Rampant Referrals for MSPs – Part 8 – Communication Sabotage (Subsection B)

Rampant Referrals - Part 12

As a quick recap from last time, we looked at the 4 main ‘silos’ of communication that can be sabotaged, which were :

1 – Internal to Internal : i.e. MSP Staff to MSP Staff
2 – Internal to External : MSP Staff to Stakeholder’s Staff
3 – External to External : Stakeholder’s Staff to Stakeholder’s Staff
4 – External (Internal) to External (External) : Stakeholders’ Staff To Stakeholders’ Stakeholders

This time we’ll look at the situations around how communications can be sabotaged. This will then enable you to create a matrix of stakeholders and situations, meaning that you’ll have a whole new world to map out in terms of where you can improve communications for referrals.  

As always, we’ll start with Why. I.e. reasons why you don’t get more referrals.

A – Why – Neglecting to Ask for Referrals

For the moment, we’ll assume that it’s not due to a lack of motivation – which we’ve already covered. We’ll assume that people simply forget to ask and this is probably one of the most common reasons (if not the most common reason) for a lack of referrals. The simple fact is that over time, if you ask for referrals more often, you’ll get more referrals. People forget or they’re too embarrassed or don’t know where or when – we’ll cover all those just now. But for starters – let’s overcome the issue of people forgetting to ask for referrals.

The solution (like many things) is to systemise it. Ensure that asking for referrals is part of a regular process*. We can come back to implementing an entire system for requesting referrals, but for now, let’s look at the basics. My suggestion would be that (at the very least) you have a process to ask for reviews and referrals as part of your regular review sessions that I assume that you’re having with your clients.

This is where you go over their IT estate and map out what they’re using and what they’re not using and identify and agree where their gaps are and make suggestions and basically make sure they’re being looked after properly. So, assuming that you do this monthly or bi-monthly or quarterly or bi-annually or annually (or whatever!), then just make sure you include a few minutes to ask for some client feedback and at the same time ask if they know anyone who might want to receive some information or promotional collateral from you about whatever might be trending at the time. Each time you ask – ask if they want information about something different from the last time – there’s more benefit that way than asking the same thing every time. So if you offered information or an event about email-security last time, next time you could offer information or an event or training or collateral or whatever about AI or business continuity planning or CRM or whatnot and hopefully they’ll be able to think of people to whom that would be relevant and useful.

You can also tag these questions on the back of customer-service tickets and other customer-contact points. Without going into the finest details – just make sure this is procedurised so that people get asked as a matter of course, regularly and differently.

Of particular note here in terms of communications and feedback – especially in the new world where people meet over Zoom or Teams and can see each others’ faces (rather than just via the phone), ignoring non-verbal customer feedback and  missing non-verbal cues or indirect feedback (such as body language or patterns in customer behaviour) that indicate dissatisfaction can be very sabotaging indeed to your referral flow.

To reiterate, perhaps some training in soft-skills might be useful here, especially as apparently only 7% of communication comes from the actual words people use and the rest is a mixture of non-verbal and verbal communication such as tone, inflection, facial expressions and body language and suchlike. You can refer to the pioneering studies by Albert Mehrabian and others for more information – I think from memboery it was broken down into 55% nonverbal, 38% vocal and 7% words. Or something like that – I’m sure the figures are contested in different research and studies but what I have no doubt about is that making a decision to get good at non-verbal communications would be a very positive step for you and your team.

So, getting back to the point and what we covered in another session about service, a lot of the reasons people might not refer you could come down to issues such as :

– Poor Response to client enquiries and concerns that are given on a plate, through to …
– Not requesting feedback (in the first place) or …
– Handling negative feedback poorly (or avoiding it) when it is received.

… and whilst these are basically service issues, the handling of them and getting regular feedback and – crucially – communicating the feedback and improvements to service definitely come under communications.

B – Inconsistency.

Another reason for the ‘why’ (out of the why, what, who, how and when qualifier-questions) is inconsistency. If an MSP’s brand messaging is inconsistent across different communication channels, it can create confusion about the brand identity and services. Service is a form of communication if you think about it, so therefore inconsistent service or inconsistent communications in terms of branding & style, clarity of message and timing of communications can confuse or alienate your clients and prospects. That’s one great reason right there to communicate regularly and consistently.

C – Lack of Engagement Strategies

Not engaging clients with regular updates, newsletters, or educational content about new services or cybersecurity trends means that people’s why is significantly diminished. That’s why I produce regular content for my MSPs and why you should regularly use it and add to it and communicate it and engage with your prospects and clients and other stakeholders on a regular basis – just look at those 4 silos we covered last time and map out a practical marketing communications agenda for each silo.

D – Failure to Acknowledge or Reward Referrals

If clients who do actually make referrals for you are not acknowledged or rewarded, there may be little incentive for them to continue promoting your MSP. How would you feel if you recommended someone and they barely acknowledged you afterwards? You’d feel pretty used and devalued I expect. For someone like me who’s forever trying to help people get noticed and pass value around, I find it particularly frustrating and slightly hurtful when people don’t acknowledge it. I guess I should be more thick-skinned but I don’t suppose I’m alone in this regard.

While a referral reward program can significantly boost referral numbers, at the very least, a simple thank you note or a card or some form of gratuity is better than being missed by poor communication. Even setting up an automated email is better than nothing – again have a system in place to make sure things don’t drop between the gaps. To be clear though – an automated thank-you email for a referral is pretty shoddy – I’d like to think you can be a lot more creative and caring than that. We’ll look at referral rewards in another section.*

E – Miscommunication During Onboarding

Providing insufficient information during the client onboarding process can start the client relationship off on the wrong foot. This is something I need to get better at myself. It’s easy to assume that the client will know what’s expected of them and where everything is. Again – having this procedureised and well documented can help and once again to be clear, I’m acutely aware that I need to do this a lot better for myself!

F – Poor Communication of Changes in Service or Policy

Whilst onboarding is obviously the biggest transition a client will have to undergo with you (except for perhaps if they leave your services), then any other events that signify a change should come with their own well-managed communication as well. That’s because if changes in service terms, or pricing, or policies or procedures are not clearly communicated, clients might be caught off guard. Remember that if you’re taking on board new vendors or anyone else in your value-chain or making changes to your terms or policies because of a change in the law or insurance or anything like this which you might not have thought about.

G – (Lastly) Lack of Differentiation

This is more of a reminder about USPs and positioning really. If your business doesn’t clearly communicate how it’s different from (or better than) your competitors, people may not see a reason to refer you. Your USP and Target market should be consistent with your brand message. So, if you offer 24/7 support for a niche like out-of-hours medical facilities, then you need to make sure everyone knows it and it needs to be consistent on your branding and your collateral and everything that goes out from an invoice to a service-ticket email.

For Next Time, we’ll be looking at the WHAT part of Why, What, Who, How and When.

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Mike Knight