Top 11 Questions for Vetting Your IT Service Provider

Craig Pollack | Dec 05, 2017

I've met with many potential clients over the years. However, it's rare that I hear a new question. Unfortunately, what I usually hear is the wrong set of questions. The questions that these clients ask often reveal how their previous company failed them. But, this really doesn't provide a well-rounded, thorough evaluation.

One of the worst questions asked  is “how much will this cost?” My immediate thought to this question is that “the lower the price, the more it will cost”.  In the long run, short-term savings by selecting the cheapest option could cost a lot more because of data breaches, service outages, and a host of other problems.

To ensure you’re working with the right IT service provider, it’s important to ask these 11 questions when choosing the right one for your business.

1. How Long Have You Been in Business?

FPA IT Services.jpgThe amount of time an IT service provider has been in business speaks volumes about their experience and stability.

FPA Technology Services has been around since 1991. Our team has lived through all of the different flavors of Microsoft Windows and the related update and upgrade challenges. Over the years, FPA has seen software solutions like Novell, WordPerfect, and Lotus 123 come and go. Yet, FPA is still here, helping LA businesses handle their IT demands.

A newer IT service company might not have the track record and experience necessary to handle legacy systems that are no longer supported, or to deal with regular service requirements in an effective and timely manner. Unlike many of our competitors, we take a “business before technology” approach when handling our clients’ IT needs to ensure they stay focused on achieving their business objectives.

2. How Big Are You?

When you contract the services of an external IT service partner, will they have the staff and resources on hand to process your needs internally, or will they have to outsource their work to a third party? An IT service provider that has too few internal staff members to handle your requirements translates into delayed or lower-quality service—costing your organization time and money.

At FPA, our team is 25 strong, and we have more than 15 dedicated technical staff ranging from remote desktop support experts to network engineers and senior project managers. As such, unlike other companies, we never outsource any of our day-to-day functions and can still provide the individualized personal service that you would expect from our dedicated IT service experts.

3. What is Your Background and Expertise?

How did you get to where you are? What is your background like? Why are you doing what you're doing? Does your team consist of "techs” who started out playing with computers or are they computer professionals? Do you carry industry standard vendor certifications?  If so, are they current?

The importance of asking these questions of any service provider can’t be understated. Any IT service provider’s staff should certainly have the technical chops needed — which we have, and then some! — but it takes more than that. At FPA, our business-first approach to IT services means always approaching things from the application side and paying attention to how the system impacts the business. For us, the underlying technology is a tool rather than the entirety of what we offer because, first and foremost, we are business consultants.

4. What is Your Business Knowledge?

Beyond supporting technology, how well does the service provider understand running a business? Your IT service provider needs to understand the day-to-day factors impacting the goal of running a profitable business: planning, budgeting, managing, leading, hiring, training, retaining, spending, investing, managing growth, etc.

Fortunately, because we view ourselves as trusted advisors for our clients, we believe that we offer more than simply technology services. Everything we do is framed around the business perspective. Discussions with clients should utilize business terms. The best business IT partners are constantly looking for ways to help clients become more effective, more efficient, and, ultimately, more profitable. After all, at FPA it’s always, “Business Before Technology — We Get IT!”

5. How Accessible Are You?

What are the provider’s office hours? When you call in, will you get voicemail or will you reach a live person? What about after hours? How can you get in touch then? Do they have on-call staff you can reach in an emergency?

Ideally, any service provider should have office hours that at least closely match your own — or, better yet, start before and after your own business hours. FPA is open when you need us — from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Having live agents to help resolve issues quickly is another major plus. When you call us, you will be able to speak with a live person.

After hours, our voicemail system will send an email to our on-call staff — the same people you speak with during our operating hours — as soon as you leave a message. The more accessible a service provider is, the better they’ll be at handling your IT emergencies.

6. What Does Your Hiring Process Look Like?

A service provider’s hiring process can tell you a lot about the quality of their people and their ability to handle your IT needs.

Have they honed their hiring process to provide only the best and brightest people with the technical chops, business acumen, and innate character needed to excel at the highest levels? In addition to the standard interviews, background checks and reference checks, does their process include an in-depth online and in-person technical assessment, an online workplace assessment, a DISC assessment and multiple levels of interviews?

