This may sound obvious but not everyone really gets it….
Developing and maintaining client relationships is essential to growing and retaining your customer base.
Yes, you’re in the Managed Services/IT business and keeping their technology humming is priority #1... but you’re also very much in the business of customer service, and the foundation of any successful customer service effort is an honest understanding and genuine interest in the customer’s business and their success.
Are you genuinely interested in your customer’s success???
When was the last time you talked to your customer about their business and not just their tech? Some MSPs rely on QBRs or renewals to prompt these conversations, but you need to establish a more continuous conversation around this topic. Leverage every interaction with your client as an opportunity to build and strengthen your relationship, from the first touch with sales, to their implementation, and at every onsite visit to ask a simple question: How’s business treating you?
Priorities can change in an instant, and they’re often different from stakeholder to stakeholder, so unless you’re regularly asking what people are focused on, you’ll always be reacting to needs rather than getting out in front of them.
A quick conversation onsite can uncover an upcoming project or a knot of new hires that could have been hurled into the service desk, unannounced, with high priority leaving your team in react/panic-mode.
Once you’ve embraced the importance of the customer service mindset, it’ll set off a chain reaction of positive outcomes for your business.
A customer service mindset requires you to identify how you can add real value for the customer. Adding real value builds trust with the client. Once a degree of trust has been established, the client is more likely to see you as a strategic partner - not outsourced IT. At that point, clients become advocates, and in an industry where new business is still very much reliant on word-of-mouth, that trust you’ve built from operating with a customer service mindset will have a direct impact on your business’s growth.
Relationship building is more of an art than a science, and it all starts with how you communicate and educate your clients on working with you. There’s no one way to turn clients into advocates, but there are some best practices you can follow to ensure your doing your part:
Develop Relationships Early
Immerse yourself! Get to know the client inside and out. Dedicate time to know their culture and what they feel makes them unique. If you’re not sure how to bring the latter out, take time to share things about yourself and your team to open the communication beyond the confines of their tech and your offerings.
You can also stay current by following them and their industry leaders on social media & subscribing to their blogs. Give yourself every opportunity to understand what internal and external forces are influencing their business. Not only will this show the client you care about their success, but it will help you to cater your offerings around their needs.
Nail the Sales/Implementation Handoff
Client onboarding is the most critical phase of relationship building. To really nail onboarding, you must have an internal process in place that identifies the following:
- What does the client really want? What is their Job to be Done?
- Who are the decision makers, implementers, and key stakeholders?
Your implementation team needs this information before they begin working with the client so make sure your sales team (over)shares this information with the onboarding specialists.
And if you really want to execute, introduce the implementation team during the sales process. This will make for a smooth & effective transition for all parties.
Set Clear Expectations
Set clear expectations from the onset and not only will you be in a better position to serve your client, you'll also teach them how to work best with you.
Schedule out when and detail why you’ll be connecting with them during onboarding. Set timelines for how and when they’re going to get started with new products. Detail how to access and use company & product info. Be clear with how & who they should communicate with so when they need something, they’re not being passed around and feeling like your team is disorganized.
Establishing expectations early will go a long way in reducing any sort of miscommunication that could derail the relationship-building process during this critical period.
Establish Multiple Communication Channels
It’s important to keep lines of communication open as well as providing multiple options for the client, as preferred methods of communication may differ from company to company and even person to person.
Make sure your clients know all the ways they can reach you. Combine email, phone, communication software (MS Teams & Slack), support tickets, etc to make it as easy as possible for them while making it effective and efficient for you.
Be Proactive, Stay Proactive
Inform clients of occurrences of tech problems. Get out in front, control the message, and assure them that you’re doing everything you can to resolve the issue in a timely manner. Customers will appreciate the transparency, and it will help continue building trust.
Looking at the bigger picture, your customers decide to work with you because of your knowledge and expertise. This goes beyond providing IT/MS support. If there are emerging strategies, technologies, or tactics that would benefit your customers, it’s your responsibility to be aware of them and advise them on how they should be leveraged. If a client starts to bring these types of ideas to you, they will lose faith in your expertise and your relationship will take a hit.
Replying quickly shows respect. If a client reaches out, acknowledge it as quickly as possible, even if you can’t yet resolve their issue. Let them you’re looking into their inquiry and, if possible, give a timeline.
Use Every Interaction to Deliver Value
It’s your job to help them achieve their desired outcomes with your offerings. Speak to and think of their needs, not yours with every interaction. You want your client to see you as an extension of their team, not a vendor.
Use your tools to see where there’s room to expand then make a clear case why it will help their business. You can do this in lighter ways too, by sharing relevant resources such as blog posts or insights that could help them resolve problems and improve their processes.
To summarize, manage your client relationships like you run your own teams. Have regular conversations through onsites, emails, phone calls, and QBRs. Help educate your clients on how you intend to work together. In return you’ll have clearer, more effective communication and, most importantly, the foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship that will serve you both for years to come.