These are trying times for business of all sizes. Worries about employees, customers, inventory and what to even do next, are top of mind. While those concerns are also paramount to solution providers, VARs and MSPs also have an enviable opportunity right now—to provide organizations with the tech solutions to keep business going in this new normal.
The most successful channel partners will be the ones that are communicating with their customers, listening, and responding in kind. In a previous blog, we highlighted how to manage employees through a crisis. In this article, we talked with members of CompTIA’s communities and advisory councils to get their advice for how to best manage customers through the current pandemic. Here are four things to consider, according to solution providers, that will help forge tighter, long-term relationships.
Start with Communication
When crisis strikes, whether it’s a natural disaster that no one saw coming, or a situation that built more slowly, like the coronavirus pandemic, it’s critical to communicate quickly to customers. Those conversations need to inform customers that status of your own business—i.e., we’re up and running or we have a skeleton crew for the time being—in order to set proper expectations. There’s nothing more frustrating for a business when a trusted partner said it can do something but then not do it.
Secondly, it’s important to communicate with partners in order to identify their most immediate needs and how you can respond. Once you talk with multiple customers, you can prioritize their needs and act accordingly, said Juan Fernandez, vice president of managed IT services at ImageNet Consulting and member of CompTIA’s Channel Advisory Board.
“Customers like up-to-date information on what’s going on and what they should expect,” Fernandez said. “This is especially critical for technical support. If a customer’s business will be impacted by an emergency, we should let them know as soon as possible. Sometimes, that can even mean providing partial information and letting customers know we will say more when we can.”
Customers truly appreciate all notifications, even if it’s potentially bad news such as possible service interruptions. “You build credibility and trust when they can rely on your call versus a surprise down the road,” Fernandez said.
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Customers are Family Too
The Golden Rule says do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Certainly, that should extend to your customers during trying times.
Treating customers like family means helping, not selling, during a time of crisis, said Amy Babinchak, president of Harbor Computer Services and a member of the executive council on CompTIA's Managed Services Community.
“Right now, it’s all about partnership. It’s about us getting a handle on where they are and where they expect to be in the near future as far as staff requirements and funding changes. We’re there to work with them in all those things. We’re not trying to sell anything at this time. Nobody wants to hear anything like that right now,” Babinchak said.
Ryan Goodman, president at Connect Booster and a member of the executive council on CompTIA's Managed Services Community, agreed, noting that now’s the time to be empathetic with customers. If customers can’t pay a bill due to financial hardship right now, work with them to create a solution that works for both companies.
“You can’t forfeit the revenue for your own sake, but maybe you can delay for three or four months until they get back on their feet,” Goodman said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about that.”
Treating your customers like family is likely to help forge stronger bonds with customers. They’ll remember you were there for them and may be more likely apt to return the favor one day.
One of the most important ways a solution provider can manage customers is by walking them through their current challenges, what the plan is to remediate those challenges, and what the outcome will be. In other words, eliminate the unknown.
“Customers can become fearful in the face of changing times. Working from home can be intimidating and difficult for many businesses, but vendors can eliminate fear by helping their customers prepare for their changing work environment,” said Marc Haskelson, president and CEO of Compliancy Group and a member of CompTIA’s Business Applications Advisory Council.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there, causing confusion for many businesses. This is why listening to what customers need, and developing resources to answer their questions, is more important than ever,” Haskelson said. “Hosting webinars, writing articles, and releasing guides on how to work from home are excellent ways to help customers through a difficult transition, while giving them peace of mind.”
Looking ahead—with eyes on the eventual resolution/conclusion—can also go a long way to eliminate a customer’s concerns, said ImageNet’s Fernandez.
“We focus on being forward-thinking. We let the customers know the steps our business is taking to protect them, which builds confidence in the customer base and takes added stress off their plate,” Fernandez said.
Crises Can Strike Anywhere, Anytime
It’s important for any channel company—any company, really—to recognize that something bad can happen at any minute. Planning for the worst helps keep your employees and your customers calm and assured that they can get through the situation. Those plans should include steps to take in the event of a security breach, a natural disaster, or any other situation such as the current pandemic, said ImageNet’s Fernandez.
“During the current crisis, many of our legacy customers didn’t miss a beat because they were ready for the situation,” Fernandez said. “Unfortunately, too many IT companies don’t have a solid process, procedure or security foundation internally, so they don’t know what they need to implement for their customers.”
Those business continuity plans should include ensuring that employees are certified appropriately, for example in security best practice, so that they’re ready to act when a crisis arises.
“Customers also need to understand the need for best practices in times like this. Usually, businesses who had poor guidance before the crisis suffer the most when things go wrong,” Fernandez said. “When the COVID-19 crisis struck, we went to work immediately to get our customers hardware and even donated our operational support tools free of charge. We wanted them to be able to secure and connect home computers to their work computers. We drastically reduced the customer’s expense and frustration and simplified the solution. Each one of our customers has thanked us. We were glad we used secure technologies that allowed us to extend our own operational tools to our customers, providing a seamless experience.”
For more information and resources to help customers through the coronavirus pandemic, visit CompTIA’s COVID-19 Forum.