Xpert Q&A: How MSPs Can Get Customer Experience Right

Salesforce's Tiffani Bova and TSIA's George Humphrey offer tips on boosting customer experience in a managed or cloud-services business.

In this series boosting customer experience (CX) in a managed or cloud-services business, we’ve focused on tips for improving customer experience as well as ways to map and measure key customer touch points. To close out this series, we’ve turned to two channel pros and CX experts for advice on what to do and what not to do if you’re an MSP intent on mastering customer experience. They include:

  • Tiffani Bova, the global customer growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce. Bova’s chops in the channel are well documented from her years as vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner as well as leading sales organizations at Sprint, Inacom, Interland (web.com) and Gateway Computers. Since joining Salesforce in 2016, Bova spends much of her time counseling companies about sales and business transformation, including customer experience — one on one, through keynote addresses and regular contributions to online media. She’s was recognized among the Top 50 Marketing Thought Leaders by Brand Quarterly Magazine in 2016, Inc. Magazine’s 37 Sales Experts You Need to Follow on Twitter and the Top Sales Influencer on LinkedIn. Her new podcast, “What’s Next! with Tiffani Bova,” became one of the top 100 business and marketing podcasts on iTunes in 2017, and was named a top Sales and Marketing Podcast by Top Sales Magazine. Her book, “Growth IQ: Get Smarter About Building Your Company's Future,” is due out this summer.
  • George Humphrey is the vice president of managed services research for the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), which is dedicated to helping services organizations large and small grow and advance in the technology industry. He has more than 25 years of experience in networking and communications, specializing in managed infrastructure and applications services. In his role at TSIA, Humphrey provides members with fact-based education and insight into the performance and operations of managed services providers of all sizes. Throughout his career, he has held leadership roles in managed services product management, client management, tools and architecture development, delivery operations, process definition and global strategy. Leveraging the latest industry research, best practices and his own expertise, Humphrey aims to provide a fundamental understanding of what it means to be a successful managed services organization.

Channel Futures: Studies show that 80 percent of companies believe they’re delivering a superior value proposition, but only 8 percent of customers agree. What key steps can MSPs take to ensure they’re truly delivering a superior customer experience? 

TB: While I can appreciate any benchmarking as a directional starting point, I am also a firm believer in asking your customers what they think. What is a "truly superior customer experience" for them? What do they expect? What does "good" look like? Then you have to explore what they "don't like." The customers you already have are a wealth of information if you are willing to ask them. Finding more like them means you have to understand what got this group of customers to buy from you in the first place. Then, and only then, can you start to understand what a superior customer experience looks like for your ideal customer set.

Tiffani Bova

GH: Here are several areas (not all) that an MSP can focus on:

  • The first step is to ensure that the MSP has designed market-focused offers that help the customer achieve their specific business outcomes. This often requires a shift from technology-centricity in the design of the offer to a focus on outcomes, such as reducing operational risk, reducing cost of technology operations, accelerating investments on next-gen technologies, improving operational efficiency, etc. 
  • The second step is to ensure that the sales organization fully understands the customer's business challenges. All too often MSPs try to repurpose their sales generalists to sell managed services, but they just don’t understand managed services, business challenges and the customer’s desired outcomes. TSIA recommends a dedicated team of managed services sales specialists and design architects.
  • The third step is to have a delivery organization that understands the IT service management (ITSM) model. The organization must employ a set of tools and technologies designed from the ground up for managed services. Many companies try to repurpose their support services or professional-services tools to deliver managed services. That model is fraught with challenges resulting in missed incidents, ineffective problem resolution, reactive support of the environment, and much more.
  • Finally, the MSP needs to employ customer success managers — trusted advisers who have strong relationships with customers’ leadership teams and are viewed as extensions of customers’ teams. They handle general – not technical – escalations, know the customers’ business challenges, future plans, wants/desires, etc. They govern all contractual aspects of the service, including renewals, up-sell/cross-sell opportunities, new product and service opportunities, etc. Bottom line, they are caregivers and nurturers of the managed-services relationship with customers.

CF: What are a few chief pain points for MSPs when trying to manage the customer experience? How do MSPs overcome them?

TB:

  • First and foremost, I think MSPs don't have a consistent (internal) definition of what "customer experience" means to their organization. Without that, different groups or teams in the company may be solving very different problems.
  • Second, many MSPs are technology- or product-led, and not customer-led. This means the culture will have to reorient itself toward the customer.
  • And third, what metrics will the company use to measure and manage customer experience? Will it be NPS, CSAT, voice of the customer (VoC)? It will be necessary to have clear metrics in place that employees can rally behind if moving toward becoming a more customer-centric culture is a company goal. 

