Setting Expectations: Time for MSPs to Get Back to Basics
Some of the most successful MSPS have an all-or-nothing approach, effectively telling the customer: You either entirely outsource all your IT needs to us or find another services provider. This doesn’t work for all MSPs, but the approach defines what you offer and sets clear customer expectations.
Once you take over the customer’s IT environment, you also accept all the responsibilities, potential liabilities and eventual praise that go with it. There should be no gray areas as to what the customer expects and what you deliver.
But most MSPs are still operating within different shades of gray: Many still juggle the old product-centric, reactive business model with the anticipatory approach called for by the managed services model. This blend of models can get messy, but it doesn’t have to, so long as you take the appropriate steps to operate as a managed services provider. Those steps include setting customer expectations.
Some years back, most customers by far hadn’t heard of remote monitoring and management, so pitching the concept required a fair amount of effort by the MSP. Today, while not all end users are up to speed on managed services, the concept is more widely known and understood. And customers want to make sure their IT services providers deliver on the promise of high-quality service.
Customers engage MSPs primarily because they lack the time and resources to manage their IT environments internally. When they hand over IT management to a provider, the top two things they are looking for, according to a CompTIA report published last year, is 24/7 support and customer service. Getting the lowest price ranked third.
Gaining — and Keeping — Customers
MSPs must keep these customer priorities in mind when setting customer expectations. Be it through an ad, language on your web site or cold-calling, it’s extremely important that your first contact with the customer set realistic expectations. Mislead the customer and it will come back to haunt you in the long run. Setting unrealistic expectations through promises you can’t make good on might pull the customer in, but it won’t help you keep that customer for the long term.
If you promise round-the-clock service, you had better deliver it. If your staff isn’t big enough to handle it, partner with a technology provider that offers 24/7 help desk service on your behalf. If your agreement with the customer calls for remote monitoring, patching and troubleshooting, either make sure you can handle it in-house or do what most IT services companies do – partner with a technology provider with a fully staffed network operations center (NOC) working on your behalf.
If you promise customers you will save them money, show them how paying monthly fees instead of hiring or adding to an IT staff pays off. Show them how prevention through remote monitoring and management prevents money lost on outages that hurt production.
Whatever you communicate to your customer must reflect the reality of what your organization can truly offer. That goes for the first contact and for subsequent encounters with a prospect. Once you have a contract with the customer, communication has to continue: Here is what we promised you, Mr. Customer, and here is what we have been delivering. Service level agreements must be worded carefully and realistically. Anything above and beyond should be negotiated, set to paper and agreed to with the same expectations-setting approach you used in the original engagement.
While it may be tempting to over-promise when first engaging the customer, MSPs must have the discipline to resist the temptation. Remember, the most successful MSPs know how to set the right expectations.
Maurice Saluan is VP-Channel Management for Zenith Infotech as well as seasoned sales veteran in the managed service arena. Guest blog entries such as this one are contributed on a monthly basis as part of MSPmentor’s 2010 Platinum sponsorship. Find all of Saluan’s blog entries here.