

Being at the helm of a tech company for over 20 years, Andre van der Merwe has beaten the odds by 14 years and believes that building a client immune system that provides an ecosystem of support around customer success has kept Eiffel Corp in business for the last two decades.

Some might call it timing, van der Merwe believes that strategic value-add provided by a seasoned and talented team that understands education and nurtures deep relationships with institutions in Africa is what should take the kudos. Eiffel has over 400 valued customers in Africa.

Van der Merwe is a pioneer, when he launched his edtech start up in the 1990’s, he had a vision for online and blended learning. He was ahead of the pack.

“Just keeping up with the latest, or greatest products is not going to keep you in business,” said van der Merwe, currently on sabbatical to research and write a book.

“Eiffel Corp has a deep heritage of making our client’s business needs our priority and this will help sustain the business well into the future. Our holistic approach to supporting enterprise software across an institution, with up time exceeding 99%, is a complex endeavour,” said Ian Light, current CEO of Eiffel Corp.

Light was hand picked by van der Merwe to take over the reigns and vision in 2014. Van der Merwe remains a major shareholder and board member at Eiffel Corp.

Look after customers

“In 20 years we have always been committed to the long-haul. A decade ago when one of our clients had been left in the lurch due to a merger by product suppliers in the industry, we stayed on hand, plugging the gaps. It’s important to understand that it requires an eco-system of services to support enterprise wide products,” van der Merwe

“On the flip side should a client consider taking their business elsewhere, they are not just leaving us for another product. They would be leaving an entire eco system we have built around them, “ said Light.

“Our frequent interaction with our customers maintains the pulse. We constantly assess whether our multi touch points with clients give us an overall assessment of the health of the account. Listening is an under-valued art and it helps diagnose potential problems,” Light added.

Beyond the contract

“A decade ago, African Virtual University invested in one of our elearning software products, but due to funding allocations between two sponsors they had no income for a year to support the vision of rolling out elearning to campuses across Africa. We took the responsibility and funded the software and support for a year. We are fanatical about learning and we would never drop the students. We looked after the customer, so they could look after themselves,” said van der Merwe.

Sneaky competitors

“Sneaky competitors might send in lone rangers with cheaper products, but what they don't realise is customers don't just require technical widgets to deliver education online. Replacing a product is one thing, but removing oneself from a vibrant community of practice, is a much larger risk,” Light added.

Growth to the horizon

Van der Merwe emphasized that growth needs to be tempered with long-term vision. “A sustainable business is more than short terms sales that achieve a target. This must be balanced with the creative tension of where customers are going to be in 5-10 years time. Anticipate gaps and be there for the customer. They already have an appetite for a new product as they trust you and you share history. It’s insanity to lose one customer and then take a year or two to find another one.

“Look more broadly how your organization can breed success for a client. If they don’t have the skills set, then provide them,” added van der Merwe.

Lead by example

Van der Merwe believes the leader should lead by example: “Making calls, being in front of customers regularly, proactively building a community immune system within organizations that can deflect potential competitors are all part of a tactical game.”

Customer success isn’t about a Customer Services manager – it’s about an integrated approach in looking after the customer. “Together, create a client retention strategy (not only a sales strategy). Develop clients who feel safe in the immune system, enjoy your clients and build good relationships,” he added.

“Coach, reward and resource your organization, this is the holistic nature of client success we have come to develop our entire culture around,” concluded Light.

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