GH: 

  • Being a reactive, too-little-too-late managed service provider. Instead, adopt the philosophy of being a proactive, predictive and preventative service business. Advise the customer on challenges and issues before they even know they have them. Focus on metrics such as “proactive incident resolution” and “availability” as opposed to “time to resolve, time to restore, etc.” Those metrics are fine, but you want to be able to demonstrate to the customer that you know more about their environment than they do.
  • Lack of understanding of the customer’s real problems and challenges. Instead, ensure your sales organization is not perceived as a “salesperson,” but as a “problem solver” or “strategic adviser.” I used to tell my sales team to “stop selling and start listening.” That allows the sales team to be prescriptive, like your doctor. Your doctor listens to your problems, identifies symptoms and then prescribes a solution to restore your optimal health condition. The same thing goes with managed services.
  • Lack of an informative, high-touch customer success model. Instead, establish a process-driven, managed-services-specific customer success model for your customers. TSIA data analysis proves it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

George Humphrey

CF: These days, customers have greater expectations than ever of their vendors, but want their own responsibilities simplified and streamlined as much as possible. While this defines the business opportunity for MSPs, customers increasingly want their MSPs to do more for them while they do less themselves. How can MSPs further simplify an experience for customers that, by definition, is already simplified? 

TB: Again, I go back to my first answer. Those statements are true, but not 100 percent relevant to all MSPs. Spend the time to understand what your customers want and expect from you. Why do they choose you over someone else? And what differentiates you in the market, in the eyes of your customers, not you. This is not a one-time exercise. Keeping a pulse on the voice of the customer and what they want or expect from you should be ongoing. That way you can adjust offers, services and align resources toward higher-impact opportunities. Don't let your vendor partners dictate what should be important to you; let your customers guide the way. 

GH: MSPs must be able to demonstrate a portfolio of services that solve business problems. They need to be able to relate to the customer and instill trust in the relationship. This means having the right offer portfolio, the right sales skills, the right delivery model and a strong customer-success function. This all needs to be represented in a standard service catalog that also allows for adaptation based on unique customer requirements. The delivery model must be scalable through process standardization and automation wherever possible. 

CF: What types of software platforms or other tools are the most potent in helping MSPs deliver a superior customer experience?

TB: Technology is an “enabler,” but not a solution for delivering a superior customer experience. Delivering on a strong customer experience is about culture, about company DNA — doing what’s best for the customer, helping them be more successful because of the products and services you deliver to them. People and process is the holy grail here. Combine that with the right technology and you have a winning combination. One without the other will result in missing the mark.

GH: The most potent approach from a managed-services tools and technologies perspective is the architecting of a managed services “purpose built” platform. The platform must be based on a foundation of a strong ITSM platform designed for a managed service provider. It must have all the critical modules starting with configuration management, incident management (ticketing and incident resolution), problem management (root cause analysis and resolution), change management, release management, knowledge management, performance management, etc. Any missing component will effectively “break” the service and cause customer issues. 

This platform should also employ automated filtering, event correlation and automated resolution. These tools must also seamlessly integrate into the rest of the companies OSS/BSS solutions as well as customers’ IT platforms and tools. Finally, as identified earlier, this platform should have a presentation layer that unifies data from the disparate tools into a web portal with roles-based information displayed for the MSP engineers, the customer’s IT engineers and the key business executives in the customer environment.

CF: Fill in the blank: “When it comes to customer experience, most MSPs are missing the boat on ___________.”

TB: " ... the people and process side." This isn't just an issue for MSPs; many companies – regardless of industry, size, region or revenue – struggle to make the necessary organizational, people and process changes required to become more customer-centric. It’s like VARs hanging onto the old resale model before finally transitioning to more recurring revenue services, product resellers finally adding advanced services, on-premises partners finally embracing cloud services. These transitions took time, took change management and commitment to the task at hand. Becoming a customer-led company is equally disruptive to the internal status quo. 

GH: “... truly understanding their customer.” Technology companies are great at creating a product and/or service and then trying to figure out how to sell that to their channels and their customers. What they’re not good at is truly understanding the customer’s technical, operational and financial challenges and then building a prescriptive solution to address those challenges. This is why so many companies of all shapes and sizes struggle with managed services. In today’s complex, software-centric, network-dependent, multivendor, living/breathing technology world, the MSP needs to take the time to get to know all aspects of their customer’s challenges to design the right solution up front. However, as the customer evolves, the MSP must always strive for that deep understanding of the customer, their challenges and the outcomes they are trying to achieve.

Khali Henderson is senior partner and Casey Freymuth is managing partner with BuzzTheory Strategies, a marketing and strategy consulting firm specializing in the channel. 

Henderson has more than 25 years of marketing, communications and content development experience in the technology industry. Well known for her leadership at Channel Partners, the telecom and IT industry’s leading channel media and events brand, Henderson is one of the country’s foremost experts on channel strategy and marketing. She also has developed and managed marketing and public relations programs for a range of technology companies and trade associations. At BuzzTheory, she heads up business development and serves as the chief content officer. Henderson serves on the boards of The Telecom Channel Association, Cloud Girls and Women in the Channel. She can be reached via email at [email protected], Twitter @khalihenderson and LinkedIn at /in/khalihenderson.

Freymuth is a strategy and marketing executive specializing in high-tech markets, disruptive and rapidly evolving technologies and value generation. His client list includes many of the world’s best-known brands as well as emerging market leaders, their investors and the media that cover them. With deep roots in management consulting and analysis, Casey has extensive experience in identifying growth opportunities and helping clients position their companies to capture, retain and defend revenue and market share, and to bring their internal operations in line with marketing and positioning objectives. At BuzzTheory, he advises clients on a wide range of strategic and marketing matters and is responsible for BuzzTheory’s operations. He can be reached via email at [email protected] and LinkedIn at /in/caseyfreymuth.

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