Written by Noel Thompson, Director of South Africa

Your IT infrastructure is the lifeblood of your business, it keeps your people operational, allows the delivery of services and enables you to communicate and collaborate effectively. Without the right support, IT can turn from your greatest asset into your worst nightmare. With over 69% of UK companies outsourcing their IT support, how can you ensure you pick the right partner?

No matter the size of your business your IT infrastructure is made up of numerous components, from desktop devices to cloud servers and from software licenses to data centres. Managing your IT assets and responding to technical issues is a full-time job – so don’t do it alone.

Outsourced IT support can help you decrease IT downtime, increase productivity, reduce costs and maximise the efficiency of your IT investments. Plus, with your internal resources free to focus on more strategic IT tasks you can leverage new technology to digitally transform your business.

Finding the right IT provider to manage your estate can be tricky. In this blog, we outline 10 questions to ask your outsourced IT Support to ensure you receive the best service.

1) What makes your service different?

Every IT provider will say they have excellent customer service but finding vendors that successfully demonstrate this can be difficult.  According to a recent study, a customer is four times more likely to switch to a competitor if the problem they’re having is service-based. Before you commit to a provider take the time to understand whether they have:

  • Expertise within your sector – Certain sectors will have very specific expectations. Working with a partner that has experience in your sector and understands your unique challenges will greatly improve service levels. For example, the highly regulated financial services sector will require a partner with the right infrastructure and expertise to sufficiently protect information whilst responding to IT issues in a timely manner.
  • Certifications and Accreditations – Do you value efficiency, quality and security? A partner that shares these values will have the certifications to prove it. ISO 27001, the globally recognised security standard and ISO 9001, the standard for Quality Management Systems are two to look out for.
  • High customer satisfaction rates – Ask for evidence of service excellence. A good IT support provider will run regular customer satisfaction surveys and ask for customer feedback.
  • High employee retention rates – A high employee retention rate is a sign of good management, a positive culture and fulfilled employees. Happy staff are less likely to leave meaning the IT support team will get to know your systems inside out and build strong relationships with your people, ultimately improving service.

2) What is the escalation process for IT support issues?

Depending on your IT issue you will require different levels of support. The helpdesk will be your first line of assistance and will be equipped to deal with a variety of basic issues such as password resets, requests for information, device reboots and slow internet connections. Depending on the complexity and severity of the issue this will then be passed to a second and/or third-line escalation team.

A good IT support provider will have the tools and expertise to remediate problems remotely, but it is also important to have some level of onsite support for more serious incidents.

Some additional questions to help you gauge how effective the support service will be:

  • How often are cases fixed remotely while I am on the phone with an engineer?
  • What is your average time to answer a call?
  • What is your case reopen rate?
  • What sort of internal training do your engineers go through when they start?
  • What is your internal escalation process?

To give you some benchmarks, at Conosco we aim for:

  • 96% remote fix rate – meaning the majority of incidents are fixed over the phone.
  • 26 seconds to answer a call (although this is closer to 11 seconds) – 60% of customers feel that long holds and wait times are the most frustrating part of a service experience. With Conosco you’ll never be kept waiting.
  • 4% case reopen rate – showing that once fixed, incidents are not re-occurring.

3) What are your SLA’s?

SLAs are a critical component of the contract with your technology vendor. They define the service expectation and layout metrics for measuring performance. They also provide remedies or penalties for when service levels are not achieved.

Many IT vendors will have standard SLAs, however, if the customer is demanding a metric that is unachievable, it is an opportunity for the IT provider to review their SLAs or modify the solution. There should also be an element of flexibility. If your business expands and you take on additional people, your SLAs will need to scale with you.

SLAs are put in place to protect the IT support provider and the customer. Without them, there is room for misinterpretation and a lack of accountability which can have a negative impact on service delivery and customer experience.

When agreeing IT support SLAs ask the following questions:

  • How do you define a high priority case? (Many businesses will use the ITIL standard to create an urgency matrix; P1 is a high impact, high urgency case that needs a quick response and fix, whilst P5 will be low priority and therefore the fix time will be longer)
  • What is your typical response time?
  • What is your fix time depending on the priority matrix (P1, P2…)
  • How often are you reaching these?
  • Do you have an SLA for change requests, if so, what are they and how often do you meet them?
  • Can we escalate cases that are not being dealt with quick enough, and if so what would be the process?

A standard response/fix SLA may look like this:

Priority Response Time Fix Time
P1 30 mins 5 hours
P2 30 mins 9 hours
P3 30 mins 18 hours
P4 30 mins 45 hours
P5 30 mins 90 hours

4) Who will be our main point of contact?

A good outsourced IT vendor will offer a dedicated Account Manager who will be your main point of contact and is responsible for setting up regular calls and meetings to ensure you are happy with your service. They will also help you develop your IT infrastructure over time.

