A Managed IT Services client of mine recently asked me to be their ‘mystery shopper’ and call all their competitors to ask for pricing and a formal proposal. They wanted to review their pricing and offers to ensure they aligned with current customer and market expectations in a relatively small geography. What an eye-opening experience for me and my client!
These are great lessons for any technology company looking to beat the competition.
Here was my mystery shopper company persona:
A 10-person professional services firm looking to open up in the given geography. Small brick and mortar footprint with 7-8 employees working virtually. The company has relatively simple IT needs and was looking for a managed services company who could take care of all their IT, provide anti-virus/malware protection and potentially QuickBooks Online or Microsoft Dynamics 365.
Armed with a list of 8 companies to call, I presented all of them with the same scenario. Not surprisingly, the pricing was all across the board. One company flatly refused to provide pricing unless they could do an onsite visit. Another large company was completely unresponsive to my request for more than 2 weeks (despite 3 phone calls with messages from me). I guess that company doesn’t want or need more customers.
Once I gathered all the information, my client and I walked through the results.
[bctt tweet=”4 surprising lessons learned as a mystery shopper for managed #IT services:” username=”PartnerMktGrp”]
Four things were blatantly clear.
1. First Impressions Count!
For me, the first impression really started with a visit to the website to find the email address or phone number I was to call. Being a small town, with a seeming overabundance of managed service providers in it, my website experience was varied. From very sophisticated to wondering whether I was calling the local contractor to fix my plumbing. I didn’t have a great comfort level with the latter and was already wondering whether I could trust my 10-person company to them.
With some of the companies, I started by emailing via the website. I came away with the impression that very few companies respond in a timely fashion to inbound leads from websites, and it makes me wonder why they even put an email address on it if no one responds.
My experience with the first phone call was more interesting. The person who answered the phone at one of my target companies had absolutely no clue what I was talking about and insisted on putting me through to the Business Concierge (this is the same company that took more than 2 weeks to respond to my 3 phone calls and 3 voice mails). I crossed them off my list.
Another company insisted that I make an appointment with the sales person to talk through my IT requirements. At the time, I was somewhat irritated by this as I had to wait 4 days for the appointment, but when he explained WHY they operate that way, my confidence level went WAY up.
I spoke to some really delightful sales people—chatty, cheerful people make great first impressions. In some cases they could help, in others they had to engage internal parties to help. No surprises there.
2. Customer Experience is Critical
The customer experience a company provides makes all the difference. At the end of the day, I was less focused on price and costs, and more focused on emotion and the connection I made with each company. Those connections make lasting impressions.
Who did I have the greatest level of confidence in? Who responded quickly to my many questions? Who did I feel would be really vested in seeing my company succeed? I cannot state strongly enough that every part of the customer experience needs to be frictionless if you want to beat your competitors every time—and you need to have the right people and processes in place to make that happen.
Just one bad experience with your company can lose a sale or a loyal customer.
For example, if you are..
- not replying to inbound queries from your website,
- not enabling front office people with skills and tools to do their job,
- not responding in a timely fashion,
- or not empowering people within your organization to make decisions in a timely fashion
…that prospect or customer is going straight to your competition! And speaking of your competitors—it’s really poor form to throw them under the bus with your prospects. Don’t do it!
3. Elegant, Yet Simple, Proposals Matter
Another interesting observation I made was in the various proposals I received. Very few looked professional. They appeared thrown together somewhat at the last minute with poor formatting and lack of explanation. While I appreciate the fact everyone really wanted to meet in person to finalize the proposal to me, the ball park proposals were filled with jargon and too complicated for a small company or non-technology person to understand.
4. Focus On Value, Not Technology
My final reflection on this project really highlighted the fact that technology companies lean on their technical expertise when responding to customers and providing quotes—as though they’re conversing with the IT department every time. They didn’t take the time to explain the technology, what I would ‘get’ for my money, or how frequently and how they would work with me.
Out of these 8 companies, only one specifically kept the discussion focused on value. Their proposal clearly indicated they knew their market well and how to develop messaging for it. Great marketing!
So, who was the winner? The one who had the lowest price, the highest price, somewhere in the middle? No, it was the company I mentioned previously who:
- made the appointment at the first phone call
- called me back when they said they would
- provided me with the most professional looking quote
- understood what my company needed
- made it ‘hassle free’ for me to sign on the dotted line
Were they the cheapest? Absolutely not. But if I were a small business looking for a managed service provider, they are the one I’d lay my bet on.
This was a very interesting exercise and one I hope you will consider at your own company. Products and pricing alone are no longer guiding buying decisions for any industry, but particularly in the IT and technology sector. Competition is fierce and when you are offering similar “goods”—your service and customer experience better stand above the rest or you will not survive.