For small- and medium-sized businesses, IT can seem like a foreign language.
You have enough on your plate trying to run your business without having to worry about staying on top of the backend tech infrastructure. That’s why IT outsourcing is so valuable for SMB leaders.
But not all IT service providers are created equal. All too often, I visit SMBs only to find they’re putting up with mediocre IT. How do I know? Business owners and managers tell me that it takes too long for their current IT provider to complete projects, return calls and/or make proactive suggestions that would have prevented the business owner from having to buy more expensive technology down the road or prevented the system from running slow or going down altogether. In fact, the sad truth is that most business leaders that I talk to have simply grown to accept mediocre IT as the norm and so I decided to write about it. Technology is an innovation that will help any small business do more with less. I hope that after you read this blog you will be convinced not to settle for mediocre IT that weakens your ability to grow.
Why Do SMBs Put Up with Mediocre IT Services?
This is a question I’ve been trying to answer for 20 years.
From a service provider’s perspective, it just doesn’t make sense for SMB leaders to accept hallmarks of mediocre IT, like:
Mediocre IT services wait until a client calls to actually address problems. There’s no attempt to be proactivity about IT problems before they occur. The root cause of this problem is that mediocre IT providers don’t have eyes and ears on your network—it’s likely that they are not monitoring your systems and therefore reacting to your concerns.
Often this is the result of working with an IT provider that simply does not have the man-power (aka team) and process behind him/her to give the time and attention required for any given problem or request. When your service provider does not have the collective expertise and developed processes in place, problems that should take minutes to resolve suddenly takes days. That extra time can have a significant impact on your business.
At first glance, a “set it and forget it” relationship with IT may seem like a great thing for SMBs. But when you’re experiencing tech problems, that lack of communication won’t seem like such a positive. Mediocre IT services will likely leave you wondering what’s going on with your tech.
These three problems (and others like them) negatively impact so many SMBs. Mismanaged IT leaves you with less workforce productivity, puts you at greater risk of system downtime, and increases risk across your business. When mediocre IT teams don’t have a constant eye on your backup systems and security solutions, the potential for a large-scale data breach or downtime incident increases significantly.
The most baffling thing about all of this, though, is that so many SMBs actually know they’re working with mediocre IT services.
When I go talk to potential clients, I ask what they would rate their current providers. Even when they give their providers a “C” rating, they still seem reluctant to make a change.
Whether it’s fear, convenience, or pricing that push you to stay with mediocre IT services, settling for less-than-best will hold your business back in the long run.
Getting proper service isn’t such a daunting task.
What to Expect from 5-Star IT Service
You know what mediocre IT looks like. But if IT isn’t a primary focus, identifying truly exceptional service (and service providers) can be a challenge.
The first step is to turn the mediocre IT picture around. If mediocre IT is poor communication, reactive service, and lengthy resolutions, 5-Star Service will deliver appropriate resolution times, regular status updates, and proactive management.
However, just about every IT service provider will make these promises. The challenge is sifting through the noise to find the right partner.
To that end, there are a few non-negotiables to consider when it comes to 5-star service:
Eyes and Ears on the Network:
There’s an old saying that says, “You don’t know what you don’t know” and this is certainly true for IT. Having IT professionals who work in different IT environments every day who can detect and troubleshoot the smallest to the most complicated IT problems ensures your network, data, and systems are always running at peak performance. As a small business, you can’t afford to be locked out of your files or unable to access voice and email to help clients. 5-star service means you have a trusted IT partner who is watching your network and system around the clock, making adjustments and updates so that you can do what you do best, your job.
Actively Monitored Backup Strategy:
This can make all the difference between a system issue that derails your business and one that’s resolved quickly. If no one keeps an eye on the backup solution, you’ll never know when backups fail. Then, when a system goes down, you’ll be surprised to find high volumes of lost data. A recent new client who moved from manual back-up to our monitored back-up reported a savings of 9 man-hours per month in time recovered from having to manually back-up the old system and ensuring the data was backed up accurately. A monitored backup strategy could save your team countless headaches should your systems ever go down.
There are so many free anti-virus solutions available and mediocre IT providers will push you toward them to cut costs, not to mention compromise your ability to meet security compliance regulations for the clients you serve. Truth is, they’re garbage. Like backup solutions, actively making patch updates and managing your antivirus and firewalls for routine intrusion detection is a part of finding cyber-attacks before they become a problem on your network. Your customers expect you to take every step possible to ensure their data is secure. Don’t trust the security of your business to a sub-par security strategy.
