Managed services has been written about endlessly by a number of people across the world, usually those who have a vested interest in selling it to other people or selling products to the people who sell it.
I’ve talked to a lot of people from both sides of that equation but importantly I’ve talked a lot to our customers as well to get their take on how a managed service should look and feel.
I’m going to be brave and say that I don’t believe anyone has gotten it 100% right from a customer perspective yet (and that includes us) – too often we enforce our internal processes on our customers because scale is really the only way to achieve profitability in the MSP world.
But the reality is that unless a MSP is making money, it’s not likely to be able to invest in products and processes to be able to provide exemplary service. It’s very much a chicken before the egg scenario and one that I’m not sure is easily solved.
I’ve been thinking a lot on how to provide that exemplary service to our customer base yet still stay profitable – after all, my take is very much that Managed Services is a partnership and everyone needs to be benefitting or no-one does. It cannot be a race to the bottom on price, otherwise a race to the bottom on service quality is surely what comes next.
I think it boils down to a few items, none of which are easily implemented, but all of which play a part in the customer experience and profitability puzzle which needs to be solved to be successful, those items are:
Consistent and joyous interface: Unless your customer can communicate to you their needs in a format that they understand and can use you’re never going to see true customer happiness. We all too often slap front end interfaces on our back end systems that just don’t match User Experience best practices but worst of all, force customers to access several different interfaces to get different aspects of their requirements (one for billing/invoices, one for service ticket lodging, one for reporting etc) and it is ALWAYS a push/pull method, they ask us, we provide it to them, it’s never truly self service. Make it easy for customers to do business with you, buy your products, use your services and customers will do more business with you.
Automation: Most MSPs have invested a little in their RMM tools, but still have other systems which sit outside of that and require separate management interfaces. I get tired of hearing the phrase ‘single pane of glass’ but it’s something we should all ascribe towards achieving if we truly want to automate. A friend of mine – Tim Brewer (www.timbrewer.com.au) calls it “Value Chain Velocity” but the maxim is simple – get less systems, rather than more – it’s always just another portal, just another website, just another package, until it’s 60 of them (which is where most businesses find themselves now). Pick your key systems and make them all talk to each other to deliver a customer outcome – don’t buy any new systems unless they add to that customer outcome AND can integrate seamlessly to your existing ones. This is where the Connectwise family of products come to the fore, all of them are built to work better together, you just need to get your other products to work with them!
Hire Better Engineers: I don’t mean hire the smartest engineers, I mean hire the engineers that customers love to work with, the ones for which nothing is too much bother – even if their technical skill is not outstanding – you can teach technical skills, you cannot teach people skills. The next step is simple
Have engineers own customer relationships: The model of sales people ‘owning’ customer relationships is dead, plan it’s funeral, it’s over – sales will continue to be important and essential to your business, but customers like the guy who is fixing stuff, not the guy who makes money extracting money from them
Understand your market: Another no brainer right? But too often it’s not – when you’re working in the Managed IT space, particularly in the SMB market you’ve got to understand that the person you’re talking to about spending money – that’s generally that person’s holiday money, the money for their kids to go to school, the money for that boat they’ve always wanted – unless you’re delivering something that will give them two boats, or enable them to go on a longer holiday, understand why they’re less excited to buy the latest thing than you are to sell it to them and talk to them instead about how you can save them time, or money to enable them to do (or buy) the things they love.
This is the first of a brain dump around Managed Services, I hope to deliver more in the near future!