Technically, I have been in this industry since I was 15 years old; getting paid to set up home computers for family and friends. I have seen it transition from an almost purely technical business to the mature service industry that we have today. One thing that I still see today, in large MSPs and small, is the lack of setting expectations properly. Using the tools, contracts and conversations that we already have, it only takes a few tweaks to set expectations and reduce the risk of a misunderstanding and the fallout that can ensue.
Minimize the Confusion
Author: Eric Anthony, director, MSP community and partner enablement, Egnyte
All along the customer journey, we can minimize confusion with clients. Even at the very beginning, we can make sure that our marketing materials do not mislead potential clients. This works wonders to make sure that you are only attracting prospects that meet your ideal customer profile. To execute on that, we must know our ideal customer profile. By setting the right tone and communicating in a way that specifically speaks to your target audience, the less likely you are to pull in prospects that are not a good fit for your services. Likewise, during the sales process, if you are not 100% clear about what services you are delivering, how you are delivering them, and how much they cost you will end up with misunderstandings on the other side.
In my experience, I would rather lose a deal up front than risk a possibly litigious situation later. The best way to set expectations with a new client is with your contract, service agreement or statement of work. If everything is laid out properly, there should be very few unanswered questions when things arise during the relationship. For this reason, it is also important to go over the document with them thoroughly so that you can be sure you are doing everything to communicate the expectations up front. Remember, in a subscriber-based relationship, lifetime value is worth more than what you can persuade someone into buying this quarter.
Set and Maintain Expectations
The most common opportunity for us to win or lose in terms of risk and satisfaction occurs in our daily interactions with users. This begins with properly triaging a ticket and giving the user the opportunity to explain their expectations to us. Doing this well, however, means enabling technicians to ask the right questions and not assuming they know what the user needs as an outcome. A user may contact you about an error message, but not explain that they are trying to get a proposal out the door in an hour. This can lead to a lot of frustration on the part of the user even though it is technically their fault for not communicating their expectations.
Some common things to validate when triaging a ticket:
what is affected,
what functionality is offline due to the issue,
how many users are affected,
is it disrupting communications or sales,
how critical is the issue to them, etc.
Once you understand their expectations and repeat them back (this is an important step because it makes them feel heard), now the technician can communicate expectations in terms of next steps, timetables, next response, etc. Clients tend to relax when they know you understand their problem, have a plan (and communicate it) and know when to expect an update from you.
When the job is complete and the ticket closed, there are two things we should always make sure we do to close the loop in the mind of the user. First, if there is a potential for this to occur again, explain to the user what they might be able to do to prevent the issue in the future or how they can self-remediate in the case that it does. Second, verify that you satisfied their expectations by presenting them with a survey (my preference is NPS) so that you can tell if they are satisfied with the outcome. If they are not, then you can address it quickly so that it doesn’t linger and harm the relationship going forward.
Get it in Writing
Too many times have I seen MSPs complain about how a partner blamed them for a loss of productivity due to downtime or even lost data. Most of the time the complaint revolves around the client not understanding what was covered and what was not in the original service agreement. While it may be technically true that you included wording in the contract or warned them verbally many times, it is not the same as making sure that they understand the terms of the agreement by going over it at the beginning as well as every QBR you have with them.
By the way, here is another point that most MSPs don’t do. Please document and have clients sign the minutes from your QBR meetings. Quite often, they include agreements for new projects but equally as important they include your continued recommendations. When you get a signed verification quarter after quarter that they decline backup, security and upgrades it shows consistent warning by you and acceptance of the risk by them.
Setting expectations thoroughly and often can prevent most of the misunderstandings that lead to a rift in your business relationships with clients. When you are small, you can get away with personal, handshake agreements between owner and owner. As your business grows and you work with larger clients, you must make certain that your business is behaving as you would. The only way to do that (short of cloning yourself) is to build processes for employees to follow that create the outcomes you want. Most of the critical steps for setting expectations I mentioned above can be systematized.
Set expectations well with your clients and maximize their lifetime value.