Exceptional IT begins with communication both ways. You should expect your IT partner to provide regular updates on the status of project work and any type of IT issue that could potentially impact your business. Yes, you should expect them to communicate with you. If the only time you hear from your IT provider is when you experience pain, it may be time to look elsewhere.
Provide You with Business Insights:
Technology is an innovative way to be more productive and efficient on a small business budget. Grade A technology providers should be willing to meet with you at least 3-4 times a year to talk about how your current system supports your business goals and objectives, and what small changes now can make a big impact down the road. Budgeting, technology planning and CIO services (which small business could never afford) should be a part of this strategic meeting that adds not only IT value but also business acumen to achieving your most important business objectives.
Multiple Points of Contact:
This is a point that often goes ignored when the price is the only consideration regarding your IT vendor, but grade A service can only result from the collective mindshare of multiple individuals in an organization and a well-structured organization to help you get what you need when you need it. Having a structured system of highly-trained individuals who can answer questions, escalate requests and bring a different perspective to new projects is something you will come to value in your business.
Curious about what to look for in an IT Provider? Download our 14 Critical Questions to Ask Your Next Provider.
What to Look for in an IT Partner
For starters, we are going to come right out and say, “don’t choose the stereotypical IT guy.” At Microtech (and we can only speak for ourselves), we have worked hard to get where we are today. We are a company of professionals and we conduct ourselves accordingly. We recommend you always start by looking for an IT organization that sets lofty standards of service for themselves with a track record of continuous learning and improvement. And if that goes without saying, here’s our short list of what to look for when partnering with an outside IT provider:
- Choose someone who is “Trusted” over “Inexpensive”: We’re not here to squeeze pennies from your business. But we’re also not going to offer mediocre services just to race other providers to the bottom on pricing. There are mediocre IT providers that will leave a server in production for 10 years thinking they are saving you money. Only to learn when it does come time to replace the server that it is so behind the times that it will cost 3-4 times more to replace a server that old. Not to mention the significantly increased risk of extended downtime trying to recover data from the failure of an old server. Great IT providers are there to guide you toward cost-efficient, high-quality services that will always help you and team be more efficient and productive over time.
- Integrity: Simply put, mediocre IT is an injustice. Too many providers are out there knowingly offering substandard services just to win on price. This isn’t a sales pitch to work with MicroTech Systems—whether it’s with us or someone else, just get out of any relationship with dishonest IT providers.
- Proven Track Record: Cost is important, but you can’t choose your IT provider based on price alone. You want a proven track record of honest service. How do other clients rate them? How do they stand up in stressful situations and inherited problems? Finding a partner who will “own” the problem and find solutions is a track record improved on with time. Check their references and feel comfortable with your decision.
- Answers to the Right Questions: Many mediocre IT providers get away with their services because SMBs don’t ask the right questions. Will the provider put eyes and ears on your network 24/7? Will the provider promise appropriate resolution times? What’s the process for responding to support tickets? Is there a deep bench of experienced experts available to solve complex problems? These are questions you need to ask so you can avoid working with a one-person provider that can’t possibly meet high expectations.
As a business owner, I am so passionate about providing the very best service possible that our firm has aligned our core values with our promise to deliver 5-star IT service to you. Take a look.
Hey, got another minute?
5-starIT service is a subject we’re passionate about at MicroTech Systems. We believe there’s a right way to build relationships with clients and deliberately skimping on service just to offer lower pricing isn’t it. If you are tired of mediocre IT, then download this list of questions to ask your IT provider before signing any long-term contracts.
About the Author
Randy Amorebieta is co-owner of MicroTech Systems in Boise, ID. After joining the Microtech team 18 years ago, Randy and his partner have made the design and implementation of technology solutions to help SMBs grow a top priority. As technology continues to constantly evolve, MicroTech believes their job and mission is still to help small-to-medium sized businesses solve problems and maximize opportunities. As a provider of innovative IT support and computer network consulting, Randy and team help Boise businesses figure out how to leverage technology and innovation to their competitive advantage. To learn more about Randy, visit https://www.linkedin.com/in/randyamorebieta/.