WHEN A CLIENT GIVES an MSP the ax, poorly set expectations are likely to blame. For this reason, it’s critical that providers establish proper customer expectations and manage them accordingly. But what does that look like?
“Managing expectations means under-promising and over-delivering,” says Keith Lubner, managing partner of Philadelphia-based Channel Consulting Corp. “MSPs have it in reverse—they under-deliver.”
The consequences of that mistake can be dire too, because how well you set and control expectations correlates directly to how likely a customer is to recommend you to a peer. “A happy client is one who will refer you,” observes Ari Santiago, president of IT Direct LLC, a solution provider in West Hartford, Conn. Recommendations are one of the most reliable ways to generate new clients, he notes, adding that “keeping people over the long run is more profitable than finding new clients.”
Still, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing customer expectations. “Different clients have different expectations,” says Santiago. “Some customers have a lot more expectations when the engagement is strategic—when systems have to be integrated, and they support the growth of the company,” he explains. Expectations for clients with a more transactional focus are often related to responsiveness. MSPs need to distinguish between those different customer needs and act accordingly.
They should continually revise their assessment of customer needs too. “Organizations change over time, and their expectations will as well,” Santiago notes. MSPs must revisit and reset anticipated outcomes if they want to maintain consistent customer satisfaction.
Alignment Is Key
Expectations should align with client business goals and objectives. Collecting that information should begin with the first meeting and culminate with clearly articulated milestones in statements of work and contracts. All too often MSPs don’t understand why their clients have turned to managed services in the first place, suggests Lubner. “Consequently, they are not aligning deliverables to business outcomes,” he says.
It’s also important to align internal processes with external expectations. MSPs track metrics and manage KPIs as a regular practice, yet if the numbers you watch don’t jibe with client expectations “you’re in big trouble, because what gets measured gets done,” says Santiago. Tracking billable hours, for example, leads to employees focusing on their time. In most cases, it’s better to emphasize metrics that are closely tied to client expectations and subsequently reinforce the behavior and actions that deliver those expectations.
“Set expectations and ensure that you meet these expectations exactly as stated in your first meeting,” advises Mike Bloomfield, president geek of Tekie Geek, a managed service provider in Staten Island, N.Y. Making sure you’re still capable of meeting those expectation is a good idea as well, he adds.
“Test your own processes from time to time, so you know exactly what you can manage and provide to your clients,” Bloomfield says.