You’ve gone through the process of looking for an IT Support company.
You’ve found the right one, done your research and signed a contract. Maybe you used a checklist of factors to look for when selecting a new support provider.
So now it’s a few months down the line, and you want a way of benchmarking your new partner’s service. Things seem to be going fine but you’d like to satisfy yourself that they’re providing the value add you require.
How do you go about it?
The usual answer with an outsourced partner is to look at performance based on results.
But tangible progress and results are not always possible to identify in the case of some services, and IT support is one of them where it can be tricky because there are so many different aspects to it.
The other factor which makes it difficult to measure performance is that your computer systems, networks and servers tend to operate consistently in the background, only really becoming an issue when something goes wrong and needs fixing.
As a result, you can’t really judge performance without putting in place a range of tangible measures and KPIs, many of which may not be immediately obvious to the average non-IT professional.
Your IT support company may offer you a service support contract which includes a service level agreement (SLA). But often SLAs can be loaded with technical jargon about bandwidth, line speeds and uptime, and can be difficult to understand and get to grips with.
In this article, we’ve set out a range of questions which you can ask, together with a short version of the answer you should be looking for. It’s not exhaustive, but it will help you form a view of how well your IT support provider is performing for you – or put another way, how good they are.
If you’re reading this before you sign your contract with a new IT support company, use the list to help you in making your decision.
Feel free to contact us if you’d like more insight into the responses you’ve been provided with!
Questions you can ask
About the business
How does your help desk support function work?
It’s always good to get an insight into the IT support helpdesk function. If you haven’t made a lot of use of it, maybe try it out and note down your experiences.
How many technical support engineers do you have?
There’s no ‘set answer’, but the response must satisfy you that there are ‘enough’ engineers to support your business. If the answer is “one”, how will they cover all the bases for you?
What do youspecialise in?
Often there’s a simple answer e.g. “Microsoft”. If you don’t know your provider’s real areas of strength and expertise, find out.
How do you invest in your business?
How does your IT support provider make sure they stay ahead of the game? You’re looking for evidence of investment in the ‘tools of the trade’, such as ticketing systems, support software and training (see below).
Is your service independently ranked?
Sometimes, IT support providers who are certified to sell, install and support software are also ‘rated’ by those software companies. It’s interesting to see how they rank competitively.
About their staff
Are your IT support engineers certified in Microsoft or other technology skills?
Ideally the walls or shelves of your IT support provider’s office will display trophies and framed certificates with certifications for the technologies they supply.
Do your engineers receive regular training on products they support?
IT training is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing training process that keeps support engineers informed and expert on the latest versions of the products they work on every day.
Do you have designated technology leads or experts?
There are many thousands of IT software and hardware products and technologies so it’s simply not possible to be an expert in all of them. Ideally your support provider will have lead experts for the core technologies they support.
Do we have a dedicated Account Manager or Support Engineer?
It’s reassuring to see your IT support provider as an extension to your business. So ideally whoever works with you on a ‘day to day’ or monthly basis needs to build up an understanding of your business.
How are we covered when our Support Engineer is off sick or away?
IT is a 24-hour thing. What provision does your IT support provider make to cover staff absence for sickness and annual leave?
About their service
The following points are not necessarily questions to put to your IT support provider, but are questions to consider internally when assessing their service performance.
Who do you speak to when you ring or email?
If you have a support request to make, how quickly do you get through to an engineer that can help you?
How fast is their response?
Many IT support providers will log your support request when you first raise it, and then attend to it within a certain timeframe. It’s worth keeping a record.
Do they stick to their promises e.g. on response times?
Further on this, if there’s an SLA in place, does your IT support provider routinely operate within the terms of it? Are there any penalties if it does not?
What’s their emergency response time?
If you lose a critical system e.g. you’re an ecommerce business and your website crashes, what’s the response time and process for getting it back up and running?
How do they update you on progress with your support tickets?
Management of expectations is important. Regular updates on the status of your support request should be a key element of your provider’s service.
How do your IT support provider’s personnel interact with you?
When you communicate with the business, do its staff talk to you on your terms or blind you with techie language? When they visit your site, are they personable and smartly presented?
Are they proactive in maintaining your IT systems? Or do they only “react”?
This depends on what sort of contract you have with your IT support provider. There’s a big difference between “IT systems management” and “Helpdesk support” so make sure you understand which service you need and have in place.
How about offering advice?
Clearly you should always get what you pay for in IT support. But to what extent does your provider offer you extra, additional advice on how to use or manage your IT systems, or what to invest in? It’s always nice to get a few extra pearls of wisdom.
Do they monitor and report their performance and report it to you?
Don’t hesitate to ask your IT support company about what they do for you on a monthly basis under the contract. And do feel free to ask how they rate their own performance on the SLA. If appropriate, ask them for a regular report.
About the relationship
Do they understand your business goals?
After a few months working together, and depending on the extent of the relationship you have with your IT support provider, it’s reasonable to expect that they understand some of the dynamics of your business.
Have they produced an IT development plan or strategy for you?
Again, depending on the type of contract you have with your provider, it is reasonable to expect there to be a plan to evolve your IT systems in line with industry standards and changing requirements. The IT strategy should support your business strategy.
Do they have the interests of your business at heart?
The ultimate question. Of course it’s not reasonable to expect every supplier to have your business interests at the heart of what they do. But to what extent do you believe that your IT support provider is truly supporting you, your staff and your overall business success? If your answer is uncertain, it’s time to have a discussion!
And if all else fails, talk to Alliance Solutions about how we can support your business in achieving its goals through IT support and management. We’re here to help.