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A modern MSP needs to have several customer-facing employees on their team in today’s business landscape. This may include a sales team that can articulate your business’s value proposition, customer service staff to resolve issues, technicians for customer onboarding, and so on.

However, MSPs must get smart and streamline their processes so that they are intuitive to avoid adding first-level staff and to encourage customers with self-service technologies. This should start with the purchasing and setup process. If a prospect can come to an MSP’s website, understand what is offered, and then sign up for the service, they are already a long way into becoming a valuable customer.

Creating efficiency with self-service

Without a doubt, by having straightforward self-service in place, MSPs can streamline their purchasing process. However, it can create more upsell opportunities, including an easy paths to add new user counts and changes/deletions (ACDs) to service types. Even when it comes to a customer ceasing to be a customer, this can be automated, given the right protocols are in place.

Of course, an MSP does not want to lose a customer – especially if this is due to problems the customer has that could be avoided. A straightforward “OK – you want to leave, bye!” process may suit the customer but does not help the MSP. Instead, a survey to identify why the customer wants to leave should be put in place. Is it cost, in which case, can a better deal be put before them? Is it functionality – in which case, is the customer fully aware of what is available from the service, even if it may require additional capabilities from an add-on service.

If an add-on service is required, make this self-service as well: the customer should be able to provision this directly and automatically integrate it into their existing service(s). Any new billing should be automated, eliminating the need for the MSP’s employees to get involved.

Through self-service, the customer will see the MSP respond to their needs – anything, where a human is needed to carry out any steps, will be seen as slowing things down and causing hindrance.

Capturing and responding to feedback from a customer can make all the difference as to whether they remain one. It is better to capture and respond to the feedback before they consider cancelling their services. However, as a failsafe, ensuring that reasons for wanting to leave are captured as they start the process of closing their account is a key step.

Combining artificial intelligence (AI) with self service

AI has been a hot topic and it can also help MSPs in such situations. Rather than trying to capture a customer’s thoughts through a simple rules-based engine (for example, picking up that they typed in ‘poor service’ in a sentence and then showing them a response that deals with that issue), AI chatbots can assist with a more conversational dialogue with customers and understand the nuances of issues they may have.

AI can also help when it comes to assisting and resolving customer problems. Rather than frequently asked question (FAQ) systems, where customers are expected to crawl through questions that may not give them the right answer, chatbots can enter a discussion with the customer and drill into the actual problem, leading to a more accurate answer.

AI and self-service cannot solve everything and pretending that they do can lead to all sorts of problems. However, it should be able to drive out the need for lower-level support staff and better cost control. Some of those savings can be applied to the bottom line, while another portion should be applied to the higher-level human support staff. That staff can then focus on the more complex issues where customers cannot use self-service to solve the problem they have. It is then necessary for the self-service system to be able to identify which issues fall rapidly and accurately into this category.

Take advantage of available tools

For many MSPs, moving to intelligent self-service will be relatively easy. Those already using rules-based natural language processing (NLP) systems should be able to harness the better capabilities of AI NLP. This allows them to take a major step forward with little change to the underlying processes required. Those using elementary rules-based engines or simple FAQs must make deeper changes. However, moving to AI-based chatbots and process engines will make life easier for the MSP and create a more flexible and future-proof platform.

A further caveat: trying to create and maintain an in-house AI engine is a non-starter. The main hyperscaler clouds (AWS, Azure, GCP) all have built-in AI capabilities. Some of the other AI engines on the market are open source. MSPs must leverage the skills of those building AI engines not only to gain access to what the engine can currently do but also to leverage new functionality as it is released in such a fast-moving market.

Photo: Ground Picture / Shutterstock

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Clive Longbottom

Posted by Clive Longbottom

Clive Longbottom is a UK-based independent commentator on the impact of technology on organizations and was a co-founder and service director at Quocirca. He has also been an ITC industry analyst for more than 20 years.

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