Choosing the wrong IT company to support your business can be incredibly frustrating and expensive, and could end up costing you in downtime, data loss, and expensive bills, not to mention the headaches and frustration!
So I’m going to share with you what every business owner needs to know about hiring an honest, competent, responsive and fairly priced IT support company. Continue reading and you’ll learn:
- Questions that will help you spot unethical or grossly incompetent IT support technicians.
- Costly misconceptions most business owners have about IT support.
- Viruses, worms, spyware, phishing, and hackers: What you need to know to protect yourself.
- Mistakes to avoid when choosing an IT support company.
- Why “cheap” or “lowest price” IT companies aren’t the bargain they initially appear to be.
Choosing an IT support company isn’t easy. There’s no shortage of horror stories about IT “gurus” bungling jobs and causing more problems than they fix as a result of their lack of business ethics or through gross incompetence. I’m sure if you talk to your own friends and colleagues you will get an earful of the unfortunate experiences they have encountered in this area.
Why is this? Because the IT industry, along with a lot of other industries, has its own share of incompetent or unethical businesses that will try to take advantage of trusting business owners who simply do not have the ability to determine whether or not the technician knows what they are doing. Sometimes this is out of greed, but more often, it’s simply because they don’t have the skills and competency to do the job right, but won’t tell you that up front. From misleading information and unqualified technicians, to poor management and terrible customer service, we’ve seen it all… and we know they exist in abundance because we’ve had a number of clients come to us to clean up the disasters they have caused.
Pretty much ANYONE can claim they are an “IT support expert.” It’s just that easy. Too many of the businesses in my industry got started because the owner was FIRED or laid off from their job and couldn’t find work anywhere else. What does that say about their expertise and capabilities? And even if they are honestly trying to do a good job for you, their inexperience can cost you dearly in your network’s speed and performance or in lost or corrupt data files.
That’s why I am sharing the following 21 Questions You Should Ask Any IT Company Before Hiring Them To Support Your Network.
Q1: Do they answer their phones live, or do you have to leave a voicemail and wait for someone to call you back?
We answer our phones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Why? Because many of the CEOs and executives we support work outside normal hours and find it the most productive time they have. If they cannot access their computer network AND can’t get hold of anyone to help them, it’s incredibly frustrating.
Q2: Do they have a written, guaranteed response time to your calls?
We guarantee to have you speaking with our staff within minutes of your call during business hours, and we provide 24 x 7 support for after-hour emergencies. It’s that simple.
Q3: Do they take the time to explain what they are doing and answer your questions in terms that you can understand (not geek-speak), or do they come across as arrogant and make you feel stupid for asking simple questions?
Our technicians are trained to have the “heart of a teacher” and will take time to answer your questions and explain everything in non-technical terms.
Q4: Do they consistently (and proactively) offer new ways to improve your network’s performance, or do they wait until you have a problem to make recommendations?
We conduct regular Business Review meetings with our clients to look for new ways to help improve their operations, lower costs, increase efficiencies, and most importantly, to make sure that your IT platform is properly able to support your business operations. Our goal with these meetings is to help our clients be more profitable, efficient and competitive.
Q5: Do they provide detailed invoices that clearly explain what you are paying for?
We provide detailed invoices that show what work was done, why and when, so you never have to guess what you are paying for.
Q6: Do they have adequate Errors and Omissions insurance as well as Workers’ Compensation insurance to protect you?
Here’s something to consider: if they cause a problem with your network that causes you to be down for hours or days or to lose data, who’s responsible? Here’s another question to consider: if one of their technicians gets hurt at your office, who’s paying? In this litigious society, you need to make sure the company you hire is adequately insured with both Errors and Omissions insurance and Workers’ Compensation, and don’t be shy about asking to see their latest insurance policies.
True story: Some years back, Geek Squad was slapped with multimillion-dollar lawsuits from customers for bad behavior by their technicians. In some cases, their techs were accessing, copying and distributing personal information they gained access to on customers’ PCs and laptops brought in for repairs. In other cases, they lost a client’s laptop (and subsequently all the data on it) and tried to cover it up. Bottom line: make sure the company you are hiring has proper insurance to protect you.
Q7: Do they guarantee to complete projects on time and on budget?
We believe that most projects should be either fixed-priced or “not-to-exceed,” and should be guaranteed to be completed on time, in writing. This is important because many unethical or incompetent IT companies will only quote “time and materials,” which gives them free rein to nickel-and-dime you as well as take as much time as they want on completing a project.
Maintenance of Your Network:
Q8: Do they INSIST on remotely monitoring your network 24/7/365 to keep critical security software, virus definitions and security patches up-to-date and PREVENT small problems from turning into downtime, viruses, lost data and other issues?
Our remote network monitoring system watches over your network to constantly look for developing problems, security issues and other problems so we can address them BEFORE they turn into bigger problems. If you come across an IT support company that doesn’t insist on this, beware. They either haven’t invested the tens of thousands of dollars required to provide proactive remote network monitoring, or just don’t know how to do it.
Q9: Do they provide you with monthly reports that show the updates, security patches and the status of every machine on your network so you know for SURE your systems have been secured and updated?
