I’ve been involved in the Managed Services industry for several decades and I’ve been lucky enough to build up and run several IT services businesses. It’s never easy, and there isn’t a magical way to ensure your business will be a success, but there are some basics which have worked for me.
1. Don’t forget about Break-Fix
It’s easy to look at Managed Services, where support costs appear to be capped to the customer, as a goal unto itself. Vendors of PSA tools and RMM tools alike would have you believe that you can increase your income, reduce your workload, and that your clients will love you for it. To a certain extent this is true. However it’s not the only way of doing business.
There’s a great number of companies out there who just don’t think that way. For them the idea of being able to prioritise issues and call in reinforcements as and when needed is just…normal. Some are older companies, perhaps run by older people, who think of all suppliers as plumbers, tradesman, who they get out when the bog breaks. Others are companies who just don’t want to have that engagement or relationship, or who don’t want to commit to, what can be, a long-term relationship, but they all have money to spend.
2. Stick to your core strengths
The last 10 years has a seen a dramatic shift in the way that companies both do business and operate. It used to be the normal that we lived in a world where servers and desktops were the order of the day and we lived for that 3 year warranty replacement cycle. Today companies are much less loyal to a particular method of working. Those desktops? Replaced with laptops and a hot-desk. Those laptops? Replaced by touch friendly tablets. That we-can’t-do-without-it Line of Business app running on that server that no one dare touch? Moved to the cloud, running on a VM hosted somewhere in Europe.
With this moving target it’s easy to constantly see those new ways of working as being things you have to support from day one. You can’t. It’s impossible. Stick to your core strengths and focus on being great at it. Try not to be tempted to constantly expand your portfolio of offerings and the list of things that you support just because your clients constantly shift about.
3. Be efficient
Ultimately running a managed services business is about two things, closing tickets and reducing your workload and one very much leads to the other. If you can make your support desk more efficient, and reduce the time they spend having to close tickets and liaise with other parts of your business, you can reduce their workload. With that spare capacity you can then focus on those issues that are causing you the most problems and in turn give your customers a more stable environment and reduce the amount of incoming support requests.
I cannot stress enough the importance of a good PSA tool that’s properly configured. PSA tools can bring all the information relating to a customer in to one place and allow you to easily create workflow to seamlessly alert the right people, at the right time, and massively reduce the amount of work required.
You need to invest a lot of time when you first configure such a platform, and you need to allocate regular time to ensure that the processes in place are still relevant and robust, but you really will reap the benefits. There are several market leaders in this field, Connectwise and Autotask being the obvious ones to look at. However there are a mass of smaller players such as vTiger, Accelo, Freshdesk. There’s even free ones like Comodo One.
4. Your clients are your best source of new business
Getting new clients is always hard work. There’s a multitude of different ways you can market yourself but ultimately the best way to get work is to have good people say nice things about you.
Try following up problem tickets with a phone call a week later. You can have your PSA tool schedule that in for you. Listen to other staff members dealing with customers and then check-in to see whether the client felt they got good service. Focus on building that relationship with your clients and you’ll reap the benefits. It’s basic customer service but it can be what gets you that work-of-mouth recommendation.
5. Always be honest with your clients
Whatever happens always try to be honest with your clients. Good communication is vital when it comes to keeping clients. Even the worst or situations can be made bearable if you practice the basics of good customer service and explain openly the issues being faced with the client.
6. Don’t be afraid to ditch bad clients
Heaven knows we’ve all had them but bad clients just aren’t worth having. They may pay well, they may be a good name to have on your website but ultimately sometimes you are better off without them. Getting rid of that one client who causes you too much stress, too much pressure, or who just generates too much work for too little return, can be a very wise move. You might feel the pinch financially for a short while but there’ll always, always be another client round the corner and those freed up man-hours will be appreciated by your other, more deserving, clients.
If you have any experience or suggestions then I’d love to hear them. Just post them in the comments box.