The customer relationship is particularly important in managed services – after all, so much of what you do as an MSP goes unseen by your customers, especially given the automation that enables you to configure, monitor, manage and fix their networks remotely. So as a minimum, you should be constantly reminding customers of just how successful you are on their behalf in preventing or resolving issues.
But you should also be developing customer relationships at a more strategic level, by spending valuable face-time not just with the IT managers, but with senior executives too. This is vital if you are aspiring to become a virtual CIO (vCIO).
Here are five reminders of how you could be strengthening customer relationships in 2017.
1. Make sure your customers recognise your work
‘Everything is working fine – why am I paying you?’
Ever heard that comment?
To ensure that customers are aware of just how much effort is going on in your engine room to keep their ship sailing smoothly, you must provide regular updates of the work done on their behalf and the measurable benefits of this work in terms of money saved, downtime avoided, threats averted and so on. This means:
- Providing regular reports and operational reviews to summarise the activities you have carried out.
- Comparing your actual performance level against the SLA and highlighting areas of over-achievement.
- Identifying the value you have delivered over the preceding month or quarter.
You may already be doing this, but are your customers actually reading the detail and making the connection between your efforts and the smooth running of their systems?
In case not, don’t be afraid to ask them the question. A quick call to ask if they are happy with your services can also be used to draw their attention to recent achievements from your side – and, of course, it’s a great opportunity to start upselling.
2. Show them you care
In your dealings with customers, don’t just focus on your business and how you are helping them – show interest in their business too. Understanding the business challenges they face in addition to IT issues can help to strengthen a customer relationship and lay the foundations for a more strategic role as vCIO further down the line. This doesn’t even need a visit; it can start with regular phone calls from yourself or the account manager – just to check in and see how things are going.
3. Demonstrate your expertise
Most customers value technology expertise – particularly when advice is offered in the context of their own business strategies. Most MSPs want to be regarded as a trusted adviser by their customers. This doesn’t mean you should be providing free consultancy. There are other ways to help customers to keep up to date with the latest technology trends and the implications of these for their business.
You could start in a small way by providing useful information in a ‘knowledge base’ section of your website or blogging on topics of particular interest. You can run focus groups or events to educate your customers. If you don’t have in-house resources to do this, then point your customers to articles written by technology or industry commentators or invite them to relevant industry/technology events.
4. Develop the quarterly business review (QBR): the cornerstone of the customer relationship
The QBR is often cited as a standard operating procedure for MSP-customer interactions and it does provide an excellent opportunity to understand customer business strategies and match actual/potential services to these.
Indeed, a recent study from CompTia shows that many MSPs are taking the QBR more seriously than ever: more than four in ten respondents said they had spent time with individual customers (in-person or virtual) on a monthly basis over the preceding twelve months. These meetings were not to deal with an immediate technical concern, but were considered more ‘strategic’ in nature.
This ‘strategic nature’ was reflected by the role of participants on the customer side: one third of MSPs said they met exclusively with their customer’s senior executives, while a further third said they met regularly with both senior executives and IT staff.
Interestingly, smaller MSPs said they restricted their interactions predominantly to IT staff, so they could be missing out on a big opportunity.
The CompTia report concludes that by insisting that the customer review process assembles both business and technical representatives, MSPs are ‘assuring their place as a strategic advisor, not just a technical provider.’
And this is very much in line with the ambition of many MSPs to act as vCIO to their customers.
5. Build in plenty of customer face-time for 2017
Successful relationships are at the heart of good business, but they are built up gradually. Yes, you can keep in touch with customers through emails and on social media, but nothing is quite as effective as a good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation if you want to really get to know them and understand their business goals.
RMM automation is enabling you to deliver services more efficiently than ever, but is putting a distance between provider and customer. Spending face-time with your customers can bridge this gap. It also enables you to get first-hand feedback on your services and learn where you can make improvements. And of course, it’s an excellent way of spotting an opportunity to sell in a new service.
Of course if your customers are dispersed around the globe, face-time may be more difficult to achieve. But international industry events offer the opportunity to meet up and there is always the ‘virtual conference’.
So make sure to build in plenty of face-time with your customers for 2017. Don’t let absence make your customer’s heart grow fonder of a competitor – make 2017 the year you show your customers the love!
To find out how partnering with Inbay for routine managed services such as NOC and Service Desk can help free you up for more face-time with customers contact us here