NovaBACKUP Security Blog

MSP Challenges: Dealing With Difficult Customers


MSPs are no strangers to a wide range of client personalities, including some of the most difficult and demanding to work with. In order to succeed MSPs have to be adaptable, but also must maintain a client base that results in profitability. In rare instances, a customer may even act in such a way that the relationship is no longer sustainable. Today we’ll be discussing how to address some of the personalities that MSPs encounter, how to avoid clients that could put your business at risk, and when it is ultimately time to say “Goodbye”.

First, The Positive Side

It’s important first to identify what to define as a demanding customer versus what is a dangerous or reckless customer. Being demanding isn't always a bad thing. Some demanding customers have a clear vision of what they need to be successful, putting them on a growth path. They are more vocal, expressing issues that other customers probably also experience but may not be telling you. This can cause you to improve your service offerings, ultimately resulting in greater profitability for you. It's worth considering how to best take advantage of your most vocal clients' feedback. Meeting their unique requirements can also bond them to you, making it difficult for them to move away from a competitor. Having said that, demanding clients can also be problematic.

Overcoming Tense Moments

Often a single moment can be the cause of major relationship turmoil. In the event that critical services are down or data becomes unavailable, a client may be driven by emotion. As an MSP it can be difficult to stay calm and listen to an angry client if they are speaking out of frustration. At these times it’s important to follow a few simple guidelines.

  1. Speak at the management level – avoid engaging in highly charged conversations with junior-level employees.
  2. Acknowledge and understand – recognize and empathize with what they are going through regardless of the cause.
  3. Stay positive and patient – as their service provider, offer consistency and a steady hand during uncertain times.

Nightmare Clients

Everyone is entitled to a bad day or momentary freak-out. However, trust and communication are required for the MSP-Client relationship to flourish. If a client berates, yells, or conducts other unacceptable behavior regularly, this hints at the fact that proper boundaries and expected behavior were not set to begin with.

Worse yet are dangerous customers, those who distrust you or refuse to take your advice. They may not follow recommended security protocols leaving themselves exposed to data breaches or at risk of cyber-attacks. They are the ones most likely to blame you in a critical situation and are a danger not only to themselves but also a liability to you. It’s important to disengage with these customers if they are unwilling to comply after being warned, or releasing you from liability. (Look out for the upcoming blog post – Saying Goodbye to a Client)

Both of these scenarios hint at a serious MSP sales process problem; Vetting clients and establishing responsibilities.

Vetting Customers

An MSP who takes on every client who is willing to throw money at them will soon find themselves unprofitable, or worse - with a bad reputation. Nightmare clients should not be getting past your vetting process. Early in the prospect qualification process you should be researching the history of the client and understanding their business (and of course technology) goals. Establish trust to build the relationship and ensure that your values align. Find agreement on the concept of shared responsibility when it comes to data security. Lastly, create a profile of the customer that is your “perfect fit” and use it as a checklist against new prospects. Not everyone will be a fit, and that’s ok.

  • Establish trust early
  • Establish shared values
  • Research the client
  • Speak with their team
  • Check their references
  • Compare to your ideal
  • Sign SLAs / MSAs

SLA’s and MSA’s

Service Level Agreements exist to help not only your customer but also you. It should provide clarity on the process of customer communication, define technical response expectations, how problems and failures will be addressed, etc. SLAs help define customer obligations too, such as restricting unauthorized devices or software. They help protect you when disputes arise as a document both parties can refer to. And of course, should all else fail, a means to dissolve the relationship should also be outlined.

Not every challenging relationship is unresolvable. Often an executive-level meeting outlining expected behavior and obligations from both parties can do the trick. But MSPs should not wait until things turn sour before starting this process. From the first prospect meeting, MSPs must establish whether the organization is ready and willing to meet the communication standards and shared responsibility needed for data security. Speak with one of NovaBACKUP's data protection experts about putting policies in place to secure client data and promote a healthy security strategy.