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Now that the New Year has started, let’s talk about your
customers for a moment. Customer retention is always a challenge, and as such,
it must be a priority in any company’s strategic business plans for the year.

Fortunately for IT services providers, they have never had
better customer-retention tools at their fingertips than now.

And the timing couldn’t be better. Customer loyalty,
according to consulting firm Protiviti, is at the top of business challenges
that non-financial services firms will face in 2012. Other challenges include
managing supply chain risks, privacy and security issues, and attracting and
retaining top talent.

Although you’d be hard-pressed to find businesses better
attuned to customer needs than IT services firms, it certainly doesn’t hurt to
review what is working and figure out what you could do better.

IT services providers that already leverage remote
monitoring and management (RMM) and cloud-based business continuity have a leg
up because the technology allows them to link to customers in profound ways.

Advances in those technologies make providers much better
equipped to assess current needs, anticipate future requirements and help clients
stay in business after significant data losses. As a result, solution providers
are more important than ever to the day-to-day operations and strategic
business planning of their clients.

And that is a responsibility no provider should take
lightly, especially at time like now. Not only do we continue to see macroeconomic
uncertainties with the potential to adversely affect the health of businesses,
but also the shift to cloud computing is pressuring providers and clients to
make important IT decisions.

The cloud is bound to become a more and more significant
element in customer retention. Customers are hearing about the cloud, and so
they will be asking providers what it means and how it could benefit them. Any
provider not ready to answer these questions risks losing a customer.

If someone with decision-making power in a customer
organization is intent on trying out cloud services, the client will start to
look elsewhere if you can’t provide them. On the other hand, diving blindly
into cloud services would be just as counterproductive, so it’s incumbent on service
providers to exercise due diligence before adding any cloud-based offerings.

With the advent of managed services, as providers employ RMM
to keep their clients’ IT environments running with a minimal chance of
interruption, customer retention has become heavily dependent on value. Price,
therefore, is not nearly as important, though it always lurks in the

Studies have shown that IT customers are more interested in
reliable technology and efficient customer service than getting the best price.
For managed services providers (MSP), this requires explaining the value of the
services upfront and continuously showing proof of that value to maintain the
customer relationship.

RMM and PSA (professional services automation) tools are
integral in accomplishing that. By leveraging the software’s reporting
capabilities, providers can show their clients the work they do in keeping
their IT environments healthy and make recommendations for improvements and new

As such, RMM and PSA are fundamental to customer retention. That
means the very tools that bring stability to your client’s environment can be
used to show how the client would further benefit by adding a new service.

This is as close to customer loyalty-in-a-box as it gets.

And just as important, the tools open pathways to the cloud.
The client needs the tools identify potentially can be satisfied with cloud

Of course, there is one other critical element to customer
retention – customer service. So you must always cover the basics: Set customer
expectations properly so that when they call with a problem, they know what to
expect by way of response.

And naturally, whatever those expectations are, be ready to
fulfill them. Otherwise, it’s all for naught.

Pedro Pereira is a columnist for
Channel Insider and a freelance writer. He can be reached at