At Conosco we differentiate our IT support by offering Technical Account Managers (TAMs) who have the expertise to support both non-technical and technical queries. Passionate technologists, the TAMs provide C-level consultancy and will review the clients IT strategy, helping them build a roadmap with recommendations on future-proofing their IT estate.

5) Will you provide us with client references?

Customer reviews are the best way to ensure your chosen provider is the right fit for you. Whilst case studies and testimonials provide strong written evidence, always ask for references so that you can get in touch directly and ask some of the more difficult questions.

Customers are more likely to give an open and honest review and will highlight pain points and challenges giving you a complete view of the IT providers capabilities. Interestingly 67% of B2B buyers want to see a mix of both positive and negative reviews.

Questions to ask a client referral:

  • Are you happy with the service you receive?
  • How was the onboarding process?
  • Have you had any problems with the IT provider and if so how did they overcome them?
  • Would you recommend the IT vendor?
  • How long have you been working with them?
  • What other services do they provide beyond IT support?
  • Why did you choose them over the competition?

6) Will you have experience with all the systems and software we use?

According to a study by Salesforce, 76% of B2B buyers expect businesses to know their unique needs and expectations. A partner that takes the time to understand your business and integrate themselves into your ways of working will be better equipped to support your IT environment

Whilst knowledge of your systems and software is desirable it is not always possible for your chosen vendor to have experience with every single one. Here are a few things to consider:

Can the IT vendor support your core systems?

By core systems, we are referring to vital infrastructure such as laptops and desktop devices. For example, if you work for a Marketing Agency the majority of your employees may use Apple hardware, therefore you will need an IT partner that has sufficient resource and expertise to deal with Mac issues.

Is the IT vendor willing to adopt our existing tooling?

Chances are you will be using legacy systems or software applications that your IT provider may not have experience with. Just because the MSP is not familiar with the tooling doesn’t mean it needs to be replaced.

A good outsourced IT provider should be willing to adopt your existing systems and work within them. This may require additional training to upskill their team or additional integration tools, but it certainly doesn’t mean you need to replace what you have. If it’s not broken, why fix it.

Will your engineers work with our 3rd party vendors to resolve technical issues on our behalf?

A Managed Service Provider should be willing to work with your third-party vendors to resolve issues on your behalf. They will also be responsible for reviewing and renewing licenses.

7) Will our data be secure?

Cyber security is a top priority for all businesses. Many IT providers will offer security components as part of the standard support package. For example firewall configuration, incident response, backup solutions and vulnerability patching are necessary to protect data and hardware.

Depending on your business model and sector you may require more advanced security services. An IT vendor that operates a Security Operation Centre (SOC) will be able to provide sophisticated monitoring, alerting and remediation to help you protect your defences and respond to threats.

Many service providers will also put solutions and documentation in place to ensure you are GDPR compliant.

 

8) Are our users able to provide feedback?

Customer feedback is essential to guide innovation and help businesses develop their service.

Your chosen vendor should provide multiple opportunities for you to give an open and honest review, whether it’s via a questionnaire, NPS (Net Promoter Score) Surveys or at an Account Management meeting. The majority of Managed Service Providers will also ask for feedback once a case is closed allowing you to express your thoughts on how well incidents were dealt with.

However, there is no point in collecting feedback data if your IT supplier isn’t going to act on it. Find out how your supplier deals with positive and negative comments. Are negative comments escalated to line management? Are they thoroughly investigated and used to drive account decisions?

9) Besides IT support will you help with IT strategy and project delivery?

The IT landscape is constantly evolving. Businesses that fail to digitally transform and update legacy systems risk operational inefficiency and competitive disadvantage. Your outsourced IT provider is there to support your current IT infrastructure and guide your future IT investments. As IT continues to play a more strategic role, businesses must align technology spend with wider business objectives and improve ROI.

A service provider should offer more than emergency support. They should have the expertise to help you formulate an IT strategy that shapes the direction of your IT investments and allows you to innovate fast. They should also have specialised skills to help you implement other projects such as cloud migrations, network configurations, cyber security initiatives and analytical work.

10) Do you offer 24×7 Support and how does it work?

As employees embrace flexible working, traditional office hours have become blurred with many people choosing to work late into the evening or even on weekends. What’s more with globalisation and on-demand services, IT systems are expected to be fully operational all year round.

24/7 IT support ensures IT systems are monitored and maintained 24 hours a day 365 days a year (including on national holidays) minimising the risk of IT downtime and guaranteeing business continuity and a fast resolution to IT problems.

Many IT vendors claim to offer out of hours support, but in order to provide true 24/7 IT support the service provider must ensure it has sufficient resources to cover three separate 8 hour shifts and enough staff to cover multiple time zones including ample overflow to accommodate busy periods.

 

Your outsourced IT support does much more than respond to service issues; they are responsible for maintaining vital infrastructure, securing corporate networks and ensuring you have solid foundations on which to grow.

Conosco’s IT support covers a broad range of services. From strategy to project delivery and from cyber security to 24/7 monitoring we’ll give you a truly managed experience.