For an MSP, having the technical expertise necessary to deliver managed services is only half the battle in running a successful business. Equally critical is your ability to provide positive customer service -- and doing that takes more than just technical know-how.
This article walks through the essentials of effective customer service, including understanding the customer journey, optimizing the customer experience and handling customer complaints.
Table of Contents
The Customer Journey
Delivering positive customer service starts with understanding what is known as “the customer journey”. The term refers to the ways in which customers travel through the sales funnel and interact with your business.
Understanding the customer journey at your business allows you to:
- Identify and address customers’ needs, pain points and expectations.
- Optimize your marketing strategy to meet customer demands.
- Identify ways to enhance your service offerings to meet customer expectations more effectively.
Customer Journey Map
You may think you have an intuitive sense of your customers’ journeys. But until you step back and analyze how customers actually interact with your business -- including such steps as how they first become aware of your MSP offerings, how they engage with you for the first time, and how they continue to interact once they are under contract -- you may lack a complete understanding of what the customer journey entails.
To address that challenge, it is helpful to create a customer journey “map” that charts each step of the process, and that also identifies the people and resources involved at each step. To create a customer journey map for your business, ask yourself these questions:
- Who is your target audience? Knowing the customers you are trying to engage is the first step in understanding the path they take toward interacting with your business.
- Who is involved in the customer journey? Obviously, part of the answer is your customers. But you must also identify the people within your company -- such as sales staff, technicians, account managers and so on -- who participate in the customer journey at various stages.
- What are your customer touchpoints? In other words, at which times and locations do customers interact with your business? What are your sales and support channels, and at which times do customers engage with them?
- What is your account lifecycle? What does the lifecycle look like between the point when a lead first engages with your business, and the point where an account is closed? How long does the process take? How many contract renewals or upsells are part of the typical account? Why, when and how do customers start and stop service contracts?
To be clear, your customer journey map shouldn’t literally look like a map. We’re using the word “map” in a figurative sense here. The point is to understand, conceptually, what the geography of your engagement with customers looks like, and which people and resources need to be present in order to support each stage of the engagement.
Further reading Customer Journey for MSPs
The first rule in delivering an excellent customer experience is to set accurate expectations by communicating clearly and realistically with your customers. You can do this by having a systematic communication plan in place.
To make the plan most effective and tailor your communications to different steps of the customer journey, consider breaking the communication process down into three main stages:
- Pre-onboarding communication. During this stage, be solution-centric and prepared to answer hundreds of questions about your products and services. Be accurate, and don’t over-promote or under-promote your offerings.
- Onboarding communication. During onboarding of a new client, the most important goal is to make the customer feel welcome and to acquaint the new account with all of your business processes. Customers should know how to use your services, how to get support, and so on.
- Post-onboarding communication. Many businesses skip this part, thinking that customers who are already onboarded don’t need ongoing outreach. However, it’s critical to follow up with clients on a continual basis in order to make sure that their expectations are being met, and to provide them with open communication channels to your business. Not only will this outreach help keep customers happy, but it may also lead to opportunities to upsell existing clients, as well as to learn more about customer needs, so that you can develop new offerings to suit them.
Other communication best practices that apply to all stages of the customer journey include:
- Provide multiple communication channels. Some customers may find it most convenient to communicate via email. Others want phone calls or in-person meetings. Make sure you are ready to engage with them via multiple channels.
- Specify service expectations in your SLA. This is a critical best practice for setting clear and accurate communications.
- Provide access to clear documentation and other educational resources. Giving customers the ability to self-serve when they need information will go far toward delivering a smooth experience.
- Personal customer communication. To the extent possible, your messages to each customer should be tailored to that customer’s needs. Of course, this can be challenging for MSPs who operate on a large scale with dozens of accounts, in which case it’s not always practical to tailor every individual communication to each account. However, strive to make sure that at least some outreach is personalized. For example, have your sales staff or account managers deliver personalized check-in emails or phone calls to existing customers on a quarterly or semi-annual basis, even if other customer communication emails are templated and generic.
Further reading How to Enhance Customer Experience
Managing Customer Complaints
It may be true that no one likes a complainer. But it’s also true that, no matter how carefully you design your MSP business processes and customer communications, you will receive complaints from time to time. By complaints, we mean not routine support requests, but expressions of dissatisfaction with your business processes or the results you are delivering.
Handling customer complaints in a timely and professional manner is critical for keeping your accounts and cultivating a positive business image.
Toward that end, it’s a best practice to have a process in place for handling complaints. The process should include:
- Investigating the problem. Determine what went wrong, keeping in mind that what the customer complains about may not be the same as the root-level cause of the issue. For example, a complaint about a server being slow to respond could involve a problem with the network, rather than the server itself.
- Assess how the problem was handled by your team. Determine what your team has done so far to address the issue, and why the steps taken did not prevent the customer from feeling that a complaint was warranted.
- Keep the customer in the loop. Make sure the customer knows that you are working on the issue, especially if it will take more than a couple of days to rectify. Hearing from you regularly by email or phone with updates will help keep the customer satisfied, even if you don’t have a solution right away.
- Review your processes. Once you’ve gotten to the root of the customer’s complaint and resolved it, evaluate whether you should make a change to your business processes or tools to prevent the issue from recurring, either with this customer or another one.
Additional best practices for managing customer complaints in the MSP ecosystem include:
- Don’t take complaints personally. In professional settings, most customers don’t take complaining lightly. They do it when they have a genuine need, and complaining seems to them like the best way to pursue it. As an MSP, then, your mission is to appreciate the complaint as a request for help. Avoid going on the defensive or feeling like the customer is singling you or your staff out personally. In most cases, the customer simply wants a positive experience, just as you do.
- Maintain open communication channels for complaints. Unlike when it comes to submitting a support request, customers who have a complaint may not know how to submit it. There is typically no ticketing system or support phone number they can use to complain. Make sure, then, that customers know who to reach out to when they have an issue. This information should be communicated during the onboarding process, and it should be included in your documentation.
- Let customers know the ultimate outcome of complaints. If a customer’s complaint leads to a change in your business processes or tooling, consider letting the customer know. Customers will feel appreciated if they know that an issue that they brought to your attention resulted in positive change not just for them, but also for your business.
- Collect metrics on customer complaints. Keep track of how often each of your customers complains. This information can help you identify trends that you can address in order to minimize complaints. It can also help you determine if you should take the extreme step of firing a customer whose complaints are simply unreasonable and create a distraction for your business.
Further reading How to Deal with Customers' Complaints
Running a successful managed services business is about more than just delivering technical expertise. You must also understand your customers inside and out, and have reliable processes in place for communicating with them, managing their expectations and handling situations where things go wrong.