Here are five questions to ask a potential IT support services supplier to make sure you get the best partnership for your business.
1. What is covered by the service agreement?When you enter a support service agreement, it is essential that you know exactly what you are getting for your money. There is nothing worse than encountering an IT problem, calling your support provider and then learning that the affected equipment or software falls outside the terms of your agreement. Resolving such issues then costs significantly more in terms of time and money as you negotiate a contract extension or one-off cost to cover the fix. Worse still, the longer those negotiations take, the longer the period of outage. Always ensure that you are crystal clear about what is and is not covered under the terms of a support contract to avoid costly arguments later on.
2. What service levels can we expect?When paying for support, your business needs to know it has partnered with a business that understands your IT priorities and can respond accordingly. Reputable IT support service companies provide service level guarantees as part of their contracts and agreements. Service Level Agreements (SLAs) specify how long it will take for your IT support provider to respond to and fix problems that you report. You should check any proposed SLA for:
- Response times – how long it will take for your partner to acknowledge the problem;
- Fix times – the time frame in which your partner guarantees a fix; and
- How downtime is calculated – this could make a significant difference in terms of value to you, the customer.
3. Can we negotiate the terms of the SLA?The service agreement and accompanying SLA should be mutually beneficial for both your business and the services supplier. It is not in the interests of a provider to agree terms they can never fulfil, nor is it in your interests for response and fix times to be too lenient. You need to be able to renegotiate the terms of any agreement to ensure that you are getting the service your business needs to succeed with IT. You should also look for, and discuss, any clauses within SLAs that involve additional charges for work falling outside the scope of the agreement. ‘It is absolutely essential that all of the services described in the SLA have a customer orientation.’ Want to derail your SLA? Make these five mistakes – TechRepublic.com
4. Can we speak to your existing customers?Glossy brochures, shiny PowerPoint presentations and a slick website are all tools for helping to establish business credibility, but nothing beats a genuine customer testimonial. As a result, the same brochures, presentations and webpages contain short quotes from satisfied customers chosen to reflect services and staff in the best light. However, quotes and sentiments can quickly go out of date, no longer reflecting a customer’s feelings about the service. Ask any potential support provider if you can speak to their existing customers to find out their experiences of the service. You should be very wary of any provider who refuses such a request as it suggests that customers may not be entirely happy. ‘The vendor’s customer sites that you visit will not be random selections. Vendors will only send you to happy customers. However, wouldn’t you do the same? Keep this in mind when visiting these customer sites. Make sure you find out about both the positives and negatives of working with this vendor and its technology.’ Allen Eskilin, IT Manager at Starbucks
5. What qualifications do your staff hold?Technology is complex and continually evolving – probably one of the many reasons you are looking for an IT support provider. As such you need to be confident that your supplier is fully competent with the computer software and hardware used by your business. The best way to gauge such competence is to see whether technicians, consultants and account managers hold industry standard certifications which prove they have the skills necessary to support your systems and staff properly. You should ask any prospective supplier:
- Exactly which certifications do your staff hold?
- Do you regularly renew qualifications as new technologies become available? and
- What sort of internal training programme do you have in place?
- What is, and is not, included in your service agreements?
- What are the specific terms of your SLAs?
- Can we negotiate service terms that suit us both?
- Can we speak to some of your customers? and
- Could you please demonstrate your commitment to ongoing staff development?
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