MSP Tip: Strategies for guiding customers to make better technology choices

The customer, we’re taught, is always right.

But managed service providers likely have experience that tells them otherwise.

Like a customer who is paying an MSP to manage messaging services. While most users are happy to have their Inbox empty and keep a month or so of deleted and sent items, certain small business owners might not. He may be using his Deleted Items folder as an ersatz filing system, and insist that messages be left in there for three years.

As an MSP, you can’t just tell him, “no,” because he’s paying for managed services. He could have spun up a copy of Small Business Server, or just gone with Google Apps, but he’s hired you to be a kind of outsourced CTO to provide him with the service he wants, not the service you want to provide. But, you know that searching his Deleted Items folder takes forever, backups are taking forever on your mail server, and you wince at the idea of having to restore his mailbox.

So what’s an MSP to do?

A former boss gave me some invaluable advice: “Never tell a customer no. If you don’t want to do the work, or they shouldn’t do it, give them a financial disincentive.”

In other words, charge more.

This is actually becoming a pretty standard business model in the world of technology. “Our cellular network will really work better if you don’t use more than 250 MB of data a month… so if you use more, we’ll charge you for it.” In this case, tell the customer that your standard

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service offering includes a generous mailbox – 25 GB or so– but that you’re always willing to offer more, for an upcharge. Make the upcharge significant, so that the customer really thinks about it. Make sure it reflects the time you’ll spend backing up, managing, and restoring such a massive mailbox. You’ll be covering your expenses and guiding your customer to do the right thing.

Then offer a better solution. “If your concern is retaining archival records, there’s a better solution. We can offer you an archival service that offers less-than-real-time access to those older messages, while still keeping your main mailbox trimmer and faster.” You can help customers change their bad habits by directing them to the right solution, while making sure that it’s price-competitive.

But, there’s a fine line to walk here. I’m often a little dismayed when I hear MSPs strategizing about how to implement “standardized desktops” across all of their customers. While standardization lowers your own support costs and makes it easier to provide good service to customers, it also may get in the way of allowing customers do what they need to do. You don’t want to make the mistake of thinking your customers can wear “one size fits all” technology.

Realistically, MSPs can’t have just one service plan – it needs to be adjusted for some customers so that the technology is serving their needs.

As an MSP, you’re not just a service provider; you’re also a mommy, nanny, and mentor to your customers. Sure, you’re providing them with needed IT capabilities, but you’re also in a position to guide them for the benefit of their business. Sometimes, you just need to be a bit clever about how you guide.

About the author: Don Jones is a Senior Partner and Principal Technologist at Concentrated Technology. You can contact him through their Web site.

This was first published in December 2011

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