Managed Service Providers and the Three Pillars of Trustworthiness
Martin Saunders | 09/11/2023
In our previous article, Why Do Enterprises Need a Managed Service Provider Anyway?, we talked about how Managed Service Providers (MSPs) must focus on the ‘managed’ aspect of their offerings if they are to fight their customers’ increasing temptation to self-manage their connectivity services. To do this, MSPs must convince both customers and prospects that their managed services can be trusted to continually enhance their business operations.
Without the ability to generate and sustain trust in their services, MSPs won’t be able to form the long-term customer relationships and repeat business that enable them to build market share and secure continued growth. But how does trust work? What are the constituent elements of trust? And how can MSPs build this sort of relationship in a way that leads to measurably increased customer retention?
The difference between trust and trustworthiness
Generating trust in the customer-signup phase is important for MSPs but sustaining that trust throughout the course of the MSP-customer relationship is the real key to long-term success. To achieve sustained trust, it is vital to understand the difference between trust and trustworthiness. British philosopher Baroness Onora O’Neill explains the differences, and their importance, in this video:
It is a commonly repeated sentiment that there should be more trust in the world, but O’Neill proposes that this is the wrong goal to aim for. Trust is something that is given from one party to another. It is important to establishing relationships, but trust should only be given to the trustworthy. If trust is widely placed in people, organisations or institutions that are not able to live up to what’s being expected of them then any resulting relationships will be short-lived. This is easy to say, but how does an MSP actually exhibit trustworthiness?
How can MSPs exhibit trustworthiness?
Trust is something that can be given and withdrawn at any moment. As such, being trustworthy is an ongoing process. Continuous effort must be maintained by MSPs to demonstrate to their customers that their services can be trusted. According to O’Neill, there are three main elements that exemplify trustworthiness: honesty, competence and reliability. Let’s explore each of these in the context of the MSP-customer relationship.
A customer will only give you their trust if they believe you are being honest with them. Honesty isn’t just about showing the good news, it’s the bad news as well; the broadband connection that’s running much slower than it should, the device that’s under-powered and causing problems, the connection that has too much capacity and could be reduced in size and made cheaper. Being the first to highlight these issues means the customer sees you as trustworthy – as honest and direct as one of their own members of staff.
Competence means showing expertise in both the technology being used, and the context in which it’s being used. It’s easy to make technology work, but what happens when it’s heavily loaded at peak times or it’s stressed for other reasons? It is important for an MSP to have access to the right highly-trained engineers, but it’s equally important to have competence in the associated areas and soft skills. Service managers should be trained in how best to look after their customers, finance teams need to generate accurate and simple bills and sales staff need to understand not only the technology but also the customer industries and how it applies to them.
In the context of managed services, making sure the service is reliable is an obvious place to start. Ensuring the service is well managed with the correct service assurance platforms in place. Responding to issues and fixing them fast is very important. Beyond the nuts and bolts of service maintenance, however, reliability is much broader than that. It includes turning up to meetings on time, producing regular reports on time, having strong relationships with suppliers so they take you seriously and predicting problems that may be coming in the future, such as capacity issues or stock shortages. It’s important to be consistent in every interaction you have with customers.
Demonstrate trustworthiness through transparency
It is imperative customers can see the MSP is exhibiting these trustworthy behaviours if they’re going to give them their trust. This is why transparency is another essential quality for a trustworthy MSP. Being transparent about how services are delivered and supported makes the MSPs other trustworthy qualities visible to the customer. This means demonstrating:
- Transparency in reliability – Showing when the service is working and when it isn’t, and what’s being done about it.
- Transparency in competence – Being open about when important skilled staff have left, and who’s replacing them.
- Transparency in honesty – Having a nothing hidden, warts and all approach to transparency.
Transparency also means MSPs need to be willing to display a certain amount of vulnerability. It is inevitable that, at some point, something will go wrong with the services being delivered. Customers will be more understanding of errors if they feel that the MSP isn’t trying to hide the causes. If the transparency stops when things go wrong, customers’ trust will be severely damaged. This means being:
- Vulnerable in meetings and interactions – Explaining where errors occurred, being suitably regretful and taking the problems seriously by not pointing fingers elsewhere.
- Contractually vulnerable – Allowing the customer to have meaningful material refunds for smaller issues, up to the point of allowing the customer to walk away if a particular service consistently fails to deliver.