Effective Customer Onboarding: Three Tips for MSP Success

Getting a “yes” from a prospect is only the first step toward truly securing a new customer as a partner. Once all the paperwork is signed, the hard work begins.

As a master MSP, IT By Design has heard tales of terrible onboarding experiences—mostly because many MSPs or vendors treat that part of the new customer process with a standard checklist they are committed to finishing—one way or the other.

During our 20 years in the channel, we’ve learned (yes, sometimes the hard way) that onboarding takes time and standardized processes—sure. But it also is an opportunity to lay a foundation for a true partnership with communication, listening, and a willingness to learn.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

A truly effective onboarding process is built on a methodology that ensures you turn over every rock with a new client. Every business is unique—hospitals face heavy compliance regulations while manufacturers may have complex security demands tied to R&D—and successfully meeting those custom needs defines MSP success.

Regardless of the why, taking time to evaluate each existing technology, the reason behind each current solution, and the role your MSP will play in supporting each element is essential. Before you can take new action, you must understand the "what" and "why" of the existing infrastructure. While that seems straightforward enough, asking the right questions at this stage is crucial.

Over the years, IT By Design has developed a 99-point onboarding document that we use across our business—both as an MSP and as an outsourced NOC and Helpdesk provider. It’s been built through experience and is a living document since technologies change, businesses evolve and the moving parts that comprise a new client’s environment continue to grow more complex.

Taking the time to onboard customers correctly benefits both customers and your business—setting everyone up for success. We’ve found three key areas that can make or break the onboarding process. They are:

1. Don’t Skim Through Processes and Documentation

Understanding the tools and infrastructure of your clients is an obvious part of onboarding, but slowing down the process to ensure you fully understand how a business works, who owns what, where information is kept—and what access there is to it—is critical. In today’s world of email and shared documents, it is easy to say, “Shoot that over to me” and then never really dive into the information. Walking through each process may take longer—our onboarding methodology can take as long as six weeks for NOC engagements—but the result is that you eliminate gaps in understanding and missed points of access.

Don’t forget that while you are learning your new customer’s processes, you also need to be teaching them about yours. The lack of communication or unclear expectations can derail the best new partnership. Again, if it takes an extra week to ensure your new client understands how to access your team, where to submit requests for help, the limits of your SLAs, and other pertinent details that define success—it is time well spent.

Another tip: Make sure you have the right points of contact. So often the CEO or CTO makes a partnership decision, but the right person to inform the process or own the relationship lies deeper inside the organization. Be sure your communications are reaching the correct person or team.

2. Listen Generously to Deliver Unique Value

Most business leaders have heard of the Collaborative Way, a model for increasing creative interaction and effective communication within your business. One lesson of this practice involves learning how to “listen generously.” The gist is simple: We all come to conversations, meetings, projects, etc. with filters in place that impact our ability to hear truthfully and then collaborate effectively. You must learn to recognize and remove those barriers to gain clarity.

The same filters often interfere with customer interactions. How often do you go into a conversation with the outcome set in your head or expecting pushback before you have even begun? Or, in terms of onboarding, are you so focused on your checklist that you aren’t really listening?

Listening during the onboarding process is not only necessary to ensure you’ve covered every element of the tech environment and the client’s business needs, but also to uncover areas where you can deliver additional value. It could be an opportunity to cross-sell or address a problem you’ve solved before with another client; it could also be a red flag about customization or extra services that you missed in the original negotiations. Either way, keep your ears open.

3. What’s Your Ongoing Plan?

Don’t onboard and then walk away. QBRs shouldn’t just be about service reviews; you should go back through that onboarding checklist and review changes that need to be addressed. If you don’t, the day will certainly come where you have bad information or wrong access, and in true Murphy’s Law fashion, it will likely hold up service during a crisis of some sort. One of ITBD’s long-time partners credits ongoing regular reviews as an essential part of their successful helpdesk service. Both sides meeting monthly to review what’s working, what’s not, what might have changed on either side, and what needs to be done moving forward.

Onboarding is not a one-and-done action—it’s a living partnership that needs nurturing.

Related: How Proper Onboarding Jumpstarted "A Couple of Gurus" Helpdesk Service

Guest blog courtesy of of IT By Design. Read more guest blogs from IT by Design here.