Managing "unrealistic" expectations

Posted by Denes Purnhauser on Jul 25, 2016 6:14:42 AM

In vCIO, Sales, MSP best practices, IT management, ReframeYourClients, MSP, CIO, Account Management

I just watched a hilarious 2 minute Youtube video where a comedian recounted the tale of someone righteously indignant over the atrocious inconvenience of the wi-fi breaking up during his trans-Atlantic flight. It made me ponder the trend of setting unrealistic expectations when it comes to technology. We have a short memory for problems fixed, take progress for granted and miss the chance to revel in our achievements.

Then I was thinking that perhaps this reminds you of a type of client of yours who is spoiled by all the progress and never satisfied. Who set these unrealistic expectations? How can we make sure we're not creating the problem ourselves? Check out this quick video and see what we can do to prevent it happening.

On a personal level I encountered the erroneous popular expectation in my own family, while travelling through the Canadian Rockies having a Facetime conversation with my brother on a highway somewhere in Europe. The line broke 4 times, and my brother was so frustrated he nearly threw the phone out of the car. At that instant Apple was a poor service provider without any consideration for him. Now, my brother is a perfectly sane person, so I realized that there’s a common misconception that’s easily reached...that instant and constant integration and global flawlessness should be expected from technology, and everything should be as strong as my wi-fi at home.

Now think of your clients, who will have a similar tendency to set expectations quite high. They don’t have a detailed understanding of the complexity of their network, applications or the necessary integrations. Nor is that their job. When you’re doing your job well they’ll inevitably start to take it for granted. Millennials especially are used to constant internet access and expect mobility across all devices. Some legacy corporate systems are still years if not decade behind that.

Who’s to blame?

The misconception itself is unavoidable. The public can’t be expected to all learn IT infrastructure, the world is just too big a place to cover with connectivity, and the competitive free market we all believe in includes proprietary and innovative fundamental disparities. The neglected measure lies within the marketing, sales and account management - the delivery of the message. Of course, service quality can be an issue, but that’s a reasonable expectation, and purposefully set in our contracts. We have to manage the unreasonable expectations of our clients about their corporate environment. Everything around technology is dynamic: your offering, your solution stack and their environment, so expectations cannot set for years (lie static in a contract). They must be readjusted frequently.

Often the sales process is over-ambitious, marketing collaterals can describe “ideal” situations where everything is perfect, or account management is promising resolutions for an irate client are rather than resetting expectations.

How can we reset the expectations frequently?

The solution is surprisingly simple. The secret is we have to actually ask for the expectations of our clients regularly (quarterly, bi annually) and adjust our priorities and perspectives accordingly. Just stating this isn’t enough. We have to understand what they think and see whether our services satisfy their expectations. If not, they may upgrade to a higher level service, or we need to communicate the realities of expectations and service. A proactive process is ideal, and it’s usually worst to address the issue during a complaint.

Let’s take a look at what we need as a process for this. We need some items in place to make it happen.

  1. The questions have to be “loaded” questions reflecting our services. In that sense we can directly couple the issue to one of our services. It also gives us the ability to gauge how well they understand our value creation.
  2. We have to make sure we can address the idea of responsibility. There might be solutions that prevent the problems, but somebody has to be responsible for the decision to buy a service.
  3. The questions should “educate” them and help them understand some basics, or help us raise a complex issue and explain its intricacies.

You might have a questionnaire with 10-25 questions (depending on their size) to get a 360 degree view of their perspective.

Let’s use an example question from our IT Competitiveness Quotient:

Which statements are true about the company's Information Security? (select all that apply)

  1. We have secure control over all user/admin/internal/web passwords.
  2. Our devices are protected from virus and malware at all times.
  3. Unauthorized people can't get access to our email.
  4. Our email is separately tracked and archived.
  5. Unauthorized people can't access information stored on laptops or mobile devices.
  6. None of the above.

The questions are loaded with the following services: Password Management, Managed Endpoint Security, Managed Email Security, Managed Email Archive, etc. That gives us the ability to see whether they have those services and what to expect.

They have to make decisions whether they need the service, usually some type of add-on. If it’s included with the package they’ll understand the complete value proposition of our fully managed service.

The questions both educate and introduce the opportunity to get more clarification. Then, your sales people, account managers or vCIOs can elaborate on the details.

If you go through those questions every once in a while you can keep them aware of all the stuff you do for them as well as re-set expectations in this dynamic industry. This eliminates unrealistic expectations of greater functionality for free, and help us avoid overdelivery.

We can use it with current clients as well as during the sales process. The important part here is the discussion, communication and engagement with the client. The service delivery comes later.

Conclusion

Unrealistic expectations are common across the MSP market, and users are, to put it bluntly, spoiled with great technologies and misled by over-promising sales, marketing and account management. The solution is a frequent expectation resetting meeting through a Quarterly Business Review or a sales meeting.

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