Improving Customer Satisfaction for Your Managed IT Business
Managing relationships in the IT industry is no easy feat. Being in the “problem-solving” business means that your interactions with customers are often at stressful times, when tension is already high. We have all been in situations where you are faced with a technical problem, you go above and beyond to resolve it, and somehow the customer is still not satisfied. The common denominator that I have found in these type of situations is that the customer is not disgruntled over the result of their service, but more so over the failure to meet the expectations that they had. Skewed customer expectations can become a significant issue when attempting to your grow your Managed Services business, so it is best to understand why these situations happen and how to prevent them.
Ways Customers Develop False Expectations
Growth / Transition
When Managed Services businesses grow from a few employees to many more, customers can have a difficult time with the transition. There is a lot of consistency of service when the service delivery is constantly passing through the same set of hands. Customers get familiar with this and it becomes the expectation that they have every time they request service.
As the business grows and more team members are added with delegated responsibilities, this can often trigger a negative response from customers should service not align exactly with what they are used to. This is why the first few hires of any service business are so important and why you should always prepare your customers for change as you anticipate it.
Misleading Sales and Marketing
Another way that customer wires can become crossed is through sales and marketing. This may not be intentional, but it happens nonetheless. In most cases, your sales department makes claims that products and services will solve a problem or fulfill a need but the technology does not live up to the expectations.
When your sales team does not consist of technical-savvy solution designers, it can often breed more of these type of issues. A sales person that does not have experience in deploying the technology they are selling, often does not understand the nuances and caveats involved. Having experienced solution designers involved in the sale process and sales training is an important part of the growth of your sales team and your business.
We all know the saying about what happens with you make assumptions. This could never be more true than in a Managed Service business. When expectations are not communicated it often leaves the customer to make assumptions about what kind of performance or benefit to expect from their technology or services.
It is safe to say that the assumed expectations of a customer when left to their own imagination is not exactly a clear reflection of reality. Call it optimism, but whatever you want to call it, customers will be left dissatisfied if the appropriate expectations are not communicated throughout your service delivery.
Lack of Product / Service Education
One thing to always remember as an MSP, is that you are the technology expert and the customer is relying on you to help them make educated decisions. When you partner with a customer to provide their business technology, this means investing time and resources into educating them about what it is they need, how things work, and why they can expect a certain outcome.
Some MSPs will say that customers don’t care to know about technology and they just want someone else to “deal with it.” While this might be true for some, a lack of understanding of how things work can leave business Decision Makers vulnerable. When people feel vulnerable and threatened they don’t always make sound decisions. It is in your best interest to set your partnership up for success and continually educate your customers on the products and services they use.
Establishing Accurate Customer Expectations
Service Level Agreements
A service level agreement or “SLA” is an agreement between an MSP and their customer that details what obligations the service provider has in delivering the service. This might include the availability, turnaround, and type of issues that are serviceable under the customer contract. Most professional service automation platforms have SLAs built in as a native feature, so you can easily track, manage, and report on your SLA delivery on an ongoing basis.
Customers are generally flexible on SLA breaches on a ticket by ticket basis, especially on Level 1 type of issues. This is why it is extremely important to hold your team to a high standard and instill a culture of adhering to this policy. If an issue does occur and an SLA breach turns into a major loss of productivity, “customer flexibility” goes out the window very quickly. Just because a customer doesn’t demand SLA reports, doesn’t mean you should not meet your contractual obligations on every service ticket. Long term customer satisfaction is earned on a ticket by ticket basis.
Signed Scope of Work
IT Projects don’t always go as planned. Anyone that has been in Managed Services long enough knows this to be reality. The important thing is to properly communicate this to the customer along with what they can expect for each work-stage of a project. If you show them that a change in plans is necessary based on new findings and get them to sign off each step of the way, it will go a long way in preventing customer disputes on the project roadmap.
Project scopes are also very important for billing purposes. If work has to be performed out of scope, you must get additional approval for that work and bill for it accordingly. If you want to do the work for free as a courtesy because it was not discovered early on, you should at least send an invoice with a zero balance. The way in which you handle discovery, scoping, quoting, and billing can lead to assumed expectations by the customer. If you do not bill for additional hours beyond the scope of work on one occasion, they are inclined to believe that will always be the case. Developing a firm process and policy on this is very important for customer satisfaction when executing IT projects.
Continuous Sales Training
Your sales team is at the fore-front of your service delivery process and are largely responsible for the expectations that your customers have. This is why investing in both technical and customer service oriented sales training is so important. If a sales person does not fully understand the product or service that they are selling, how can you expect the customer to understand it?
Sales people by nature tend to bend reality as far as they can to close a deal. There is nothing wrong with this and frankly, I think the often passive Managed Service industry could use more of this. When it comes to technology however, some truths should exist in plain sight to the customer. It is important for IT sales representatives (especially those new to the industry) to understand what these are and tread lightly as they pitch new customers. The sales process can make or break a customer relationship, regardless of how well the Service Department performs on the back end.
As a general rule, MSPs should always look to under-promise and over-deliver if they want to exceed customer expectations and increase customer satisfaction. As we mentioned before, having a clear SLA, Scope of Work, and educated sales team goes a long way, but even checking all of these boxes can still create issues if these expectations are not re-enforced every time service is delivered.
For example, if you explain to your customer that an issue will be resolved within the maximum time frame that your SLA allows and then resolve it in 15 minutes, they will be very happy. For the same issue, if you tell the customer you will resolve it in 5 minutes, but take the same 15 minutes they will be far less satisfied. This dissatisfaction occurs regardless of whether or not you met your SLA. This is why it is important to always actively manage the expectations of the customer and ensure everyone involved with the service delivery and sales process is on the same page.