In Part 1 of this Perspectives of Time series we discussed what time feels like and how its impact is different from person to person and moment to moment, depending on factors that are internal to the individual. In today’s part 2, we’ll talk about how time perception varies depending on whether you’re the user/client or admin/MSP.
The disconnect between real time and the perception of time causes us to experience the passage of time differently — between each other as co-workers, and from one day to the next. Aside from the employee/employer effects, strange as it may sound, differences in time perception impacts our business decisions.
For instance, take the relationship between client and the MSP. The MSP perceives an onsite visit as being quite short. You show up at the door, you solve the problem, you leave. Doesn’t take much time at all, right? Not a lot of billable time there. Now look at it from the client’s perspective. The client perceives that same onsite visit as taking for-friggin’-ever (and costing them a fortune too - in your fees and in lost productivity).
Think about it.
The consultant is focused on the problem, gathering information and asking for demonstrations (“show me how it broke” is a phrase I used a lot). She is occupied and concentrating on solving the problem. As with most people when they’re hyper-focused, the time passes quickly for her.
The client, however, is standing there (usually kibbitzing over the consultant’s shoulder, amirite?), toe-tapping while the consultant works. He’s basically bored and thinking about the dollars being spent and, therefore, time passes quite slowly for him. The problem with this is that while one person thinks the amount of time spent solving the problem is sufficient and accurate (the IT person), the other thinks that the task took too much time when the solution was to just “click a button” (the client)...even though they were in the same room together!
Time and the perception of time passing remove objectivity from the task at hand. The challenge, then, becomes how to increase the clarity and communication between the MSP and the client. We are told over and over again that time is money. We are taught to believe that faster is better, that more is better, that slower is losing. But that’s not the reality when you’re working with knowledge-based solutions.
It’s our job to recognize that with any engagement with clients there is a difference in the perception of time between them and their tech. And it is our job, as MSP owners, to train our techs to be sensitive to this difference. Soft skills for the win, folks. Your techs should be able to build a relationship with your clients by explaining in clear, plain language what is involved with solving a problem and why it might take time to do so.
How well you and your team communicate with your clients will make the difference between a loyal client and a one-timer. Explain to them that their perception of time is different than our perception of time. Improve your practice by working with your support team on their empathy skills. Taking time away from actual tech and building the relationship with your client will, inevitably, lead to more and better business from them.
But removing that “standing over your shoulder” behavior from the client is also important and there is a way to do that.
How do we resolve this sense of disparity between how long something takes and how long the customer thinks it should take? How do we make the perception of time a non-issue in our business? Well, we remove it from the equation completely! Rather than time-based solutions and billing methods, I prefer a more, shall we say, object-oriented approach to work.
Bill for the task. When you take your car for an oil change you don’t pay based on how long it takes the mechanic to change the oil, right? You pay for the task of changing the oil, whether it takes 20 minutes or 2 hours.
Or, bill for the knowledge. That extended car warranty call is gonna pay off big here <grin>. You buy that extended warranty so that any repairs you need on your car are covered (let’s assume the policy actually covers what it says it will cover, ok?). If your car doesn’t need repairs by the time the policy expires, the carrier wins. If you do need repairs, however, you don’t pay extra - you win. Sometimes you’re the ball, sometimes you’re the bat. But in the end, if you price your services well (whether it’s monthly or per device)l and if you do top quality work to begin with, you end up on the right side of the equation.
You will have to employ amazing customer relationship building skills to make this kind of change. In my experience, clients liked paying by the hour. They felt like they were being billed fairly. Until they didn’t. Until something took longer than they thought it should take. Then the bills became contentious.
I solved it by pulling on my best relationship-building persona and talking with my client - face to face. I was showing the client that they were important enough to me that I wanted to be in the room with them. I was willing to go the extra miles (literally) and spend the time driving downtown (no small task from the suburbs into Chicago) and finding parking. I needed them to know that their business was as important to me as my business.
It was an opportunity for me to take that time perception issue off the table. They no longer had to worry about how long I was spending in their office or what their bill would be at the end of the month. I took all that concern away. By object-oriented billing, they would be able to fill in a typically volatile and frustratingly difficult-to-estimate line item in their budget. Their financial people would be able to relax, knowing what their IT spending would be. Their staff wouldn’t have to wait for giant tech explosions to call for assistance. And there would be no surprises when they added devices to their network.
With everything defined, the time perception issue became a non-issue and everyone could focus on the relationship, on improving the technology landscape, and on getting work done. Streamlining the process simplified it for everyone and ended up being a fair way to do business for both myself and the client.
We’ve talked about time in general and how to use time perception to your advantage in your business. In part 3, we’ll discuss how time perception affects your employment and your day to day work.