Most everyone has experienced at least once an obnoxious email or phone call pitching a new service or “opportunity” that causes you to cringe. Depending on the degree of the infraction — the pitch seems too good to be true or the approach is unprofessional or pushy — it could ruin the chances of ever landing you as a customer. Relationships, especially at the earliest stages, can be quite fragile and often end up breaking for the most minor offenses.
Those who survive the formal business courting process, otherwise known as the deal, still have to remember the delicate nature of these alliances. That’s especially true for companies that offer IT and professional services, where the first impression may be the only one you get to make.
And just because a prospective customer doesn’t find your approach off-putting, you’re still not home free. There’s at least one other step in the relationship that’s just as important: the customer onboarding process.
Develop an Effective Process
It starts before the handoff between your sales and customer service teams. Do clients have a clear understanding of your company’s services and what they signed up for? Has each of the customer agreements been thoroughly reviewed, with related deliverables clearly communicated before the handoff? Your chance of a successful relationship will be much higher if expectations have been set and effectively managed up front. An effective handoff solidifies the connection between all parties, ensuring everyone in your company, as well as theirs, has a firm foundation to build on.
Jacee Dobbs of Anchor Network Solutions emphasized that point extensively during a recent webinar hosted by the CompTIA Managed Services Community. Her session, Onboarding Clients for Life: Managing Expectations Upfront stressed the importance of keeping a steady line of communications with new customers. It’s not just the first impression that counts, but every interaction that takes place afterward.
Dobbs gave a number of examples of Anchor Network Solution’s well-established onboarding process throughout the webinar, helping attendees visualize best practices that could be implemented in their own business. As helpdesk manager for the Colorado-based MSP, Dobbs not only directs these procedures, but she works closely with customers and her coworkers to refine and improve their techniques. That starts with two-way communications. “The main issues we faced as our company grew seemed to always surround communication, expectations and total understanding of what we did for clients. It was rarely with the technical side of our work,” said Dobbs.
Anchor’s onboarding process not only sets the company apart from its competitors, it made a big impact on its service delivery and overall customer satisfaction. “On the technical side, it allows our internal team to be better prepared and have a good understanding of a client’s network before we open our doors for service. Both aspects allow us to better manage the relationship and deliver a good first impression,” she said.
Before and during the transition from sales to the technical and operations side of the business, document the systems and procedures the client has, plus everything they need. In addition to prepping the network and detailing all their support requirements, it’s a good time to ensure the customer is truly ready for the transition. Dobb’s team reviews a checklist of activities that providers should complete before, during and after the onboarding process begins. That includes:
- Documenting the current processes and system administrators;
- Ordering a new customer welcome gift, like cookies, fruit or flowers, with a personalized card or message;
- Listing each technology area, any necessary upgrades and all potential deployment needs;
- Configuring the backend and connect to the provider’s PSA and other tools/integrations;
- Conducting an onsite evaluation: Locate every device and computer system, install new AV and remote access tools, and authenticate systems.
The onboarding process also includes meeting with your client’s employees to discuss their individual concerns and usage needs.
Onboarding can take days or weeks to complete, but developing a strong business relationship will require a lot more time and a continued effort. You should leverage every client meeting to gain additional insight on their needs and current infrastructure. Take time to learn as much about their future plans as they are willing to share so you can better support those ambitions. Connect the dots and educate your customers on your particular capabilities.
While performing to the highest level is key to earning their trust, they need to know your company is also looking ahead to support their long-term development needs. With a comprehensive onboarding process that encourages those types of discussions, the relationship will surely flourish.
Brian Sherman is principal consultant at Tech Success Communications, an IT channel business development and marketing firm. He served previously as chief editor at Business Solutions magazine and senior director of industry alliances with Autotask. Contact Brian at Bsherman@techsuccesscommunications.com.