Any potential hires should have to run the proverbial gauntlet to ensure that the service provider is starting with only the strongest and most capable candidates out there.

7. What Does Your Training Process Look Like?

Does the IT provider have a formal process around how they get their staff up to speed? And, exactly how do they measure what this means?

FPA university.jpg

FPA has its own “FPA University” which, in addition to technical classes, also contains classes detailing FPA’s processes, systems, and methodologies. FPAU also has classes covering consulting techniques, business applications, vertical market specific concepts, and detailed ways to improve the staff's individual workflows (e.g.: how to be more effective in Office apps, how to better multi-task, how to improve communications, etc.).

After passing all of these classes, performing a minimum number of onsite shadowing visits, and developing required documentation, applicants must pass a technical and consulting “Final Exam.” Then, once onboard, each employee is provided an individual training budget reinforcing the need for personal growth through continuing education.

These are the measures that help ensure that only the best, brightest, and most highly motivated people will be the ones to handle your company’s IT challenges.

8. What Does Your Staff Retention Look Like?

How long do people stay with the service provider? If there's a lot of turnovers - why?

Every business will have at least some rate of attrition in their staffing. Over time, people will leave to take on new job opportunities, retire, or for other unpreventable reasons. However, when the rate of attrition is high—like most people quitting within a year—that could be a sign of trouble with the organization.

High turnover rates mean that you can’t count on working with the same team for long. It also means that you’ll have to frequently wait for new employees to get up to speed with your IT needs as replacements constantly have to be cycled in. Worse yet, if the company can’t keep new staff coming in as fast as they lose old ones, then you could be left underserved because of a shortage of skilled IT workers!

9. What Parts of the Work is Done Internally and What Parts Are Outsourced (like HelpDesk or NOC)?

Everything we do, we do ourselves. We own our own networks. More and more so-called “Managed Service Providers” (MSPs) are outsourcing key functions to lower costs. While it may make sense for the MSP, this doesn’t always result in a net benefit for you, the client. There’s an increased risk of delays in services and missed Service Level Agreements (SLAs) as more middle-men are added to the IT service arrangement.

10. What Do Your References Say About You?

It’s one thing for a business to make declarations about their service and quality—it’s another thing altogether when their customers have high praise for a managed service provider. So, be sure to ask for a list of references. Then, ask the references the tough questions, like:

  • What happens when things don't go right?
  • How does the IT solution provider handle it?
  • What happens when one of their staff members leaves suddenly?
  • How do they transfer the knowledge to the new person?
  • When was the last time their solution provider didn't come through for them?
  • How did they make it right? (Did they make it right?)
  • What do you think their solution provider should do more or less of?
  • What should they be doing better?

Find out why they went with that MSP in the first place and what keeps them using that same provider. You might be surprised by the results.

11. Do You Really Deliver? If so, what do You Deliver?

At FPA, Core Value #1 is “Take Care of the Client.” Note the use of the word “client” (not “customer”). This is a significant difference. Most, if not all, of our competitors use the word “customer.”

We build meaningful relationships with our clients that stand the test of time. We're not out to sell them anything. We make sure we’re doing what we say we’re going to do. We’re always open and honest.

We provide our Client WebPortal so that our clients can access every piece of information about their networks at any point in time. They can see what we see. We provide a dashboard so that clients can see metrics about their network and about our performance.

Beyond the behind the scenes maintenance, we provide network status and performance reports every month emailed to each client’s inbox. We make sure that we provide value in everything we do. Above and beyond all the platitudes, simply put, we come through.

How well is your IT service provider working for you?? How can they improve?  Let us know your thoughts or share your suggestions in the comments box below.

Guide to Selecting An IT Service Provider

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Author

Craig Pollack

Craig Pollack

Craig is the Founder & CEO of FPA Technology Services, Inc. Craig provides the strategy and direction for FPA, ensuring its clients, business owners, and key decision makers leverage technology as efficiently and effectively as possible. With over 25 years of experience building the preeminent IT Service Provider in the Southern California area, Craig is one of the area’s leading authorities on how small to mid-sized businesses can best secure and leverage their technology to achieve their business objectives.

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