Onboarding for Life! 5 Keys to Winning and Keeping Customers

December 07, 2016  By Tom Clancy
Onboarding is a topic that resonates with all IT business owners. If you’re growing your practice (and I hope you are), then getting onboarding right is an absolute must. If we’re willing to share our own unique challenges and experiences, we can improve the process for everyone. So for this year’s Autotask Community Live, I wanted to dive deeper into the concept, and uncover some core onboarding best practices and action items. 

Ask the tough questions first

We need to be honest with ourselves and answer some critical questions: 

  1. What does the customer want and expect from this engagement? They hired us because something was rotten with their previous technology provider. Find out what that was and never lose sight of it. 
  2. What do we want and expect from this engagement? We want a healthy profit and raving fan for a client.
Set expectations 

Onboarding a new customer has everything to do with setting and managing expectations. During initial conversations with a potential client, your sales team tells your brand’s story, discusses processes, outlines your menu of services and eventually presents a contract with very specific language regarding the guidelines or rules of the relationship. Make sure that your salespeople are writing checks that the support team can cash.
Service-level agreements: Live by the SLA, die by the SLA 

Every client thinks that you’re always waiting at your desk for their call, eager to answer their questions and address their every want and need. They expect that you’ll have your laptop open, dialed into their network, connected and ready to focus on them. Of course, we all know that’s not reality. 

That’s where the SLA plays an essential role. You need to repeatedly outline how your support team is going to address issues, how they’re going to be categorized and how clients are going to be prioritized based on their level of investment and the guidelines within the SLA. If you don’t have an SLA that you live by, the client will make one up for you, and you’ll never be able to live up to it. Nothing is ever fast enough for a client without a timeline.
Accept that mistakes will happen…and own them 

Mistakes are unavoidable in the fast-paced world of an MSP. You’re helping several clients at a time and are addressing projects of varying sizes and urgency levels. So there will be times when you mishandle a client situation, miscategorize a ticket or unsuccessfully address an issue. 

You can’t prevent these mistakes from happening, but you can set a standard for how you will learn from these mistakes and work with your client to address them. 

When there’s a miscommunication, misfire or general screw up, just own it. Don’t try to weasel your way out of it, use the contract as an excuse, or worse, blame a colleague. Own the mistake, deal with it and work with the client to move forward. Being truthful will always set a strong precedent and will help your client see you in a more positive light. 

Put time into data entry (Seriously, do it!) 

There’s a reason why so many companies hire interns or part-time employees to handle data entry. It sucks, and there’s no shortcut. And frankly, data entry isn’t the most fun. (I’d prefer a root canal, personally.) 

But data is important. To truly understand how your MSP is performing, identify trends and opportunities for improvement, you have to collect and analyze data. You need to track the customer systems and associate them with the tickets they create. You need to track customer vendors and pay attention to expiration and renewal dates. You also need to give customers access to a core knowledgebase. 

At a minimum, every client gets a trio of knowledgebase articles that get us on the right foot: 

  1. A high-level overview that explains who the client is and what they do. 
  2. What we do as part of the relationship. 
  3. An outline of the new-hire process, and the terminate-user process.
These articles are shared with the client, so they can add to them, and make them better. Our engineers work from the overview article when they’re dealing with the client in any way, and they keep the new user/terminate user article up when they’re working on a hire/fire situation. There is no going back from misstating service rates, or forgetting to add a printer, or putting someone in the wrong security group, or misspelling their last name. That’s a terrible first impression. Worse, there’s potential for legal exposure if you forget to properly lock the door behind a now former employee.
Life is a whole lot easier when data entry and maintenance is done on an ongoing basis and everyone commits to it. 
No client relationship is the same. There will always be unique challenges and issues that emerge during the onboarding process, but by following the tips I outlined here, your MSP will have a strong foundation to truly onboard for life.
Tom Clancy
President, Valiant Technology Inc.

As Valiant’s President, Tom charts the course of the business, and ensures that the team loves the tribe they’ve joined. Tom is a frequent speaker at industry trade events, including Autotask’s Community Live, Business Solutions Magazine’s Channel Transitions events, Google’s NY Headquarters, and the AIA’s New Practices continuing education series. Tom is proud to be one of the authors of three editions of the Mac OS X Bible, (so he can say he IS Tom Clancy the author). A lifetime New York resident, Tom now lives in Long Beach, NY, so his three excellent sons have a yard and a world-class beach to play on. But don’t fret for his NYC street-cred — he’s only five miles from Broad Channel where he grew up.

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