We have all heard the story. You have a client that you thought was a steady customer. You took care of their IT problems for them, focusing on the day to day service. You handled everything they requested, always did it on time and within the agreed budget. It seemed to you like life was just humming along, the way it should be. Then one day they just leave you for a competitor. You didn't see it coming and worse of all; you haven't a clue why they left. But you should.
This is a classic case that illustrates the point in the business book "Who Stole My Cheese". The parable by Spence Johnson has become almost a staple in many businesses, and for good reasons. In the book, mice living in a maze eat cheese and are content. Then one day, they arrive to find they have eaten it all. "Who stole my cheese", is the cry and the book then shows the different ways that each character learns to either adjust, anticipate or in some cases simply fail because they decide it is someone else's fault.
Just because you have a customer now, don't assume you will have them tomorrow. The business of IT support may seem like a simple equation of taking care of problems as they happen, but it should be more than that. Your customer expects more and so should you.
Defining the Problem
Probably the biggest problem for any customer and client relationship is that often the two want different things from the same relationship. What does your client want? To begin with, they want involvement. This doesn't mean they want to learn your job and replace you, far from it. But they do want to understand what you bring to the table. If they understand the technology you bring them, and what is more if they understand where that technology is leading, they will be better managers. They will know how to plan for change, and probably how to make you a part of that change.
Some IT companies long for the old days when we held all the cards. Then technology was new, few understood it, and we were specialists that could explain it to our clients. These days you can go on YouTube and learn just about every aspect of IT. But does that mean your client wants to do your job? Heck no. In the same way that they are experts at what they do, they want you to be experts at IT. They may want to understand what you do, however, in order to make the best use of your knowledge and skill. In many ways it is like a great baseball coach. He doesn't play all the positions, but he understands them. This helps him to bring in the best players for each one because he understands what each position needs. Understanding what skills you bring and how they work makes you and your customer a better team.
In the same way, you need to understand your client's business. Not that you need to know how to do what they do, but you do need to understand the business's needs. This will help you to anticipate what they will need down the track, and work with them to help them achieve it. Just like in the book, you need to go out and find that cheese before it has run out. This partnership between you and your client will also give you another advantage over a competitor. You will understand their business better than any outsider.
Expect the Unexpected
But competition can come from some unanticipated places. As technology advances, so too does the approach to it. We see this more and more with business technology such as VoIP phones and computers. For all you know, one of your client's vendors might be talking to your client right now about how they can offer the same service you do now, along with what they do. But if you keep the lines of communication open with your clients, you won't have to worry. Your clients will understand how much more you bring than just the ability to solve IT problems.
Communication is the Answer
So what is the solution to all of this competition? How do we keep the cheese from getting away from us? The answer is so easy you probably won't trust it at first. That is because open and ongoing communication is the solution and it starts with monthly meetings. Better yet, make them face to face if you can. If you aren't meeting monthly with each of your clients to discuss what you can do to help them stay competitive, you are missing some real business opportunities. You are also missing out on the chance of building some lasting relationships with your clients, the kind that makes you indispensable to them. You may be thinking how this will cost you, but instead think of it as an investment. An investment in your business, your future and in making sure that the cheese is always within reach.
Do it – call them today.