Running an IT solution provider or managed service provider (MSP) business would be easy—if you didn’t have any staff or clients to manage!

That’s a common joke I hear from IT business owners, but it’s based in truth. Your MSP business would be a lot easier to run if it didn’t have those frustrating humans getting in the way, right?

It doesn’t have to be so difficult, of course.

I’ve written before about how best to manage some of your acute staffing challenges. In this article, I want to look at how you can make life easier for yourself dealing with that most essential element of any MSP business: your clients.

It all comes down to how you educate them on working with you.

Common frustrations of working with clients

One of the most common frustrations MSPs experience when working with clients is that they don’t consider IT when they’re growing their business.

How many of us are familiar with the scenario of receiving a phone call on a Monday morning that goes something like this:

Client: “Hi, we’ve got a new employee that needs setting up with accounts and a new PC.”
Help desk: “Sure, we can help with that! When do they start?”
Client: “This morning. They’ve just arrived. When can you set them up?”

You then have two choices.

You can cite your process. Perhaps you need 48-hours warning of new employees, so in this case you’ll be ready to have that new employee up and running by Wednesday. But in standing your ground in this way, you’ll incur the ire of the client who won’t understand why you can’t quickly deal with such a “simple” enquiry.

That leaves the alternative of you scrambling around to source a PC and set up a new user immediately, perhaps pulling staff away from other tasks and projects to fulfill this urgent requirement.

It’s not like Monday mornings are busy for your service desk or anything, right?

This is just one common scenario that every service desk is familiar with. So how can you educate your client about working with you in a better way?

Why you should have regular conversations with your clients

When was the last time you sat down and talked with your client about their business?

I’m not talking here about reviewing outstanding service desk tickets, upcoming projects, or potential new technologies with them.

I’m asking when was the last time you picked up the phone, or went and visited your client, to ask, “How’s business going?”

Some MSPs have a routine of quarterly business reviews (QBRs) which prompt these conversations. QBRs are scheduled meetings between you and your client to review what has happened, and to set the stage for what’s coming up.

But even if you don’t schedule regular QBRs, you can easily have these conversations with clients by popping by to see them and asking a simple question: “How is business treating you?”

You might suggest it’s rude to simply turn up at one of your client sites for this purpose.

To this I say, donuts help!

The benefits of donut drop-ins

I find arming myself with a box of cakes helps turn you into a welcome visitor. No client I’ve ever worked with has said, “It’s not convenient right now” when I drop by their offices with some cupcakes or donuts.

While I’m handing the goodies out to staff (which really won’t hurt your net promoter score results either), I ask them what they’re working on, what’s been frustrating them, and what they’ve got coming up that’s exciting.

The results can be very surprising!

Two conversations I recall having as a result of my donut drop-ins went something along the lines of:

HR department: “Well, we’re currently interviewing for a new position in finance.”
Me: “Good luck! Hey, will they need a new PC when they start? If so, let me know when their start date is and we can help them hit the ground running.”

Finance department: “The printer in the corner is being replaced next week with a multi-function unit. We’ll be glad to get rid of that old piece of junk!”
Me: “Cool! When’s the new machine being installed by the photocopier company? I’ll make sure one of my engineers is on hand to help their engineer install the unit correctly so it works on your network.”

In both of these scenarios, a quick conversation helped me uncover an upcoming project that could have been hurled into the service desk, unannounced, like an unwelcome grenade.

Thanks to a box of donuts and an old-fashioned conversation, I was able to educate my clients on how best to work with us to avoid frustration on both sides.

It’s not magic, but it’s deliciously effective

It’s easy to get frustrated with clients for not understanding the effort you put into ensuring their systems work.

The bottom line is that your clients expect you to help them. But they’re not really sure how they can help you. They often assume it all just happens, as if by magic!

By having regular conversations—through quarterly business reviews, floor-walks, and donut drop-ins—you can help educate your clients on better ways to work together.