Straight Talk and Tough Love: Building Trust with Your Clients

MSP Client Communication Best Practices
As with any relationship, it takes hard work and dedication to keep MSPs and their clients aligned and in synch.  The worst situation is when you believe everything is fine, but you find out too late that there has been a fundamental misunderstanding.  Maybe your client won’t dramatically throw a drink in your face in front of a restaurant full of people,  but it will still sting if a client walks out the door and moves on to another MSP.

So what should you do to avoid this fate?  You can find guidance in rules that govern any type of relationship.

First Set Your Expectations.   If you don’t know what your ideal clients look like, you won’t recognize them when you meet them.  So take a good look at your organization, your IT team, and your business goals.  What type of clients are you best able to serve – and to serve well – over the long term?

List the criteria that make up your ideal client.  Don’t worry about having too long a list at this point.

  • What size company, both by revenue and employee count?
  • Which industry or industries? Are compliance regulations a plus or a minus for you?
  • Do they want cutting edge IT services, or just enough to keep the business going?
  • How do they view IT? Is it a business enabler, a competitive differentiator, or a cost center?
  • How mature is their business? Are they in a growth path? Are they intending to make acquisitions?
  • Are they looking for an IT partner or for someone they never have to talk to?

Of course, just because you have a list doesn’t mean every client will meet every criterion.  But with a clear vision of the ideal client, you will more easily focus on prospects who fit your business plan. On the flip side, it will help you more easily identify prospects (and customers) who aren’t a good fit and offer a higher risk.

Stop Pretending They’ll Change.  You know who I mean – the clients who are hard to manage and hard to please.  This can happen either because they haves unreasonable expectations on service levels or because their company falls far from your targeted ideal client.

In fact, these clients may have started as great clients – but you and your managed service practice has changed.  Maybe your practice has taken on an industry focus, and a client isn’t in your sweet spot any more.

In any case, it can be hard and it’s not always fair, but you may have to ‘fire’ these clients.

It’s easy to see the risks of firing a client.  The primary fear is that you won’t find another client to replace the one you fire.  Or maybe you’ve invested extra resources to acquire and retain this client so walking away feels difficult.  If so, stop focusing on sunk costs (resources spent on the client to date) and start thinking about opportunity costs (potential profits you’re missing by NOT working with better clients).  To help pivot your point of view, run the numbers on these difficult clients to get a clear view of the percentage of resources they take from your company versus the profits they deliver.

If you don’t get rid of the problem clients, or even just the ‘don’t fit any longer’ clients, you won’t have room to take on better clients. At a bare minimum, you need to make some kind of change to the relationship – such as increasing charges to compensate for the additional time it takes to work with them.

Honesty is the best policy. Breaking up with a client may or may not require tough conversations, but they will require honest conversations.  You can always try the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ refrain.  There are times that can work.  However, a better approach is to be honest and professional to the end.  Most importantly, identify a path forward for the client.

Here’s a good start on a script.  (You can find other scripts here.) I’ve added notes to indicate where you could customize the letter for particular circumstances.  Have this conversation in person, with a letter to leave behind documenting the conversation:

 [Name]

After doing strategic analysis of [your company’s name]’s long term goals, we’ve decided to shift our focus to serve only a specific subset of customers going forward. [Note the industry or subset you have identified.]

With that said, I regret to inform you that we won’t be able be able to support [client company name] as of [date].

We are committed to making this transition as smooth as possible for the remaining [number of days].  As you move forward in looking for other providers, we’d recommend [service provider] or [service provider].

In addition, below is a list of next action steps you can expect from our team.

[list of action steps]

It has been a pleasure working with you and the rest of your team at [client company name].  I wish you all continued success.

Now Manage Their Expectations.  In May, Microsoft published a report that showed the average person has an attention span shorter than a goldfish these days.  (In which case, thanks for making it this far in the blog!)  With multi-tasking and constant digital interruptions, we go from this email to that text to this online meeting back to that email.

You can’t fight this tendency, but you can adapt to it.  Consider ‘expectation setting’ a continuous process that happens before, during and after (long after) onboarding a client; and through many mediums, including email, reports, in-person/phone meetings, online dashboards.

  • Prospect: Be clear upfront on the services you deliver and how you deliver them.  In addition, the more information you can gather on the prospect’s true IT needs, the more confident you can be of your expectation setting.  Many Kaseya customers appreciate how quick and easy it is with Kaseya to discover a prospect’s entire infrastructure, so that there are no surprises or gotchas once the client has signed the contract.
  • New Client: A documented onboarding process should clearly delineate what needs to be done, who needs to do it, and the timeline for the onboarding process. No detail or wrinkle should be considered too small to document.
  • Existing Client: Don’t forget the small ways you can set and manage expectations daily.  If you field an inbound helpdesk ticket, let your client know when you will get back to them.  And then do it.  Even if you don’t have the final answer or the solution to the problem, set up times to touch base and catch up on the problem.

Don’t Let Them Take You For Granted.  If you do your job well, your clients may start taking your work for granted and not ‘see’ the value you provide.  Of course, this is a good problem to have – the more you solve problems without your client being aware of them, the better job you are doing. However, you should consider that each client is different and most will need reminders on how wonderful you are.  Set up regular meetings (at least quarterly) to review the status of the client’s infrastructure, discuss any regularly occurring help-desk tickets, and uncover any future business plans that might impact your service delivery.  These meetings aren’t about upselling, but about assessing the client’s plans and preparing your staff to prepare for any changing requirements.  Some clients may need regular reports that make your value more visible, such as number of devices under management, mean response time, server uptime, CPU utilization, antimalware activities, patch and upgrades statuses, etc.

Any good relationship takes work – trite but true.  Taking the time to be clear-headed about what works for your managed service business – from the clients you want, to the clients you don’t want, to the technology to support collaboration and transparency – is worth the effort for a lasting, mutually profitable client/MSP relationship.  For more tips on client management, download the complete MSP Guide to Growth.

*Originally posted on MSPAlliance.

 

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