It’s a lot harder to believe in something you never see or hear about than an event or service you witness in person. The art of conversation isn’t lost, but when MSPs fail to schedule regular client discussions into their schedule and don’t emphasize the value of a good dialogue between employees and customers, it often has a negative effect on the relationship and sales.
Just as Dorothy has a difficult time believing in the Wizard of Oz, it is more assuring when you’re able to speak to the man (or woman) behind the curtain in person. When businesses are able to open the lines of communication with their clients, it reduces uncertainty and helps build a trusting relationship—key factors in retaining customers and keeping them happy.
There is no universal communication plan that will meet the needs of every business and its customers. Organizational preferences vary widely, with some clients favoring less discussion with their contractors and others expecting continual updates and a plethora of information. Finding the right balance isn’t always easy, especially for service providers who need to stay top-of-mind with their clients without overwhelming them with too many messages. That’s why it so critical for MSPs to design and execute an effective customer service and communications plan. The very nature of managed services causes some unique challenges, requiring the management team to proceed carefully when developing their strategy.
Silence Can Kill a Business
One of the key benefits of managed services can also become a detriment to an MSP’s long-term business success. Proactive, remote management is a great way to ensure that their clients’ business systems are up and running at peak performance but, when done right, that work is almost invisible to everyone except the technical team. Those who benefit from these technologies often don’t understand the effort put into each service offering, unless the provider is able to effectively communicate what they do and the impact that work has on the customer’s operations.
Communication is a critical element to managed services; not just to convey details concerning critical system and user issues, but to inform customers of the work taking place behind the scenes. A useful client contact plan is clear and concise, stressing the pros and cons of certain types of communication and detailing when each should be used. Obviously, employees need some flexibility, but these guidelines should be used as often as possible to avoid becoming a nuisance.
When you communicate too little, that separation can diminish the value of an MSP’s services. But when the conversations and shared information becomes excessive, it alienates clients by disrupting their operations and taking up too much of their valuable time. That’s why it’s important for MSPs to periodically review each account with their service and sales teams, ensuring that the quantity of emails and phone calls going to their customers (from their business) isn’t overwhelming.
When designing a customer service/client contact plan, any MSP employee who sends them an email or makes a phone call should be included. Again, this should serve as a guide for the staff, with exceptions made to resolve critical system and account issues. Who should be included in these communication plans?
- Customer service: As you’d imagine, communication is an extremely critical part of this team’s mission, between addressing critical issues and cementing long-term relationships. In addition to solving system and user problems, these employees often find themselves in the best position to assess critical customer satisfaction areas. When it comes to working with a hosted help desk it is of utmost important to have your customer service processes documented, and updated on a regular basis as your clients needs and your own focus areas change.
- Sales team: your first link to a new client sets the foundation for future communications. Each MSP should review their sales outreach standards (frequency and procedures) on a monthly basis to ensure compliance by all team members. Their participation in these plans becomes even more important in MSP businesses where they continue to call on existing clients (for upselling opportunities or to gauge customer satisfaction levels).
- Owners/managers: the company’s administrative team often has the most flexible schedule, as well as the “power” to initiate discussions with the decision makers in client organizations. Business owners typically enjoy talking with other entrepreneurs, sharing tips and stories relating to their company. These relationship-building sessions help break down the communications barriers with customers, drawing out issues and opportunities that can lead to new sales and long-term commitments. Some MSP owners call on their key clients at least once a month to build their relationships and gauge customer satisfaction.
- Partners: everyone who provides services to your clients should be part of the communications plan. Every MSP should review and establish email and phone expectations with their contractors and ensure these standards are adhered to during periodic reviews. It’s imperative that providers let their service partners know how their team is doing as well, freely sharing customer feedback on communications (emails and calls) and other related areas.
- Accounting/billing: many businesses overlook the financial team when it comes to customer communications; but their role is extremely critical. One common customer complaint is the tone of messages coming from the billing department, particularly pertaining to invoicing. Every MSP should review or be copied on the sensitive messages (delinquent accounts or related account communications) sent by the accounting team, ensuring they are handled with care and respect. Nothing upsets a customer more than a curt email from their service provider, especially when the simple error or misunderstanding was not their fault.
Creating a customer service/contact plan isn’t complicated, since your clients typically establish the baseline standards. By listening to their likes and dislikes, MSPs can tweak their strategy to deliver the proper amount of information—when it’s needed. That strategy may change over time, but by starting with a clean sheet of paper and some common sense, customer satisfaction and sales are sure to climb.