IT support might seem to be a practice with as many opinions as there are practitioners, but like many other industries, it’s matured into a fraternity that sets its standards. Put another way; it’s not only fair to ask whether your SME’s tech team is on a par with others, but it’s also eminently possible to answer.
These days, customers know it’s fair to ask whether their objectives are being met – and the tech industry knows how to answer that question, too.
To start (and avoid a common phenomenon perpetuating the divide between employers and tech support), the almost endlessly diverse world of IT needs to be viewed correctly. For example, when you refer to the field of ‘medicine,’ everyone knows there are a vast number of different types of practitioners within the field; quite literally hundreds of niches and specialisations.
So, too, it is with IT.
Further, defining ability and ‘good results’ from a technology partner hinges on two points:
First, an SME needs to spell out in plain language what exactly it needs from IT support. Not on IT’s terms, but rather on its own terms in simple, short depictions. Any SME’s objectives most likely focus on optimising business protocols and abilities towards greater business success.
What exactly does that mean for your business, and what are the ‘things’ you want to be done?
Enhanced communication abilities with clients (CRM), networking between staff, data handling, informed, and professional presentation are just a few possibilities to consider. The list is potentially a long one.
Second, the business needs to hire appropriately. That means looking for a good fit.
For example, if an SME has an influential local demographic and wants to push that envelope towards more significant (domestic) market share, its IT solutions might be completely foreign (and positively humdrum) for a data lake management consortium. SMEs frequently face challenges transitioning from DIY to a seamless IT support environment, yet also tremendously benefit from IT implementation.
An SME will ideally look for an IT support company that has – as its core focus – precisely the kind of work needed for its ends. What those ends might be can undoubtedly be fleshed out in consultation with several potential IT support partners. Still, a good marriage here will hinge on an honest initial appraisal that results in an excellent subsequent fit.
Does your prospective IT support team perform the work your SME needs?
It’s not to say that SMEs are at fault for hiring the wrong IT support – not at all – as many IT support companies attempt to grow by taking on all comers. They hope for their ideal clients to emerge over time so that one day they’ll be able to focus exclusively on their core competencies or preferences. While that might be acceptable business practice, it’s akin to a home doctor deciding they’ll take on surgical and psychiatric cases, for now, to build up cash flow. The MD qualification is there, but they’ll likely do a lousy job of head shrinking or bypass surgery.
As in every industry in the world, the model of all-things-to-all-people is encountered in the IT support community. While a jack-of-all-trades is often handy in household maintenance, garden landscaping or even restoring a classic car, it doesn’t work that way with IT support. SMEs need a focused IT partner – awake to the nature of a small, growing business, its needs, its priorities – and one with a vision of where IT development should become and how to facilitate the SME’s daily activity and future objectives. If your SME’s needs seem like a grudge purchase to a potential service provider, keep shopping around.
For any given SME, a ‘good’ tech support partner means results. Any business that has invested the time to outline its desires and ambitions deserves IT results in that will enable them. That said, some key points common to all excellent IT support (and any other service provider for that matter) are:
Responsiveness. IT support knows intimately how important IT is for any SME, and will serve those needs promptly and efficiently.
Capability. Tech support will understand the importance of getting issues resolved the first time around, and apply the correct overall skill set to provide value for money.
Transparency. Excellent IT support will be transparent in terms of its time costing and verifiable results. Pay a fair price for good results, so your IT partner grows alongside you, and a genuine understanding develops.
Reporting. A great IT partner will preferably over report and keep their clients informed at all stages during installation or recovery. There will be follow up, too.
A truly great IT support partner will also be able to render complex issues in layman’s terms, so everyone’s on the same page, and costs and expected results are made plain. While ‘technical support’ really means the support an SME needs on hardware and software products (very often none of which are made by – but merely serviced by – the IT support company), nonetheless an SME can expect those support agents to be completely au fait with such products or the route to getting them fixed when necessary.
A good match makes for great IT support results.
It’s not an SME’s task to vet a support company’s problem-solving skills, broad product knowledge or licensing compliance. Those are assumed, and will also be made apparent when asking for testimonials from existing clients.
An SME has more pressing needs of its IT support, and some of the most common are:
Speed. Speed without compromise, of course. Not patch jobs waiting to collapse again, but a prompt service born of the understanding that the average SME won’t have extensive backup options in the event of either hardware or systems failure. SMEs are typically reliant on a more limited pool of resources than big corporations to keep a business day going after a crash.
Flexibility. Both on costing and schedules. SME owners will tell you, ‘Don’t give me the standard approach!’ An SME has got thus far precisely by being intelligent, innovative and opportunistic – the owner(s) will expect the same from their tech support. It might demand a bit of midnight oil or occasional cost-cutting here in exchange for a bump up in price there. Still, help should have the ability to see a bigger picture and be amenable to stepping out of conventional paradigms at times. Caring assistance is priceless, and worthwhile clients will know it.
Communication skills. Probably more vital in IT than many other industries, communication skills are more than merely progress reporting, as essential as that is. The ability to hear the client’s issue and take the shortest route to satisfaction is paramount in an industry so jargonised and easy to misinterpret.
One or two items on the above lists might need tweaking to fit your specific industry, but any SME should be able to tick most boxes with a solid ‘yes.’ Taken as a whole, the above attributes constitute professionalism.
That’s it in a nutshell: SMEs need a competent and professional IT support partner. One that has the authority and ability to address all the IT issues the company will face, fix issues as they arise, and look ahead to optimise systems for their clients’ success.