Client satisfaction: taking care of your greatest tech services asset
This blog was originally posted on 12/3/2015
"Unless you have 100% customer satisfaction, you must improve.” —Horst Schulze, Ritz Carlton
Customer satisfaction is essential to success in any business but it's become critical as TSPs focus on retaining customers during these times of uncertainty. How responsive and flexible you are to your clients’ needs will likely have a direct impact on your customer retention. Today’s reality is that customers are looking for areas to cut expenses. With a stable client relationship and a value-driven approach, you can keep your technology solution provider (TSP) off the chopping block.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take any special certification to become somewhat of an expert on the subject of customer satisfaction. Thanks to countless personal experiences as a consumer, you’re already there. You understand firsthand the parameters that define a pleasurable—or miserable—business transaction. You’ve learned what will bring you back the next time or send you to the competition. On the receiving end of customer satisfaction, you’ve got it down.
As a technology professional responsible for keeping your own customers happy, the next step is to put that personal expertise to work, helping you intuitively create experiences that retain existing customers and attract new ones.
What do your customers really want from you?
As a TSP, satisfying customers presents unique challenges. Because service packages are often customized for individual clients, there’s not always a satisfaction strategy that applies across the board. However, you can safely assume every customer wants attentive, cost-effective service, so there are some givens to be followed:
- Always respond to customers quickly
- Follow up regularly
- Whenever possible, offer additional value in service packages
- Understand your client’s expectations and strive to exceed them
Why customer satisfaction truly matters?
According to highlights from the Accenture’s Global Consumer Pulse Survey:
- Customers are increasingly frustrated with the level of services they experience
- 85% of customers are frustrated by dealing with a company that does not make it easy to do business with them
- The result? Consumers are not afraid to take their business elsewhere. Despite having more insight into customers than ever before, U.S. companies have failed to improve customer satisfaction, leading to over $1 trillion of revenue at play in the U.S. market represented by the “switching economy.”
Consider these key areas of influence that a high level of customer satisfaction has on your business:
- It provides differentiation between you and competitors
If a client is given a choice between several businesses that provide the same product or service, a natural tiebreaker is to go with the one offering the most positive overall experience.
- It reduces customer churn
If a customer is happy with the service they receive from you, they won’t have a pressing reason to look elsewhere.
- It’s a strong indicator of continuing loyalty from existing customers
Clients who give companies high satisfaction ratings historically become repeat customers, as well as word-of-mouth advocates for your business. At the same time, opportunity for negative word-of-mouth is reduced.
- It increases customer lifetime value
Successful businesses know the significance of CLV. The math is simple—the longer the customer retention, the more often they come back and the more they’ll spend.
- It costs less to retain customers than get new ones
Between prospecting, nurturing and closing sales, getting a new customer is expensive. While attracting new clients is essential to growth, you can’t afford not to take care of the ones you already have.
5 principles of great customer service
In a past keynote address at IT Nation Explore, Don Crawley, author of The Compassionate Geek, spoke about closing the gap that often exists in many tech service companies between technical know-how and solid people skills. While technical expertise is an obvious necessity, interpersonal skills are foundational for good customer service and can eventually make or break an MSP.
Crawley outlined his five principles of great customer service:
- Deep technical skills
Always strive to be the best at the technology you support, including the ability to provide quick and permanent problem solving and design systems that work flawlessly against user error. Take certifications seriously.
Be aware of your client’s pain points and develop an honest desire to alleviate them. Look for areas of commonality with your customer.
See your client’s world through their eyes. While you want to avoid saying “I know how you feel” (because you might not), offer your help with sincerity. This is critical today as we all try to navigate these uncertain times. Your customers need to know that you are there for them.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
First and foremost, stop talking so you can hear what they’re trying to tell you. Put away any distractions, seek to understand rather than to respond, keep an open mind and don’t try to finish your customer’s thoughts for them.
Treat everyone with dignity. No whining, complaining or excuses. Speak well of your team and your client’s team.
Crawley also warned to be wary of some common roadblocks to these principles:
- Avoid being the “yeah-but”
Don’t get caught up in thinking “Yeah, but that doesn’t apply to me.” Be open to embracing new points of view and suggestions.
- Beware of assuming it’s always ‘them’
As a tech solution provider, it’s easy to blame the end user for the incident you’re trying to resolve. Consider the possibility that the problem happened due to design flaw rather than user error.
It’s not only what you say, but how you say it
The very nature of delivering tech services means business is often conducted remotely, with little face-to-face contact. That requires uniquely honed communication skills for your client-facing employees. Protocols should be developed to ensure every experience is professional, courteous and efficient. Here are a few pointers to share with your team:
- When a client calls in for service, keep to the topic of the issue itself. No need for personal chit chat at this point, which could seem to trivialize the problem at hand.
- As mentioned earlier, be a good listener. Your caller may be confused as they try to share technical information.
- Don’t jump the gun and ‘think out loud’ regarding potential causes for the issue. That could erode trust if the first guess is wrong.
- Make the hold or mute button your friend. That way, your client doesn’t hear anything confusing or troublesome during the resolution process and all focus can be on the incident at hand.
- Be calm. Frustrated clients need assurance that everything is being handled. Use positive language—that goes a long way toward diffusing tension.
- Work behind the scenes whenever possible during remote control sessions; troubleshooting is typically more proficient when accomplished without bothering the customer.
Expectations everyone can live with
There’s probably no quicker way to disappoint a customer than allowing them to develop expectations that you have no intention or capability of meeting. Although slightly cliché, there is much to be said for operating with the premise ‘under-promise and over-deliver.’
The primary way for an TSP to set realistic expectations is through SLAs. Establish a clear, mutually understood vision of your services from the very beginning and that foundation will serve all parties well throughout the client relationship.
What do your customers really think about you?
Finding out what clients think about your company, product and service can be tricky. First, you have to depend on them to tell you and then you have to hope they’re being honest. And finally, you have to overcome the slant of human nature to voice complaints before compliments. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid measuring customer satisfaction.
One of the best tools for checking your performance is a customer satisfaction survey. Not only do the answers provide insight for improvement, but clients will get the valuable message that their opinions count. Here a few pointers for making surveys effective:
- Determine what you most want to learn and develop appropriate questions for those topics. Respect your customer’s time by staying on topic.
- Multiple choice or rating scale questions are good. Include a limited number of ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ open-ended questions where you’re looking for qualitative feedback.
- Keep it to a reasonable length. The longer the survey, the less likely it will be completed.
- Don’t survey the same clients too frequently—once a quarter is plenty.
Although client satisfaction is a means to an end—namely, revenue and profit growth—always remember what you’re really dealing with along the way is human emotion.