Just like any other business, Managed Services Providers have an important path to follow, to distinctly set their services apart from other MSPs. This path pivots on the commitment to ensuring continuously improved customer and user experiences. High quality experiences for clients comprise a great differentiator in the ever-growing world of new managed services firms and cloud solution vendors. Many services can quickly become commoditized, and too often MSPs resort to "differentiating" on price, a dangerous path that can lead to failure.
As customer and user expectations rise, putting strong focus on their experiences with the MSP organization and its services is a must-have. Customer and user experiences are made up of all interactions across all channels during the entire lifecycle of the client company as an MSP customer, which introduces numerous opportunities to better engage and serve clients.
Experiences across the Customer Organization
There are often multiple roles in a single organization that make up the 'customers' and 'users' for technology services. This means very different experiences take place from role to role.
The customer experience frequently aligns with the buyer journey, and post-sale account management for a particular client company. The customer-as-buyer often is a composite of roles: mid-level managers who choose services and technology, VPs who approve purchases, CEOs and CFOs who influence or dictate purchase decisions, and even accounting staff who enact purchase transactions. Defining and engendering excellent experiences for a customer or buyer journey comprised of all of these roles usually requires a lot of work. But this is work that should be done for MSPs to better understand their "customers".
The user experience is much more than utilizing technology services – it's all the interactions that occur during the life cycle of services for a particular set of end users and customers. The term user journey may be the best for describing the ongoing relationship between users and MSPs and the services they provide, including customer support.
Within client organizations, communication disconnects often occur between the customer-as-buyer and end users that can jeopardize the customer relationships that MSPs need to build.
Customer Relationships Suffer when Communication Breaks Down
Customer Centricity has taken a look at the communication gaps that can adversely affect customer experiences. The quadrant diagram below spans both the client and MSP organizations to depict how collaboration and communication can fall apart due to disconnects between MSP roles and client roles. Enhanced awareness of these roles should help MSPs consciously improve communications and processes between their organizational roles and client roles, ultimately to ensure positive long-term relationships.
Customer Centricity - Communication Disconnects
Image & explanation: Customer Centricity
Quadrant 1: The (customer) business manager doesn't truly understand the value that is being delivered by the MSP. They only hear reference to the MSP when there is a service problem. When it comes time to reduce expenses, they are hard pressed to justify the line item representing the cost of the MSP.
Quadrant 2: The (MSP) Sales Representative has little to no insight into how the (client) company is "truly" leveraging the product, the benefits that are being realized, the issues being experienced by those using the product and the value being delivered by the "service organization."
Quadrant 3: The customer's end-users and technical contacts play a key role in the effective use and performance of the MSP's service. They are also key in shaping the business manager's perception of the MSP. However, the only time that they discuss the MSP is when there is a problem. They don't discuss all the great things that the MSP has done on a day-in / day-out basis.
Quadrant 4: (MSP) Customer Service / Technical Support typically observe that "all things are well with the customer." This impression, which can often be false, is created because the customer's end-users maintain a courteous working relationship with the MSP's service personnel, to make sure that they can continue to "get things done" when they really need to.
Problems Impact All Quadrants: When a significant business disrupting problem occurs (which it WILL), the customer's end-user remains calm, cool and collected when speaking with the MSP's service team. The service team doesn't find it necessary to escalate awareness of the "incident" to the MSP's Sales Representative or Senior Management because they don't understand the level of impact
Building Real Customer Relationships
Many of the "business-as-usual" activities for MSPs are rich opportunities to enhance customer experiences and build long-term relationships. Important areas that make a difference are already in play: basics like consistently meeting or exceeding SLAs, delivering on all promises, usability and ease-of-use, high performance, and so on. This is how trust is built for real relationships.
MSPs can make sure that new client relationships are built on great customer experiences by starting with onboarding processes and/or service activation. MSPs should allocate strong resources that will make these introductory functions engaging, effective and worthwhile. Obviously when done well, a positive tone has been set for ongoing business.
While MSP ecosystems of complementary service providers are extremely beneficial, in most cases one major function should remain under the control of each individual MSP organization: help desk and customer support. Customer support interactions are critical for growing customer relationships and to expand knowledge about different kinds of customers. It's also an opportunity to thoroughly document customer environments and conversations about business needs, to help these customers better utilize all MSP services now and in the future.
The information and data gained from all interactions with customers and users become the fuel for customer-focused analytics that help MSPs learn more about current and potential customers and the sorts of services that they want and need. Such detailed customer intelligence is an invaluable competitive edge.
But Who Owns the Customer Experience?
As illustrated by the Customer Centricity communication quadrant, MSPs would be smart to facilitate better communication with – and within – their client companies, to make sure the value of their services is obvious to the relevant customer and user roles.
MSPs must work to improve their own internal collaborations across functions to engender continuous high quality customer and user experiences. MSPs also need to implement ongoing analytics processes to generate and share customer insights across the organization.
Within the MSP organization, the responsibility for nurturing and shepherding ongoing customer experiences belongs to all teams that impact customers. At the core, much of the work should be accomplished by strong, continuously evolving collaborations between functional teams. To keep an agile customer focus, MSPs cannot afford to allow functional silos to exist within their organizations.
In the end, only the customer can own the customer experience – but MSPs have a great deal of power to enhance all customer interactions and the quality of services provided to clients.
Customer Image source: hudsonvalleynewsnetwork.com
This post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic visit IBM's Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.
About the author: Julie Hunt understands the overlap and convergence of many business processes and software solutions that once were thought of as "separate" – and how this impacts software Vendors and Buyers, as well as the strategies that enterprises implement for how technology supports the business and its customers. Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitiveand on Twitter: @juliebhunt For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Strategies for B2B Software Solutions: Working from the Customer Perspective