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by Tom Needs, Chief Operations Officer, Node4

In an era of cloud services, service providers and managed services, are we good enough at the customer service part of the equation? As organisations trust us with more of their technology and see the benefits of outsourcing, do Managed Service Providers (MSPs) really understand the importance of customer service in making their business model a success?

Looking at the wider consumer landscape, those who believe in excellent customer service will be concerned by the overall trends. The 2017 Aspect Consumer Experience Index, reveals that our general contact with customer service is declining (from 71% in 2015 to 64% last year). Lack of effectiveness, speed and accuracy are the biggest frustrations, and the research links this to annual customer churn ranging from between 15% and 31% across the service sector.

True, this is consumer research, but ultimately, we all know the difference between good and bad service, no matter what the context. If we apply these ideas to the managed services sector, do any of us really want to accept any level of customer churn because of poor service? As outsourced IT contracts get bigger, more numerous and more complex, this is a variable we should all be looking to eliminate.

Seriously . . . take service seriously

It’s a no brainer – according to Aspect, “poor customer service is killing business”. In 2017, their data shows that 54% of customers stopped using a company because of bad customer service (up from 49% in 2016). Interestingly, the UK had the lowest churn rate at ‘only’ 36%, but we’d be wise to recognise the problem nonetheless.

Let’s look at the MSP customer journey as proof. As the managed services market matures, service now plays a key role in winning new business. Customers will increasingly make reference calls to satisfy themselves that customer service and support is where they want it to be. An MSP that scores well at this stage will always do better than one that doesn’t. Clearly, no-one is likely to admit their customer service is poor, but it will bite you if prospective customers ask around and don’t like what they hear.

Standards also must remain high once a deal is done. No MSP is immune from technology failures, service outages and unexpected events, but how you respond to problems says everything about how good your customer service is.

Seduced by self-service?

It’s fair to say that AI and automation has a big future in the customer service process. At present, this seems especially relevant to MSPs at the ‘self-service’ end of the process – an approach which has become very attractive to most large businesses, and familiar to most of us in one way or another.

It’s interesting to see the effect this is having on our perception of customer service.  The Aspect research suggests that “customers may be redefining ‘customer service’ as the few moments when the self-service process breaks down and they have to engage with a live person.” So, try as we might, it’s very hard to break the link between customer service and people, in that when things go wrong, the human customer still wants to get help from another human.

However, these self-service customers will undoubtedly see the benefits of automation. But, for MSPs, this goes much further than building better service bots the introduction of advanced automation and AI can drive many benefits across the business. Customers will benefit from a more dynamic and predictive management of their IT environment, the MSP will benefit from efficiencies and customer loyalty, and staff will benefit as a consequence of doing more meaningful and value accretive work.

Using automation to resolve problems specific to service provision will help reduce customer frustration and raise standards, but what happens when the self-service process fails, and we decide that human intervention is the only solution? Can you – as an MSP – meet this need? While automation will be key, don’t get seduced by it at the expense of the human factor, because you are still going to need it.

The customer is always right

In an ideal world, MSPs should be the champions of customer service. We are in the business of convincing customers that we know what’s best for their IT estate, and that we can make their budget go further and deliver more than if they do all the work in-house. If an MSP can provide a service that works in line with the objectives of the customer, anticipate their future needs AND do a first-class job should something go wrong, satisfaction is going to remain high.

The blend of self-service vs human communication will continue to change, but unless customers get what they want from MSPs, churn will remain an issue. MSPs have done an amazing job of turning the dream of agile, reliable, high performance outsourced technology into a reality on an industrial scale – they just mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the customer remains . . . always right.

Tom Needs has held the role of Chief Operations Officer at Node4 since November 2017, and is responsible for running the operational and service delivery functions of the business. Tom has more than 15 years of experience within the managed services industry; he was previously a board member at, and COO of, Adapt, and prior to this he was VP at Rackspace EMEA. During his career, Tom has helped several businesses scale up and evolve their service offering, and has a wealth of knowledge and expertise to help Node4 continue to deliver an outstanding customer experience.

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