Tuesday, August 29, 2017

SOP: Setting Client Expectations

I mentioned on The Facebook that I was getting ready to check my voice mail for the month of August. I work hard to make sure people know that telephone/voice mail is not the way to contact me. Willie asked a great question:

"You do a very good job at setting expectations via social media. Any tips for those of us who have to be significantly more connected than you are to do the same? 
For example, I'm sure there are a lot of solo/small shops who would appreciate how to let their clients know that nighttime calls have to be an emergency and go through the proper channels to get response. In my case, setting expectations of response time based on priority of message would be ideal."

Here are my thoughts.

#1 - Have a Regular Communication Method

No matter what my policies have been, I have always worked hard to communicate them to my clients. Probably the best tool I ever had for this was my monthly newsletter. For seventeen years I published a monthly (printed) newsletter for my clients. I printed it because I believe it would be opened and read more than an email.

The newsletter contents were pretty consistent:

- Intro memo about what's new
- Updates on viruses and other threats
- News about our company (new employees, changes in service, etc.)
- Topics related to tech support
- Offers

The newsletter allowed me to consistently push several messages absolutely non-stop for seventeen years. These included a focus on security and best practices, a commitment to replacing machines every three years, and clear communication on how to get the best service.

#2 - Written Notifications

Whenever we had a policy change that clients needed to know about, we sent out a letter. When you have less than 100 clients under management, with is not very expensive. And a letter on letterhead from the I.T. Provider is almost guaranteed to be read these days.

For example, when we instituted our first customer service web site for creating service tickets, we posted a note in our newsletter and sent out a separate mailing to give clients the details.

"Nagging" communications via email or even social media are not very effective. More official-looking communication via postal mail is taken much more seriously as communication from one company to another.

We used the same double-whammy approach to increasing rates, defining business hours, and publishing the "best" way to get service. Anything that was important to our relationship and profitability was communicated by both newsletter and postal mailing.

#3 - Have a "Client" Page on Your Web Site

We always maintained a page with very clear information about how to get ah old of us and our important policies. This included our after-hours policies and response times. We did not list our pricing there, but we did list our hours and contact information (phones, extensions, links to create tickets, etc.).

I'm actually surprised that so few IT companies have their basic policies posted. Your web site is much better as a communication tool with clients than it is as a sales tool for your company. But if you want it to be both, that's very easy to achieve.

We even posted PDF copies of our most recent newsletters for download.

Things Change Over Time

As Willie mentioned, I am very consistent in posting my communication preferences online on social media. But I would never consider that the official statement of our policies. Official statements are delivered via newsletter and postal mail.

Some policies - such as the best way to contact us - have changed a lot over time. We used to answer our phones all the time and publish our cell phones. That has obvious problems. And when we started having clients abuse this openness, we only published the official tech support phone number.

This change required some "management" of communications. Again, that was done by the three methods mentioned above.

Over time, we adopted what I now consider basic, common sense limits on when and how we communicate. If I could go back and put these in place ten years earlier, I would. In reality, we had very few clients who abused communications with us. But those few helped us adopt the policies we have now.

Another example, of course, is price changes. For clients without a managed service contract, we give a 30 day notice to raise prices. This goes out on all communication media.

Your feedback welcome.

Thanks for the note, Willie!


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