Last year the UK Oracle Users Group sent a message to the company that it needed to address customer satisfaction levels. Oracle responded so this year the message is that things are better, although there are still areas within customer support that need to be looked at.
The Users Group has been carrying out a survey among its members since 2001, providing an annual user-generated snapshot of how well Oracle is doing in the UK. It covers the technology and business application sides of the business and has expanded to embrace the acquired applications and customers, alongside Oracle’s native offerings and customer base. This year the survey had over 600 respondents, representing 35% of the UK installed base for Oracle’s portfolio of products.
UK Oracle Users Group chairman Ronan Miles said the basic message this year is one of steady as it goes. There have been some improvements since last year when the 2006 survey showed a dip in customer satisfaction from PeopleSoft and JD Edwards customers compared to the 2005 survey.
This year customers across the board were generally happier with their Oracle experience. However, areas that need work include aspects of the support operation such as global support desks. There were also calls for more localized support. The level of dissatisfaction with Oracle Account Teams was higher however, and the cost and complexity of licensing remains an issue.
As well as tracking specifics, the survey, and Oracle’s response to it, reveals the changing relationship between Oracle and its customers. Miles said the results of last year’s survey had an immediate impact at the highest levels at Oracle HQ, with Larry Ellison and Safra Catz on the case. Several initiatives were launched to address falling customer satisfaction levels.
Three weeks after the results were published, Oracle UK had gathered together all of the JD Edwards departmental business managers for a meeting with the Users Group to thrash out what could be done to address the levels of dissatisfaction. It was the first time all the line of business managers, representing areas such as product, support, and services, had met together, said Miles.
Oracle also increased its sales and marketing efforts around existing programs such as the Applications Unlimited promise, taking the message around the country, as well as linking more closely with the Users Group community.
Debra Lilley, deputy chairperson of the UK Oracle Users Group, also pointed to Oracle’s decision to underpin the Applications Unlimited message by restructuring and bringing in general managers for each product line. We can go directly to them in Redwood and get the information we need, she said. Miles points out that the restructuring has provided the User Group with a route in to the people who make the decisions.
Other actions have included the launch of a Guardian program for UK PeopleSoft users, and something along the same lines for UK-based JD Edwards customers. Under the Guardian program, each PeopleSoft customer will have a named individual within Oracle who will be their prime contact and advocate within the company, responsible for finding the right person within the organization to address whatever type of query the customer has.
One of the problems customers have is not knowing who to talk to within Oracle. Another is continuity of contacts. There is a feeling that some problems are never resolved because the person dealing with something moves to a different role part way through the process. Guardians will be selected from all areas of Oracle, not just and not even necessarily from sales, and one of the selection criteria will be their potential longevity as a guardian.
Oracle has also changed its Advisory Board selection process. Where previously it used to pick the members, now the User Group is able to nominate members.
The theme that runs through all these actions is Oracle’s increased responsiveness to its customers. Oracle has in the past been criticized for its lack of engagement with its customer base. However, there is mounting evidence of a change, as indicated by the initiatives outlined above.
Ad hoc research carried out by Computer Business Review also indicates that customers and partners feel Oracle is more willing to listen these days and they have noted a change in its behavior.
In addition, the company is taking user groups more seriously. It now sees the strategic value of user groups, something that started after Charles Phillips arrived at Oracle, said Miles.
There is continuing evidence that the balance of power in the enterprise application vendor/customer relationship is continuing to shift toward the customer. The drivers for this are the vendors’ need to retain customers because they rely on their maintenance fees to fund new developments and incremental sales for growth, and the ever-reducing pool of large new customers.
The move to standards-based SOA and componentization acts as a further driver because it has the potential to reduce the level of dependency a customer has on its supplier. At the very least, customers will be able to use the opportunities enabled by SOA as leverage when negotiating with vendors.
The if we do it, they will come stance has been softened. Vendors are listening more, engaging directly, and responding, as indicated by Oracle’s activities and recent comments from Steve Rogers, the managing director for SAP UK and Ireland, when he said that SAP has been too distant from its customers.
This new humility is a means to a commercial end, but if it results in an improvement in the level of responsiveness, and the prospect of enterprise applications and customer service that are more fit for purpose than they have been, then it will benefit both customer and vendor.