With the first port of call for customers with a problem being an MSP's service desk, it is vital that the desk is managed to a level that won't negatively impact your relationship with your customer or indeed, your customer's business.
Striking a fine balance between following standards and protocols and providing an individual customer experience is often not successfully managed.
"I think it's a combination of having standard practices that are proven, as well as flexibility," said Justin Carver, managed services technology consultant at Quest Technology Management.
"We see that a lot in our practice, where we have to maintain standard operating procedures that are very well defined, but simultaneously have the ability of flex to meet our customers where they need us to be."
Following capabilities and processes has proven invaluable for Quest, according to Carver. It allows service providers to define escalation processes and intake of requests ahead of time.
However, this has to be balanced with the need to be flexible to a client's needs, Carver explains.
"This doesn't always work. For example, during onboarding customers are told ‘these are the three people you should contact for an explanation', but if none of them is available, a lot of providers out there will stop there and throw their hands up because they followed process. So that flexibility to go beyond that and understand who other contacts could be is where we've seen a lot of success.
"It's important to have the processes defined and then be ready to take action outside of what may be standard process as well," he said.
Along with being flexible, MSPs must be careful of falling into the trap of forcing clients to fit into their particular brand of service desk, said Mike Hurd, director of technology services at Wachter.
"That to me is the first step - really understanding the [client's] need and making sure you're staffed appropriately to handle that need," Hurd explains. "I've got a great example happening right now with a customer of mine that I want to have as a managed services customer, but they're with a large provider that has come to them via an acquisition and is forcing the customer to basically change the whole way they manage their network infrastructure… they're trying to make them fit that MSP's mold for services rather than being customer focused," he said.
"It's a good opportunity for me as we're starting to fill in the gaps in the service, but there's so much that they're damaging in their customer relationship because they're not properly setting the expectation or bending to the expectation that the client really needs."
Customer engagement managers are also key to building the perfect services desk. An MSP can either provide an engagement manager who follows a script and has limited capacity to truly serve their customers, or they can train and support their engagement managers to serve each individual customer in line with their specific needs.
"It's key to have an engagement manager who is in constant communications with the client and who understand [their needs] and be a client advocate to the company. While also empowering that engagement manager to be able to make the changes that are necessary to serve the client in the best way," says Hurd.
This requires a more advanced skill set than the managed services market typically adheres to, he adds. Many players will hire a generic project-management professional or similar to an engagement manager role, which means the client advocacy part is often missed.
On top of this, engagement managers need to be empowered within the business. If they find themselves simply as a point of escalation or someone whose main job is to distribute monthly SLA reports, they risk assuming an administrative role that doesn't allow them to act as an advocate for the customer.
"They need to be properly hired and set up with processes so that when the client indicates that their needs are not being properly met, they can follow a proper change procedure and cost capture to enable them to offer the managed service or modified managed service to the client, instead of just generally pushing back and saying ‘no, we can't do that and you'll have to live with it through the term of your contract'," Hurd says.
The good news is that not only will your customer get their needs met, but such service presents scope for increased revenue for MSPs, he adds.
"It's really an upsell opportunity for the MSP - if they properly scope and engage the right person for the role, and empower them, it's actually an upsell from a standard box service, so they should be looking to it as a revenue creator."
Elsewhere, team collaboration and consistent training will help enhance your services desk. Quest Technology's Carver says the MSP's team is constantly undergoing training in an effort to determine which areas need attention as a result of the constant changes and disruption today's MSP space faces.
Of note, he says that it's the firm's customers who often point out to Quest the direction staff training or technology onboarding should take.
"There's always a new widget or software being promoted by this vendor or that vendor, which is great, but what we find is that our customers really are the ones who can tell us the reality of what is needed in the market," Carver says.
One size fits…?
Services desks may present themselves in various guises, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The key is not to just sit in the mold and expect your customers to reside there with you. As Quest Technology's Carver puts it:
"I think help desk means different things to a lot of people, so there are a lot of companies where you could go on their website and see the exact services, scope and pricing for their help desk support and it's a one-size-fits-none or maybe a one-size-does-fit-all mentality…but having flexibility on contracts, pricing and scope is another area where we've been very successful."
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