If you’ve read any of my articles, you’ve probably guessed there’s a theme running through many of them—that theme is “setting expectations.” If you’re good at setting expectations with your customers, your business should benefit.
An often overlooked, but vital, part of setting expectations is documenting those discussions. Some of the discussions can have significant repercussions. Let’s look at the most common types of discussions and the ways they should be documented.
Any project work agreed to between you and your customer should be documented. Whether it’s something as simple as agreeing to purchase a new keyboard, or as important as a big server or workstation refresh, every purchase should be quoted before it’s ordered and installed—unless it is an emergency repair.
Any time there’s an issue with an employee—whether it’s yours or your customer’s—it should be discussed and documented with the customer. Employee issues can manifest in a few ways.
There are your standard HR issues—which hopefully won’t happen because you trained your employees well, right? But the more common issue involves discovering a customer’s employee isn’t acting in the best interest of the customer. This can vary from inappropriate use of equipment that can cause premature failure, to unsafe security practices that can endanger the customer. It’s extremely important to document these issues as they could become liabilities later if customers blame you for improper maintenance or a contractual breach.
This is especially important for IT vendors. So much in terms of data security involves having the right systems in place to monitor, protect, and backup all the data. If a customer declines even one of those services, it opens a gap through which the customer could lose their entire business. If you don’t have their decision to decline the service in writing, they may blame you and take legal action. It’s critical to be sure your customers are fully covered in this age of cybercrime—and if they aren’t—to document their decision to turn down services. Be sure to fully explain the implications of their decision to them before they do and include your conversation in your documentation.
First, if you’re not having regular business reviews, you should. Business reviews are an opportunity for you and your customer to sync up and map the future. After each review, it’s important to send your customer a written summary of the discussions, action items, and agreements that come out of the meeting. Just like a formal service agreement or contract sets the proper expectations at the beginning of the relationship, business reviews ensure the expectations don’t diverge over time—or if they do, business reviews make sure everyone stays on the same page.
Setting expectations from the start and maintaining them over time is the best way to avoid confusion and disagreements. Make sure you properly document everything you can when it comes to your customers. As mentioned above, not doing so could cost you in the long run.
Eric Anthony is the Head Operations Nerd at SolarWinds MSP. Before joining SolarWinds, Eric ran his own managed services provider business for over six years.
You can follow Eric on Twitter at @operations_nerd