My last blog looked at the very real impact of high customer churn rates on financial performance. This blog flips the coin to take a more positive view. Churn isn’t inevitable – and as long as your customers feel valued and are receiving the prompt, high-quality service they expect, at a reasonable price, they are much less likely to jump ship.
Keeping them feeling this way requires effort, of course: a sound CRM strategy and a warning system to flag up potential issues, so if things are heading downhill there is time to recognise the danger signals and act.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about the importance of ‘Keeping your customers close’. I believe that the points I made are still valid in improving customer relationships and increasing retention levels, so I summarise them again here, along with additional comments from industry sources.
- Deliver the service levels you promise/customers expect
For MSPs this means meeting or exceeding the terms of the service level agreement (SLA). Customers expect fast, responsive service. When they don’t get it, they are likely to vote with their feet. Constantly measure your actual performance against the SLA. If you are overachieving – make sure your customer is aware. If you have missed some issue resolution times or targets, find out why and put measures in place so that it doesn’t happen again. And, importantly, communicate this to your customer.
- Make sure your customers recognise the work you do for them
Given that you are configuring, monitoring, managing and fixing their networks remotely, so much of what you do as an MSP goes unseen by your customers. It makes sense therefore to remind them of just how successful you are being on their behalf in preventing or resolving issues. You can do this in a number of ways:
- Provide regular reports/operational reviews to summarise the activities you have carried out
- Compare your actual performance level against the SLA, highlighting areas of over-achievement – and explaining any underachievement
- Quantify the specific value you have delivered over the preceding month or quarter
This last point is particularly effective in the case of security services as you can indicate the number of active threats and detail the potential attacks that you have prevented.
- Show them you care
Be a partner, not just a supplier.
In your dealings with customers, don’t just focus on your business and how you are helping them – show interest in their business too.
As an MSP, you are embedded within their business. Putting in the extra effort required to understand the business challenges they face, in addition to the IT issues you have to resolve, can strengthen a customer relationship and lay the foundations for a more strategic role.
It can be as little as a regular phone call to check in and see how things are going.
- Talk strategy
The quarterly business review (QBR) is the cornerstone of the MSP/customer relationship, providing the opportunity to understand customer business strategies and match actual/potential services to them.
These meetings should not be used to deal with immediate technical concerns, but to look ahead over the next quarter, and more strategically over the next two or three years to produce a technology/services roadmap.
To reflect this strategic nature, participants on the customer side should include senior business executives as well as IT staff.
- Build in plenty of customer face-time
Automation enables you to deliver services more efficiently than ever, but is puts a distance between you and your customers. Spending face-time with your customers can bridge this gap. It also enables you to get first-hand feedback on your services and learn where you can make improvements. And of course, it’s an excellent way of spotting an opportunity to sell in a new service.
Of course if your customers are dispersed around the globe, face-time may be more difficult to achieve. But industry events offer the opportunity to meet up and there is always the ‘virtual conference’.
Don’t let absence make your customer’s heart grow fonder – of a competitor.
- Be seen as a technology guru
Most customers value technology expertise – particularly when given to help them to understand how new developments could take their business to the next level. This doesn’t mean you should provide free consultancy, of course.
Customer events, user meetings, blogs, resource libraries and social media can all be used to position you as a knowledge leader and help customers to keep up to date with the latest technology trends and the implications of these for their business.
- Don’t be afraid to ask
You may be sending regular reports – but are customers actually reading the detail and making the connection between your efforts and the smooth running of their systems?
In case they are not, don’t be afraid to ask them. A quick call to ask if they are happy with your services can be used to draw their attention to recent achievements from your side.
And don’t rely on gut-feel; carry out regular surveys and solicit feedback on specific aspects of your services to understand satisfaction levels, following up on any negative comments.
- Be honest
If issues have occurred that have impacted customer service levels- admit it. Take responsibility and explain the measures you have put in place to ensure that the situation won’t happen again.
- Don’t keep your best deals for new customers
I read this comment in a recent industry article – and fully agree with the sentiment: don’t follow the model set by some mobile phone, utilities and insurance companies of using deals to lure in new customers while keeping existing customers locked into expensive tariffs.
- Recognise the warning signs
Sadly, and possibly despite your best efforts, customers may be minded to jump ship. Recognise the signals. They may be quibbling over charges, querying the value of what you do – ‘everything is working fine – why am I paying you?’ Bills may need to be chased every month, requests to meet up declined – we’ve all been there!
It’s worth trying to get to the root of the issue. It will almost certainly be cheaper to identify the problem and remedy it than to let customers go and have to ramp up new business activities to replace them.
You won’t keep all your customers for ever. A certain level of churn is inevitable as customer business drivers change. Indeed, you may even welcome the departure of some noisy or unprofitable customers; it allows you to focus your efforts on retaining more profitable accounts.
But don’t forget – people buy from people.
The more touch-points you have with customers, the closer the personal relationship, the more services they take from you – the more difficult it would be for them to disengage.
That’s why I still offer the advice I gave in my 2017 blog to ‘Keep your customers close’.
Contact us now to find out how we can help you ensure high levels of service for your customers by partnering for NOC and Service Desk.