Q: Our MSP is a small two man shop. We love our customers, and we always want to give them great service. Recently, though, we took on a customer that needs a lot of help. While we don’t mind doing what we need to to help them out, they’ve become more and more overwhelming and often call multiple times a day. How can I get freedom from this customer without losing their business?
We know that your time is valuable, especially as a small MSP. Balancing out time spent on your customers’ accounts can be difficult, so it’s essential to diffuse situations like this as quickly and efficiently as possible.
To help you gain freedom from difficult customers (hey, it is Independence Day after all), we consulted one of Intronis’ Partner Success Managers, Abbey Greene Barr. Here are the tips she shared on how to handle difficult customers and take a step back without losing the relationship:
Know what your commitment level is
When it comes to dealing with difficult customers, if you have a Service Level Agreement (SLA) or managed service agreement to fall back on, it’s easier to diffuse problems like this. Have you told your customer that you would spend X amount of hours of support with them per month? If not, putting an agreement in place will help outline your relationship with the customer. When you’re a smaller MSP, outlining your services with your customers will help set expectations and make sure you’re on the same page with each of them. As the MSP, this will help you manage your time between customers, and from a customer’s perspective it will outline what they should expect from you.
If your customer feels like they need more time to talk to you about questions, switch them to a different billing structure. There are a few ways you can do this. First, you could charge them by the hour every time they place a call. For example, you could have five hours of support per month built into the agreement, but once they go beyond that point it is X dollars per hour.
Another way you can offer support is by upselling different services or upgrading their plan. For example, instead of them just using your MSP for email hosting, they would be moved to a bundled plan that includes firewall, backup, and more. It’s an easy sell to say, “If you upgrade your services, you can call me as much as you want!” The idea is, the more services you manage, the fewer problems there will be, and ultimately it’ll be more worthwhile for you because you’ll be compensated more fairly for the time you spend on that customer.
What if my customer is upset?
We are all human, so sometimes what we need is someone to listen to our problems. Open the lines of communication and reach out to your customer on the phone or in person. Don’t just send an email! Speaking to them directly may help you get to the root of their problems more quickly too, which could cut down on how much of your time they’re taking up.
When you’re talking to the customer, stay mindful of their concerns. How you react to them is one of the most important things. Let them know that their concerns matter. It’s not about fixing everything for them; it’s about finding common ground.
Even though it may sound silly, the best way to show your customer you’re listening is repeat their concerns back to them. Listening to them doesn’t mean you have to give away things for free, but rather take a minute and put yourself in their shoes. Be receptive to what they’re upset or concerned about. Also, don’t be afraid to apologize when something went wrong. A simple statement such as “If I were in your position I would feel…” can go a long way. Be empathetic to their situation, and assure your client that you care. When a customer feels like they’re being heard, it can really help dissolve their frustrations.
If you have an existing SLA with them, and they haven’t upheld their end, you should still take a step back to listen to them. Although they may have broken part of the contract, sometimes you have to make allowances to move forward with them as a customer. Otherwise, they may leave to go to a different provider. You just need to decide what their business is really worth to you.
Go the extra mile
Ticketing systems are another great to diffuse situations with challenging customers before they even happen. Instead of having generic tickets, change the programming to have a more personal greeting, steps for troubleshooting, or how long it will be until a tech can help. This goes a long way with SMBs. The end-user is paying for the value and trust in an MSP, and giving interactions like this a personal touch reminds them why they’re paying you. It adds value to the relationship, and it makes it a little harder for them to get frustrated when things go wrong.
Following these tips from Abbey should help both you and your SMBs relax a little more and navigate to a more manageable situation meets both of your needs. Taking the time to understand both sides of the fence can alleviate some of the issues and give you more freedom, so you can spend time building your business with other customers.
Ask an MSP Expert is a weekly advice column answering common questions from MSPs and IT service providers. It covers topics ranging from pricing and selling to marketing and communications—and everything in between.