Your MSP’s Video Background Influences Your Clients

Business interaction by video calls such as webinars and online meetings and interviews and support-calls has skyrocketed in recent years, in no small part due to the pandemic. This has fundamentally shifted how society expects to interact with a business and, in addition, it has also set up a new set of challenges to be overcome and opportunities to be exploited.

One of these questions to be answered is how should the staff of managed service providers appear when they’re on other people’s screens because – if you think about it – video calls are a kind of a half-way house between being invisible – such as being on the phone – to being there in person.

It’s important because customers rely on visual clues to help them make up their minds about people and situations so it’s pretty important to the future of you as a person and a business whether your prospects and clients decide if they like you or not. Or if they perceive you as competent or not.

It’s been shown in a couple of studies that wearing a uniform can contribute towards reassuring a company’s clients about their competence. However, what hasn’t been immediately obvious was the impact that a person’s online background makes, in terms of marketing and the company’s overall ‘servicescape’.

The interesting thing about online backgrounds is that they are an extremely controllable self-presentation environment. For example, I can’t think of many other environments in business where you can either appear to be sat at your desk or floating around in deep space.

A recent study conducted by Karabulut, Moore, & Messinger (2023) revealed some interesting insights about video backgrounds, the main highlight being that there’s an important disconnect between what an MSPs employees’ want and what their customers want, in terms of what’s seen in backrounds.

Without reciting all the academic drudge (in their otherwise helpful paper), the main essence is that employees want to be seen as competent to their clients and their peers and their bosses. This means that customer-service agents more often than not tend to have non-revealing backgrounds, such as a very plain wall or a blurred background.

The disconnect comes because customers warmed to those employees that show revealing backgrounds, specifically positive backgrounds. The words positive here is key becuase it makes an important distinction and that’s because the effect was reversed when the background contained negative information, which is what you’d expect.

As an aside, other psychology experts have suggested that blurred backgrounds may cause ‘misattribution’. Basically, what they’re saying is that having a blurred background looks like you’re hiding something – thereby resulting in diminished amount of trust

There’s a lot more work on top of this particular study to be done before I’m convinced we should all be appearing in front of a log fire in a rocking chair like our grandfather used to, holding a cup of cocoa with newspaper clippings on the wall of when he saved children from that burning orphanage.

However, it does mean that we can make some subtle changes which can help ourselves and our staff to appear more likeable and competent which – further down the line – has been shown to have positive consequences for customer referrals and reviews and overall profitability.

My suggestion would be to appear tidy, effective and human. Go a bit beyond getting rid of the rubbish and piles of coke cans and pizza boxes to have a (reasonably) tidy, professional looking workspace but  importantly – not appearing to be sterile.

For Instance, if you have to have lots of technical journals or books or other paraphernalia – maybe humanise it all a bit with a copy of Dilbert among the books or a mug with a humorous picture on it … or something like that. Perhaps have some family photos. If you’re worried about having anything too revealing about people (especially children) then maybe a picture of your pet or of you doing your hobby. For example, I like fishing and whilst I’m not the best angler in the world, anytime I see someone wearing a piece of branded fishing clothing, I know I can relate to that person and have an easy conversation with them.

In conclusion, given that we seem to be spending an increasing amount of time in virtual worlds these days, perhaps sparing a thought for how to humanise your background whilst maintaining an air of competence and professionalism would be time well spent.


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Mike Knight