Loyalty Pays

by Nate Hunter

Creating customer loyalty with managed services.


When you drive a Yugo and think it is the best vehicle, you may be happy. Then the opportunity arises to drive a Mercedes and you now have a wider concept of what pleases you. Customer loyalty requires a managed service provider to create an ever widening awareness of problem solution and responsiveness for their clients and their needs.

It is safe to say that every managed service provider wants to create and retain a loyal customer who is engaged in a continued profitable business with him or her. Under-promise and over-deliver has been a winning formula for decades now, but it is easier said than done, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it has been relegated to the status of cliché as many companies seem to go out of their way to do the exact opposite. It could be argued that today, this approach of keeping customer expectations low and routinely exceeding them is a recipe for failure in a world where consumers and businesses are moving at warp speed. How can you thrive in uncertainty and create customer loyalty when customers won’t slow down long enough to understand your under-promise?

First, we need to make the distinction that customer loyalty is much more than customer satisfaction, which is the basic entry point for a good business to start with. Second, a customer can be satisfied and still not be loyal. Loyal customers tend to buy more, buy longer, and tell more people about the product or service supplier, so how can we build it? Some companies are getting it right and dominating their respective markets. They realize that creating loyalty means they cannot settle for mediocrity and they must keep their promises! Not just any promises, but hugely ambitious promises.

Southwest Airlines is one of these firms with a model for consumer loyalty. How did they get there? A sound philosophy based on the ideal that they are providing customer service first and a product second. The airline giant says it is “in the customer service business — it just happens to fly airplanes.”

Southwest Airlines is often an exception in a field of national brands with the most consumer loyalty that are more often companies offering products rather than services. Ben and Jerry’s, Samsung and Costco, to name a few, are retail brands that, when consumers are given the choice, they stick with — based on their overall satisfaction with the product itself and their overall satisfaction with the customer service that goes hand in hand. Perhaps this is because a product’s success is more easily measurable — it works or it doesn’t; whereas services and the success of them are not determined in development by focus groups or product testing but by those who receive those services: the end consumer.

Whether you are a managed provider of services on the national level or a small, startup establishment, all of today’s MSPs can take a cue from the product providers; customer service is an extension of enterprise, and a service is indeed a product that will rise or fall, succeed or fail in the eye of the consumer. Although everyone who takes pride in their work and puts in a hard day’s work believes that they have produced a quality result, it is ultimately the end consumer who determines the quality of the experience, not the MSP or its self-determined standards of performance.

To achieve the highest levels of customer service and demand brand loyalty, managed service providers need to sell outcomes, not disciplines. In effect, rather than placing the focus on the mechanics of the services sold them, it should be on a holistic approach that mirrors the culture and values of its partners.

It was once said by James Joyce that “mistakes are the portal of discovery,” and it’s true — not every service will have the end result of 100% satisfaction, despite the goal of a delivering repeatable and predictable outcomes. However, a managed service provider’s ability to make predictions of outcome (whether those will be positive or negative), learn from mistakes and challenges, and its leadership in passing that information on as a trusted advisor, as an ongoing source of business wisdom, is key in truly contributing to making a dependable brand and a successful partnership.

“Customer service is just a day in, day out ongoing, never-ending, unremitting, persevering, compassionate, type of activity,” says Leon Gorman, CEO of L.L. Bean, a brand nationally recognized for its premium customer service. The adoption of the L.L. Bean philosophy includes the acknowledgement that quality advisory service is an ongoing, crucial aspect of business that further solidifies the trustworthiness of a brand and the confidence of its partners. Rather than over-promising and under-delivering, a brand that can deliver on ambitious, yet realistic, promises (or that will even advise other, competing solutions that are a better fit if it can’t make promises that fit the needs of a partner) while also promoting a culture of continuous improvement will earn more points for its reputation in the long run.

The attributes of a strong MSP partner include the following:

• Preserves a consistent desired outcome based on feedback and demonstrates a strong sense of agility and adaptability in customer service.

• Shares business wisdom in the best interests of a successful venture, even if a consultative approach results in another solution with another company.

• Complements its partners’ cultures, blending its business processes and structure with their existing brands effortlessly, rather than to forcing a rigid set of standards.

• Possesses a track record of organizational capability, including the facility, equipment, customer service and overall strategic business plan required to meet current and future needs of a growing business’ objectives.

• Has a system in place to receive and assess requirements, track performance, and record a quality of service.

• Offers a contract that clearly states the expectations for key performance indicators (KPIs) and focuses on the overall goal rather than each individual service.

• Proactively works in concert with the supplier via a strong contract leader who will monitor and measure performance, excels in procurement, quality, manufacturing savvy, and deals swiftly with those who jeopardize the overall strategy.

The bottom line is that we cannot build a good reputation for our companies by what we say we can do. We build them by delivering what our customers need. All of these traits make for a successful MSP and for resulting partnerships that exceed expectations — chief among them a high standard of customer service that flows through every venture from top to bottom, resulting in a better overall experience (and product) for the end consumer. These key moments of interaction between a customer and a brand produces the type of loyalty where customers prefer to stick with you though they may have other options.

Customer loyalty is when the supplier receives the ultimate reward of his or her efforts in interacting with its customer. Walt Disney, arguably the father of “brand loyalty,” once said, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.” This is no less true of service providers and the partners who provide service to them.





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