The wave of stay-at-home orders that rolled across the U.S. this March in response to the coronavirus pandemic caught channel pros and their customers by surprise. For MSPs, keeping their own employees safe while helping customers new to remote work and cloud computing stay productive from home was a Herculean effort. What they learned will help with the future playbook.
Communicate with clients early and often: “”One thing that I’ve learned … is there’s no such thing as over-communication, especially at times like this,”” says Paul Nebb, CEO of Marlboro, N.J.-based Titan Technologies. “”We’ve been really getting the word out, making sure that our clients know that we’ve got their back and if they need us, we’re here for them.”” Don’t worry about being a nuisance, he adds. His customers have been nothing but thankful for the outreach so far.
Set expectations well in advance: Customers focused urgently on here-and-now requirements when their offices closed have thanked MNJ Technologies for warning them early about the four or five additional issues they would need to address in the coming weeks in areas like security and bandwidth. “”We’ve done a really good job of being proactive,”” says Ben Niernberg, executive vice president of the Buffalo Grove, Ill.-based MSP.
Good relationships pay off: MNJ has long cultivated relationships with distributors and hardware makers. Niernberg learned those relationships pay off. Despite inventory disruptions that made many products like PCs, network connections, and collaboration software hard to find for a while, MNJ had relatively little trouble acquiring that gear for customers. “”Because we had such strong relationships and such fantastic processes in place, we were just able to react better and get the attention that we needed to fulfill the needs of our customers.””
Don’t let urgent requirements lead you to compromise security: “”We’re telling people left and right, ‘Hey, don’t do risky stuff. Don’t just turn on [Remote Desktop Protocol] because you can and to get people running, because you’re going to forget to turn it off,'”” Nebb says. And don’t forget security awareness training for your customers either, he continues. Coronavirus-related phishing attacks have surged since March. “”There’s always someone looking to kind of take advantage of you,”” Nebb observes.
Customers need emotional support: “”Initially, we were concerned about just enabling people from a technology standpoint,”” Niernberg says. “”In the second stage, we [saw] that technology also needed to be a way that people could connect and stay connected.”” As a result, Niernberg and the rest of the company’s leaders instructed technicians to share MNJ’s own best practices for turning workplace conferencing tools into social gathering spots. “”We had to help our IT professionals understand that their job is no longer just about enabling a remote workforce, but it’s about creating climate and culture for companies,”” he says. MNJ’s salespeople now discuss emotional as well as technical needs with clients too. “”We talk to them simply about making sure our customers are OK.””
Prepare clients for the next crisis now: Because for some of them, it’s too late to prepare for this one. Nebb spoke recently with a customer who sent his employees home with their desktops and then asked for help getting them setup. “”I’m like, ‘Well, you can’t just take your computer towers home, because you’ve got to connect back to your server. And remember that firewall we talked about you getting? Well, you don’t have it,'”” Nebb says. There’s a lot you can do for a client in need, but no channel pro is a miracle worker.
Remote work is here to stay: “”I personally think this is going to create some other opportunities once we get out on the other side, because jobs that people said you can’t do remotely, well, they’re now being done remotely,”” says Scott Beck, CEO of Riverview, New Brunswick-based BeckTek. “”It’s going to change the workspace. So, we’re going to have to adjust to that.””