Now is the time for planning. Even if your MSP business is seemingly unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing shutdowns, perhaps also managing to grow revenue while addressing the needs of your clients, that situation may change in the coming months. Your customers may experience new productivity issues related to government mandates or run into other unexpected challenges that could negatively affect their headcount, seat license usage, income, and cash flow. No one knows what the future may bring for MSPs as the business community heads into uncharted waters.
The unknowns are challenging to address. Will your customers be able to recover quickly as government restrictions lift? How will their business model adapt to the ‘temporary new norm?’ Will they need fewer IT services due to short-term furloughs or permanent staff reductions? Of course, the question on most MSPs’ minds is if customers will survive and be able to pay their invoices in a timely fashion.
Business continuity, especially in times like these, goes far beyond data restoration. MSPs rely on the success of their clients and the resulting rise in income streams to fund additional services, expand support options, and drive their own cash flow. In other words, when the organizations your team supports do well, it creates more opportunities to grow your business. The pandemic and resulting chaos are threatening those interdependent relationships.
Focus on customer retention
Your clients surely have similar priorities. Two clear objectives shared by IT firms and the businesses they support include uptime − keeping systems and employees operational − and client retention. The former has been receiving a lot of attention the past few weeks, ensuring that everyone and everything is working at whatever level government mandates and safety allow. Failure here can negatively affect cash flow if not bring about the end of the business.
Customer retention is another essential element of commerce. What if, when the COVID-19 pandemic and all the related government restrictions lift, fewer clients are willing to pay the previous rates for your goods and services? That’s a real concern for MSPs and their clients. If your customers can make it through this critical period without losing a significant portion of clientele or experiencing a substantial drop in revenue, there may be little negative effect on your business.
So, what can you do to help? As IT professionals and trusted business advisors, you hold more power with your clients than you realize, and more than likely, their leadership team is looking for sound advice. Many MSPs control a big part of their own destinies in that regard.
1). Increase Communications
How much do you know about your clients’ current situation? Understanding their financial condition would be a benefit, but what are their biggest challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic? Don’t undervalue the desire of your clients to speak “entrepreneur to entrepreneur” on the unique issues they are encountering during these unprecedented times. Empathy between business owners goes a long way towards strengthening relationships and hopefully solving problems that can affect both companies.
Set aside extra time each day to dial up the decision-makers and ask what you can do to help. Sympathize with their situation and share your personal experiences and advice. Most of all, take time to listen. Sometimes people, including business leaders, just need someone to talk with, especially if that person actually cares about their well-being and may be able to offer solutions to their problems.
For example, many MSPs have been connecting their clients with experts and information related to the Payroll Protection Program (PPP). While IT pros, with some exceptions, are not accounting specialists, if you’ve applied for these government stimulus loans, you may be able to point other SMB owners in the right direction. Success navigating through these types of financial programs will significantly improve their long-term prospects − and your ability to retain those customers.
2). Raise Support Levels
There may be no better time to double down on the assistance you provide customers. SMB owners who signed a services contract with your MSP probably never envisioned dealing with a global pandemic and its implications on their business operations. Stress and fear are becoming the norm for entrepreneurs, with no one knowing what will come next since there are no prescribed timelines or best practices for dealing with this type of situation.
Boosting support levels can improve the long-term odds for your clients. Whether adding network and security monitoring to offsite workers’ systems or offering 24/7 helpdesk and SOC capabilities, reducing productivity-sapping issues can strengthen their outlook.
Consider these expanded resources to be an investment. While some of your clients will gladly pay more for that additional oversight and support, and be able to fit it in their budget, others may need a “hand up” in their time of need. Explore all your options. Many vendors are offering special pricing and more cost-effective options for their partners to extend to struggling companies. MSPs can wrap these offerings into packages that meet the unique needs of a variety of business clients.
3). Offer Business Improvement Tools
Whether expanding your standard stack without increasing price or pitching new offerings as extra-cost options, your clients will appreciate new solutions that strengthen their operations and financial situation. MSPs may benefit in the long-term by investing in services that create customer “stickiness.” These may be solutions that, once implemented, your clients cannot do without, or personally tailored to address their unique needs.
Those high-value options include hosted VoIP, virtual desktops, and Microsoft 365 to help companies migrate to a remote work environment. On the financial improvement side, MSPs should consider adding online payment processing platforms to their portfolios (not just for internal use), as well as accounting package integrations to automate manual processes and improve the speed and efficiency of your clients’ back-office operations. Offer hardware leasing so your clients can cost-effectively upgrade their remote workforce capabilities and replace any systems that might fail or cause slowdowns, further reducing employee productivity [check out this recent article for specific ideas].
Identify and strengthen the ‘ties that bind’
Now is a time for action. Your IT services firm cannot afford to lay low and ride out the post-pandemic period hoping for a quick economic turnaround for your clients and their customers. While it’s entirely possible that a full resumption of business activity could come sooner rather than later, savvy MSPs are already moving forward to implement some of the best practices mentioned above.
Consider it an investment in your future. Use some of those financial stimulus funds or your company’s ‘emergency capital’ to expand support and service offerings and set aside time to make calls and set up more frequent meetings with clients and their key employees (remote and onsite).
Communication is one of the most valuable and least costly things MSPs, and their employees can do right now to uncover issues, offer solutions, and strengthen relationships. The best way to improve customer retention is to be there in their time of need with empathy, good insight, and support.
Are you and your team doing everything possible to ensure the long-term viability of your clients’ businesses, as well as your own?