In business, as in other aspects of life, it sometimes helps clarify things if you look at them from someone else’s perspective. You’re used to thinking as a managed services provider dealing with customers, but let’s turn that around for a moment. Put yourself in the place of a customer who is in the market for your services. There’s plenty of competition out there, so which MSPs would stand out from the crowd? What would be on your “must have” checklist as you investigated and compared different MSPs?
I’m guessing your answer will consist of things like “performance, reliability and security.” If so, you’re still thinking like a provider, not like a customer. Of course those things are essential, but to the customer, each of them is a given. They expect you to deliver reliable, high performance services and they expect you – as the “professional” – to make sure those services are delivered securely. They expect this from every MSP they consider. So what are the qualities that can make you stand out, and make the customer feel that you go above and beyond the mere call of duty?
We live in a world where we conduct business with companies that are hundreds or thousands of miles away. In the Internet age, it doesn’t matter where you’re physically located; you can provide services to customers almost anywhere in the world. However, given the choice between a company that’s in a remote location and one that has a physical presence nearby, many customers will be more comfortable with the company whose representatives they can meet and build a relationship with on a face-to-face basis.
This doesn’t mean you should confine your clientele to your immediate physical vicinity. It does mean that if you make the effort to travel to the customer’s location at least a few times per year, you’ll have an advantage over those MSPs that remain “virtual” for their customers. If travel to the client’s site is impossible, the next best thing is to set up some telephone or video conferencing meetings, so you can get to know one another as people.
A caveat there, though – be sensitive to each customer’s preferences. While many people like the personal touch, some don’t want to be bothered with in-person meetings or phone calls. Your client contact might be camera-shy, or might have hearing issues that make it easier for him/her to communicate via email or IM rather than over the phone. How do you know what means of communication works best for a given customer? Ask! Most will appreciate that you care enough to find out what their preferences are.
Focus on relationships
In the technology field, especially, it’s easy to get focused on the “specifications” and forget that a successful business is built on relationships. Of course you should have a robust infrastructure with more than adequate equipment and personnel with the technical expertise to give your customers what they want – but to stand out from the crowd, you and your staff have to give more than just expertly managed services. You have to provide those customers with a company that cares. From the initial sales meetings to technical support to account service, every encounter that the customer has with a rep of your company should be a pleasant one.
Customers are tired of getting the “run-around” from companies they deal with. They’re tired of companies that over-promise and then don’t come through. They want to know what’s going on. If there’s a service outage, they want to know the cause (in general – not in excruciatingly detail), they want to know what’s being done about it, and they want a realistic estimate of when the problem will be fixed.
There are many ways to keep customers updated, including email blasts and a web portal where they can see real-time information. The web portal can also let them see real-time performance data.
If you want to know what customers really want in an MSP, just ask yourself what you would want. Look at it from the customer’s point of view, and you’ll gain a new and valuable perspective for going beyond the provision of services and into the realm of forging a long-term business relationship.