When it comes to being an MSP, there are so many more things to think about now than perhaps 10 years ago. Much ink has been spilled about the challenges in recruitment, competition and market saturation that MSPs face.
For those players that want to stay ahead of the game and ensure they have the capacity to weather these storms, focusing on the customer's experience is key.
Holding on to your customers is not a right, it is something you have to work at, just like bringing on new customers. The channel is recognising this and, as a result, customer success managers and similarly titled jobs are popping up in MSPs across the US.
Players who have such staff in place are working hard on ensuring their customers are happy by garnering customer feedback to continually improve their business and working towards providing a much more personalized experience.
The outcome of this approach is not just a happy customer, but also the very strong likelihood of increased business from existing customers and new business from customers dissatisfied with their current provider.
How common is it?
All the players we spoke with have some form of customer success manager. Mike Martin, SVP for solutions and services at Logicalis, told us that at the global IT services firm this takes the form of an enterprise management office and an adoption team.
The enterprise management office housing "dedicated resources focused on customer intimacy and client experience" and the adoption team works with customers on software adoption. According to Martin, this setup enables the solution provider to provide more value and retain and expand products and services.
At Chicago, IL-based TechNoir CIO solutions firm, customer success is managed by a client services manager who works directly with clients in order to understand their business needs, president James Velco told CPI.
The firm does this in order to be an advocate for the client rather than just someone who comes in and sells them products and services, he explained.
"We work to get an in-depth understanding of their business so we can actually provide them with the outcomes that they need. One of the things I always want to be able to try and do, and I tell my whole team, is you've got to be an advocate for your client, you're not here to sell them a generic product."
The benefits of this to the client are obvious, but for the MSP this also brings benefits, he points out. "Embedding" yourself with your client's success enables you to be a "strategic partner", Velco said, meaning the client will look to you for support and guidance on all their IT-related issues, as well as their IT strategy more broadly.
"If you get to that point, you become part of their team, and the only way to do that is to really spend time with that client, understand them and really be embedded into what they're doing."
Nashville Computer in Tennessee has a client care manager and a marketing team member both focused on customer success, managing partner Charles Henson told CPI. Meanwhile, San Francisco, CA-based Intivix has a client success manager, who was an existing team member that was so good with clients he was promoted to the customer success role, partner Rob Schenk, said.
How to measure customer success
For MSPs seeking to recognize the importance of a customer success manager or program, there are a number of ways you can consider developing systems in your practice. Schenk told CPI that they started paying attention to client services a few years ago via the firm's ticketing system, which asked a customer five survey questions. However, the response rate came in at between two and three percent, prompting Schenk to rethink the system.
"We decided to change the system to a smiling face, happy face or sad face, and once we implemented that type of a system, our engagement jumped from three percent to almost 66 percent. If you think about the number of tickets we're processing a month, that's a lot of responses."
You have to look at the whole picture. Is it only being used when people are upset or happy? Or is it more average feedback? You need to consider all this and decide when you need to temper the process"
The responses come with plenty of comments, according to Schenk, who said that the feedback - good and bad - is reviewed in weekly team meetings. He adds that whether you have a client success manager or not, just having some mechanisms to more quickly garner client feedback is "really important" and gives you a much deeper connection with your client.
Nashville Computer also uses the "faces" system. Managing partner Henson told CPI that the firm's client care manager makes follow-up phone calls based on customer feedback that has come through either Customer Thermometer or SmileBack. These both offer an automated survey through the MSP's ticketing system upon ticket closure and also use the smiling face, happy face or sad face.
"Any time we get a sad face or negative feedback - anything other than a positive review - our client care manager picks up the phone and calls the client to discuss the situation. We make sure that we take care of it immediately without hesitation. The call is made as soon as that feedback comes in."
Quarterly business reviews are another way in which customer success is measured. Velco suggests using these to get general feedback, as well as look at ticketing trends. These pointers help to build a picture of that customer's "success" with you.
"The quarterly business review is a great time to hear feedback from the client and understand from them if there were staff members they did or didn't like working with, or things that you did that they would like to see again, or perhaps wouldn't. I think it's very important to have that dialogue with the client, because if you don't, you're in a bubble… and it's hard to know if they think you're doing a good job."
Net promoter scores
As systemically garnering customer feedback to measure customer success is growing in MSPs, so too is the use of net promoter scores (NPS). At Logicalis these are used as one of the ways customer success is managed, Martin told CPI.
"Examining NPS as a whole provides a consistent way to gauge how we are doing and benchmark ourselves against other Logicalis regions and competitors. It also gives us the insight to address customer satisfaction items in a timely manner," he said.
Nashville Computer, meanwhile, has recently implemented NPS into its feedback process, while Intivix told CPI its system has an NPS function in beta status, so they will be looking to integrate it within the next six to 12 months. TechNoir, meanwhile, is also in the process of implementing an NPS process, with a view to finalize the implementation in Q2.
Clients don't like change, but if they reach their frustration threshold one too many times, they're going to look for another MSP to partner with"
As to how useful NPS are, as Velco points out, "it's very valuable, if the client responds with accurate information".
Martin adds that the goal of NPS is to measure how likely someone is to recommend your products and services, which "is a great measurement, if targeted at the decision makers in a customer engagement".
It's also worth noting that customer feedback is often only given when customers are feeling strongly one way or the other. This means that NPS may not offer a true reflection of your entire customer base. Velco suggests "tempering" NPS results.
"You need to think about if you're getting the scores on a regular basis…you can take an average, because you're going to have outliers on both sides, so that's when you might temper it.
"You have to look at the whole picture. Is it only being used when people are upset or happy? Or is it more average feedback? You need to consider all this and decide when you need to temper the process."
How has it changed your business? Why is it important?
Having a dedicated focus on customer success can certainly have an impact on your business. For example, Velco told CPI that hiring someone into a customer success role has been a "game changer" for TechNoir, particularly in the way in which its clients perceive the firm.
While he notes it can be hard to quantify the value and success of these customer success roles, he told CPI that his client services manager was directly responsible for a large client coming on board, noting that the role (with the right person in it) is "critical".
"We had a client that merged with a much larger company and our client services person was working with both of them to help the merger. The larger company felt so secure with him and felt that he was supporting them even though we didn't have a contract with them. They had a contract with somebody else, but they really felt that this was completely different to how they were being treated by their own MSP.
"As a result, they ended up selecting us because of the relationship our client services manager had built with them, so it's absolutely critical."
For Intivix's Schenk, having someone on the team whose sole responsibility is taking care of the client means expanded opportunities and stickier clients.
"Our client success manager understands and has a good knowledge of a lot of our clients and so he has been able to identify opportunities and areas where clients might need additional assistance and then feed that back to the team. This helps to generate additional business and improve the overall client outcome, so there's a stickiness that gets identified."
Along with tangible improvements in client engagement and bottom line, customer success is also important for MSPs because you will either lose customers if you're not doing it right, or gain customers from other MSPs that are not investing in customer success.
With the majority of managed services clients likely already buying their services elsewhere, he told CPI that it's very likely that any new clients you're getting are those you're going to take over from an incompetent MSP "that has done something to upset their client".
"Clients don't like change, but if they reach their frustration threshold one too many times, they're going to look for another MSP to partner with. And so we can pick up new clients from an existing MSP that's failing to follow through and execute and ensure that their clients are happy.
"This means that if you're not doing client satisfaction, scorecards, NPS and things of that nature, if you're not keeping a pulse on how happy your clients are, it's a matter of time before you lose those clients, because you have no idea that they're unsatisfied with your level of service."
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