Selecting a competent IT support provider is a daunting responsibility considering our reliance on technology, and it can have a significant impact on a company’s day-to-day operations. Decision makers and evaluators are faced with choosing from a number of providers that all look the same in writing and sound the same in interviews. Determining which provider will actually deliver on its promises is harder than it’s ever been.
The idea for this post spawned from my own research of the local IT support & management landscape in Vancouver. The number of providers in the market has grown tremendously since 2009 when I first entered the Managed Services space, all of them sporting updated websites with fresh new looks. The literature has certainly changed as well, all of them shifting from tech-centric lingo to end-user friendly terms and catchy buzzwords to describe their services. Most companies now present themselves in a professional way, yet there’s no way to confirm their operational maturity level, their competency, the overall health of their business, and most importantly, how they’ll perform in critical situations and on an ongoing basis.
With these unknowns in mind, what steps should you take to make sure that you choose the right provider the first time? Obviously you should continue to do the standard things you do when selecting any vendor; research a list of providers, interview them, verify credentials/certifications, scrutinize their proposal and managed services agreement, check their references, etc. Here are a few other suggestions for due diligence to uncover whether the provider’s the real deal or not:
What Do Other IT Vendors Say About Your Prospective IT Support Partner?
The Vancouver tech community is surprisingly small. We’re all familiar with one another, and it’s very likely that we all have access to information about one another through our wide array of contacts amongst the tech community and other mutual clients. That’s why I usually recommend evaluators ask any of their non-competing technical vendors for their opinions and what they know about prospective vendors. The potential for misinformation exists, but if you ask a few different technical contacts you’ll be able to get a good sense of that company’s reputation within the tech community and with any shared clients. Chances are that you’ll often hear a good story or two on how well/poorly they execute or some first/second-hand information about the internal workings of the company, which goes a long way to verifying their operational maturity level.
Evaluate Staff Happiness, Turnover, and Client Relationships
Have you ever gotten tech support with a miserable Grinch on the other end of the line who provides you with almost no help? Or do you find yourself constantly being introduced to new vendor reps and staff, only for them to leave the company shortly after? It’s all too common, and usually leads to a disappointing experience for the customer. Unhappiness in the workplace manifests itself in the service being provided, and in the staff’s willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty.
Uncovering the raw truth here isn’t easy; your tactics to uncover staff satisfaction should span multiple parts of your selection process. During the interview, ask your vendor to describe how their company keeps staff happy and motivated, who are their top 3 longest-tenured employees (how does it compare to how long the company’s been around?), and ask for specifics about key service delivery personnel (technical director, service manager, technical account manager, etc) making sure to uncover how long they’ve been in those roles for that vendor and their overall experience. Using Linkedin, you can scan a company’s profile and see if you’re connected to any of their former employees whom may be able to provide you with their perspective on the business. During reference verification, ask the existing customer if they notice high turnover with key points of contact and how it’s impacted service and the business relationship (if at all). The answers you’ll get to these questions should give you a solid understanding of the overall morale of your prospective IT support partner which can help you predict future service performance.
What’s the Financial Health of Your Prospective Provider?
Determining the financial health of a vendor is important for a number of reasons. Primary amongst them is transparency between partners; the customer/service provider relationship absolutely demands it on all engagement levels. Can their sales reps speak to more than just revenue figures? How well the vendor’s agent communicates their key financial metrics (gross margins, liabilities, net profits, revenues by quarter, and projected revenues.. to name a few), is also indicative of internal transparency and accountability within their own team. After all, if they can’t confidently share their financials internally with their own staff, you have to ask, why? There are a number of vendors who spend frivolously and carry excessive liabilities in the name of keeping up the appearance of a successful business, much like a pyramid scheme, they rely on new client revenue to keep the charade going. They forget that a part of the peace of mind behind signing a 4 or 5-figure monthly IT support agreement is knowing that your partner is financially viable and can deliver critical services when you need them, and well into the future as your business grows.
Make the Right Choice the First Time
As we’ve all found out either professionally or personally, so many companies will go all out to make themselves look bigger/better than they actually are to get your business, only to fall flat on the promises they made. Unfortunately for most businesses, we can’t just return the IT management and support service for a refund or an exchange, to start all over again. The relationship with your future IT support provider takes time to build; integrating them into your daily operations to maintain the critical systems that are the backbone of your operation isn’t easily (or cheaply) undone. Taking the extra steps mentioned above in your due diligence phase will save you time, money, and the headaches associated with selecting the wrong provider.
Interested in how Softlanding stacks up to the above criteria? Contact me!