MSP Real-Life – Communication is King

MSP Real-Life – Communication is King

Communication is king when you run an IT / MSP business. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But the truth is that day to day, we as IT / MSP business owners often misunderstand what our clients need when it comes to effective communication. We feel that by adding huge amounts of technical detail and outlining the specific problem we’ve both found and are dealing with, that we are doing a good job for the client. Sadly, in my 20+ years of running an IT / MSP business there is one fact which you should all be clear on; you’re not – and you might even be making things worse.

In this blog I’ll go into detail about how things might be not what they seem in terms of your communications with clients, but in its most simple form, the truth I can offer you from my experience is this :

“..communicating with your clients at every stage of their interactions with your business clearly, effectively and in a way they understand is the most important consideration..”

There are some details within that statement that I’ll be expanding upon later, but in its most basic form the best thing you can do to improve client relationships s is communicating with them using no techno jargon, no unnecessary history over why something has happened and by keeping it brief.

Relationship building

In my own MSP business I’m very much a relationship builder and frequent visitor to my clients. The team I have do all of the technical work as this is no longer my strength, but what I am good at is meeting with clients, talking to them about their business, planning for future upgrades and most importantly of all, managing the times when things have not gone well. All of this is based around good communication, be that in writing (email), phone or face-to-face.

Dangerous email

By far the most common way we all connect with our clients now is email, but also the most dangerous (in my opinion) when it comes to risks around miscommunication and frustration. For me, an email thread is NOT a conversation. It looks like one; there are discussions and information presented which is then replied to by the client and then by you, and so on and so on. But its not a conversation. It conveys no tone, no feeling and often leads to more questions than answers.

When I talk to clients face to face, its clear that they welcome email’s from my technical team but they’ll often say that those from the more technically minded staff are too long, too detailed and unnecessary. It was best summed up by a client who said to me :

“..Craig, we don’t care how we got to the problem, we just need an acknowledgement that its happened, a brief explanation on how we solve it and how long it’s likely to take..”

If there is nothing more from this blog that you take away then let it be this – write it in big letters in your office and ensure its reflected upon every day.

Changing approach

Just reflect for a few mins and think about the way you communicate with your clients. Do you explain in detail what’s gone wrong? Do you outline how the new SSL VPN gateway installed a few days ago was unable to authenticate the new user and as such they were left in a connection loop hence the inability to transfer user profile information from the Active Directory to their laptop profile? Do you offer 4 different ways forward (all technical) and ask the user which they prefer? None of this is a criticism of you and your way of working, but what I’m offering is an insight into the mind of an end user which many technical people never consider.

Perhaps a better approach is to reduce the explanation of what’s happened into a simple acknowledgement; “yes….. I can see what’s happened here and I’m sorry. Let me get that sorted for you”. This sort of simple response will be so appreciated buy the client that you’ll be surprised.

Your technical outline should be focused on writing up the ticket (if you use a ticket system) so that other’s in your team can follow the issue and have background to what happened and what you did to resolve it, but the client just needs to know its been acknowledged as a problem and is being looked into.

Not all the same

It sometimes doesn’t occur to people in IT that they have a different skill set and approach to the world than other people. The truth is that you’re involved in IT because it makes sense to you, you understand the technical detail and in many ways love the complexity; its not hard for you to grasp and you find it easy.
However, your clients don’t like IT at all and they hate when it goes wrong – they just want it to work. More importantly they don’t care about the things that get you excited and which may have lead up to the failure, they just know its broken and are turning to you for a solution – and quickly!

5 tips for better communication

You can make small changes to the way you communicate with clients and this applies to email, phone or face to face interactions. Here are 5 tips

1. Acknowledgement
When a client raises an issue simply acknowledge the problem and offer understanding to their position. The problem will be a big problem for them and it may be stopping them completing work – perhaps its lack of access to a file, printer or total system failure. Acknowledge their issue and reassure them that you’ll get onto it as quickly as you can

2. K.I.S.(S)
Often quoted but rarely understood; Keep It Simple (Stupid) in this case should be a reference to reducing the detail on how the problem has occurred and reduce the techno jargon surrounding any future solution. Going back to an earlier point, just acknowledge that the problem has happened and start to work on a realistic timescale for solving it.

3. Jargon = NO
Don’t use technical jargon in your responses to clients; they are not impressed and it only makes matters worse. Importantly, just be aware that what you think of as simple is complex to most clients, so think about how you can reduce a complicated concept to a simple analogy as an alternative, one that may be appropriate to the clients own business. Jargon is helpful on your PSA or ticket tool, often as internal notes for other technical staff, but not for client consumption

4. Talk first; write last
It can be hard to get in contact with users who are busy but think about talking to them by phone first and then following up with an email. Going straight for a long email as the first interaction over a problem is, in my opinion, just making matters worse. When users have a problem they want to talk to someone as it offers reassurance that the matter has been seen, is being worked on and is understood.

5. Realistic timescales
If you know that a problem is going to take 4hrs to solve then you’re better being honest with the user and telling them up front. You are not helping them by saying “it should be 20mins” when you know its going to take much longer. The disappointment of their problem taking a long time to solve will be evident when you tell the client initially, but they can find other things to do and be productive if they know they are ‘down’ for the long haul. They may be upset initially but they’ll thank you for being honest.

As IT / MSP business owners we should all look to get a better level of communication with our clients and end users. Its an issue we perhaps feel uncomfortable grasping but let me offer some reassurance to you – if you do you’ll have an IT / MSP business that stands out from the crowd because few of our competitors are making these improvements

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