Asking the right questions can make selecting the right IT support provider for you and/or your business a much easier process. As an IT support business striving to provide a great service to our customers we love being asked tricky questions as we’re confident we can answer them. Here is a list of the questions we think will help you sort the wheat from the chaff.
1. Can you provide me with some reference companies to speak to?
Everybody knows that there’s no greater measure of a company’s ability to deliver than through referral so always ask for a number of references. You don’t have to call them all but if they can provide a few to select from it will instantly give you confidence.
And for those you do speak to, here are a few potential questions you could ask:
- Do they deliver what they promised?
- Are they responsive and easy to get hold of?
- Do they communicate well – letting you know what’s happening with issues?
- Do they stay within the projected budget?
- Would you use them again?
2. How big is your company?
IT support companies vary enormously but as they grow, their ability to offer more solutions or products increases, as does their knowledge base. Conversely, the “one man band” will struggle to provide a truly great service as there will always be times when they have to deal with another customer or they’re ill or on holiday.
However, this doesn’t mean you should necessarily choose for the biggest company you can as extremely large companies can sometimes be faceless and lack the ability to understand you and your requirements.
Just be confident the company can meet all your needs with the number of staff they have. You should weigh up the pros and cons.
3. Is your business insured and if so for how much?
Things can go wrong and you want to ensure the company you deal with is adequately insured for any eventuality. It should be at least a £1,000,000 professional indemnity package.
4. Do you offer different levels of support?
Many IT support companies offer a choice of service levels to suit different budgets and requirements. These may include:
- pay-as-you-go support, where you pay an hourly rate or a fixed price – this is usually the more expensive option in the long run
- break-fix support, which can be charged hourly, either paid in advance or afterwards. It can also be offered on a fixed-price contract, like an insurance policy
- managed service support, where the support company actively manages your systems to reduce the chance of things going wrong. This usually involves signing an annual contract – see question 5.
5. Do your contracts tie me in for a specific period?
Most IT support companies provide contracts with a minimum time commitment or long cancellation periods. If they don’t provide a good service you want the ability to stop using them so look for companies with a short minimum term and short cancellation period. Ideally 1 month for both.
6. What are your response times?
You should expect your support company to offer some sort of reasonable response time in the case of a problem with your IT network. This may vary depending on what level of support you are willing to pay for.
However, remember that a “guaranteed response time” is exactly that – it only guarantees that they won’t ignore you and will start doing something with your problem.
Also, be wary of companies that guarantee to resolve problems within a certain period as this is invariably a hollow guarantee, because sometimes it can take much longer than expected to get to the root of problems.
7. Will we get a dedicated account manager?
It’s good to have a high level single point of contact within the IT support company with who you can build a long term relationship with. They will get to know your business and your plans and so can work with you to ensure your IT accommodates these. It is reasonable to expect one or two permanent contacts that you can deal with.
8. Will I get a dedicated engineer?
It’s unreasonable to expect you’ll always deal with the same engineer, because most support companies allocate work to engineers best suited to each particular job. However, this is still a good question to ask – if they say ‘yes’, consider why this is. Do they only have a limited number of experienced staff?
9. When I phone, will I speak directly to a technician who can help?
Many IT support companies will operate call centres as the first point of contact, manned by people with limited or no technical knowledge. They will often take details of your issue and pass this onto a second tier of technicians. This may then be further escalated to a third tier. There is nothing more frustrating than being passed around so check that the company you are considering provides you with direct access to the technical people.
10. How can we log support calls with you?
When you have an IT problem, it’s really frustrating when you can’t get hold of the person you employ to fix it. Make sure your support company either has a dedicated number with someone always available to answer, or another facility such as an online form or email address that goes straight to the support team. Ideally you should have all three of these options.
11. Can we only call when we have a problem?
Does the IT support company you are considering only help with problems as they arise or do they offer additional support with common IT problems such as “How do I do this in Word?” Any additional assistance an IT support company can give to help your staff is clearly useful and makes the investment in the support even more viable.
12. Can I see the IT systems you use?
Would you use a dentist with bad teeth? Probably not! When using an IT support company it makes sense to see how they use technology to be efficient and provide a great service. If they don’t have a CRM system, an effective email system and possibly other systems such as remote management and monitoring, then are they likely to be the best IT support company to deal with?
13. Do you supply hardware as well as support?
Even if you purchase all your computer equipment from a different supplier, it’s still good to know that your support company can replace any faulty parts themselves.
And when it is time to replace your hardware, you may feel better knowing the people who are supporting it have recommended, supplied and installed it – giving you a single point of contact if something goes wrong.
14. How and when will I be charged?
IT Support company terms vary, but generally expect 15 to 30 day payment terms for one off ad-hoc work. Support contracts tend to be paid monthly, quarterly or annually and usually payable in advance.
15. What exactly do you support in your contract (and does it include peripherals such as printers, mobiles, etc)?
Most IT support companies will cover labour charges on any incident that relates to hardware or specified software and some also include mileage and travel time to and from your premises (if an on-site visit is required). However, support for custom software that was built by another company is unlikely to be included so be wary of any support company that claims “we support it all” – do they really?
Also, many support companies charge extra for devices that connect to the main computers such as printers, scanners, mobiles, etc. If, for example, you have a problem getting emails on your mobile, or even want it setting up to access your emails, will the IT support company help and is it included in the support or an extra?
16. What isn’t covered in the support contract?
Although this is technically question 15 in reverse, the information it reveals can be very useful. The list could be very long but you need to know examples of things that you may be charged for. For example, if your server fails and needs replacing, will its installation be covered by the contract, or will it cost extra? Asking what the support contract includes may not necessarily bring out this detail.
17. Do you provide remote management and monitoring?
Many IT support companies still operate an on-site break-fix service and offer little in terms of remote management and monitoring, whilst others offer 24/7 monitoring and pro-actively take action (often remotely) to prevent problems before they cause major issues to your business. As they say, prevention is better than cure, and this is no truer than with IT systems.
For example, they may be able to spot that a disk drive is about to fail and then back up the data before it’s too late. Remote management can also reduce the time it takes to fix things and cut any related travel costs.
18. Do they have testimonials and case studies from other satisfied customers?
There’s nothing better than seeing real existing customers tell you what the support company has done for them and why they are happy with them. Just beware of testimonials that are attributed to vague people, such as Mr A. Smith, or that are completely anonymous – you need to check that these are real people and real customers.
19. Tell me about your partnership with other IT companies?
The best IT support companies will focus on maintenance and support of IT Infrastructures. They know what they are good at and stick to it.
To ensure you receive the best support they will take time to forge professional and trusted relationships with other IT companies that specialise in related fields such as cabling, telecoms, web design, etc. They aren’t afraid to sub-contract or refer you to a trusted third party who can deliver the best in their field.
Most good IT support companies will also manage your relationship with your existing providers. This means you no longer need to telephone BT to spend time in a queue working out why your Broadband isn’t working – your IT provider should manage that job for you.
Ask about how a “total” support service is provided and question any business that either says “That’s not what we do” or “We do everything ourselves”, as both extremes can be potentially risky.
20. What do you believe makes your service unique?
It’s a tricky question for any service provider but a great one to bring out true differentiators. However, watch out for vague clichés like value, quality, commitment and service. You want to hear something beginning with, “Only we can …”