Every month our clients have the option to receive detailed reports that show an overall health score of their network and the updates to their antivirus, security settings, patches and other important network checks (like hard-drive space, backups, speed and performance, etc.).
Q10: Is it standard procedure for them to provide you with written network documentation detailing what software licenses you own, critical passwords, user information, hardware inventory, etc., or are they the only ones with the “keys to the kingdom?”
All clients should receive this documentation in written and electronic form – at no additional cost. We also perform periodic updates on this material and make sure certain key people in your organization have this information and know how to use it, giving you complete control over your network.
Side note: You should NEVER allow an IT person to have that much control over you and your company. If you suspect that your current IT person is keeping this under their control as a means of job security, get rid of them (a competent IT support firm can help to make sure you don’t suffer any ill effects). This is downright unethical and dangerous to your organization, so don’t tolerate it!
Q11: Do they have multiple technicians on staff that are familiar with your network?
We keep detailed network documentation (basically a blueprint of your computer network) and updates on every client’s account, so any of our technicians can pick up where another one has left off.
Q12: When they offer an “all-inclusive” support plan, is it TRULY all-inclusive, or are there “gotchas” hidden in the fine print?
Our Unlimited Support plan is just that – unlimited. These are actually a good thing because they’ll save you a lot of money in the long run – however, make sure you REALLY understand what is and isn’t included. Some things to consider are:
- Is phone/e-mail Help Desk support included or extra?
- What about adding or removing users?
- Is hardware and/or software included?
- What are the costs/consequences of early cancellation?
- What if you aren’t happy with their services? Do they offer a money-back guarantee?
- If the hardware and software is included, what happens if you cancel the contract?
- Are cloud-based, monitored and managed backups included? Do they periodically test the restoration process? To what degree?
- If you have a major disaster, is restoring your network included or extra?
- What about on-site support calls? Or support to remote offices?
- What about support for smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices?
Backups and Disaster Recovery:
Q13: Do they INSIST on monitoring a properly architected (on-site and cloud-based) backup, or are they letting you rely on outdated tape backups?
We do not allow our clients to use tape backups because they are incredibly unreliable… they will fail, sooner or later. While our cloud computing clients are always covered by extensive backups, we make sure that our clients with on-premise servers have, at a minimum, a cloud-based offsite backup solution in place. Backup plans need to designed around your company’s tolerance for downtime. If your IT firm hasn’t asked you about this, beware.
Q14: Do they INSIST on doing periodic test restores of your backups to make sure the data is not corrupt and could be restored in the event of a disaster?
We perform periodic “fire drills” and perform a test restore from backup for our clients to make sure their data can be recovered in the event of an emergency. After all, the WORST time to “test” a backup is when you desperately need it.
Q15: Do they insist on backing up your network BEFORE performing any type of project or upgrade?
We do, and that’s simply as a precaution in case a hardware failure or software glitch causes a major problem.
Q16: If you were to experience a major disaster, do you have a written plan for how your data can be quickly restored and/or one that enables you to work from a remote location?
Most clients engage us to provide, at a minimum, a simple disaster recovery plan for their data and network. We encourage them to engage us to prepare a full disaster recovery plan for their office, but at a minimum, their network will be covered should something happen.
Technical Expertise and Support:
Q17: Is their help desk US-based, or is it outsourced to an overseas company or third party?
We provide our own in-house help desk and make sure the folks helping you are friendly and knowledgeable. We consider this one of the most important aspects of customer service, plus we feel it’s important for keeping your data secure.
Q18: Do their technicians maintain current vendor certifications and participate in ongoing training – or are they learning on your dime?
Our technicians are required to keep up-to-date vendor certifications in the software we support. Plus, our hiring process is so stringent, most of the technicians who apply don’t make it through.
Q19: Do their technicians arrive on time?
Our technicians are true professionals that you would be proud to have in your office. They dress professionally, show up on time, and if they cannot (for some odd, unforeseen reason), we always notify the client immediately. We believe these are minimum requirements for delivering a professional service.
Q20: Are they familiar with (and can they support) your unique Line-Of-Business applications?
We own the problems with all Line-Of-Business applications for our clients. That doesn’t mean we can fix faulty software – but we WILL use our extensive software experience and be the liaison between you and your vendor to resolve problems you are having and make sure these applications work as smoothly as possible for you.
Q21: When something goes wrong with your Internet service, phone systems, printers or other IT services, do they own the problem or do they say, “That’s not our problem to fix?”
We feel WE should own the problem for our clients so they don’t have to try and resolve any of these issues on their own – that’s just plain old good service and something many IT firms won’t do.
Questions? Call me personally at 973-944-5000 or e-mail me at EBerk@CertusTechnologies.com.
About The Author
Evan Berk is Managing Partner at Certus Technologies, an IT Managed and Cloud Services firm that specializes in helping clients dramatically improve their business productivity.
Evan is passionate about simplifying and demystifying complex Information Technology systems and believes that the best IT systems should make our lives easier and more productive, both in the workplace and at home. He can be contacted at EBerk@CertusTechnologies.com or at 973-944-5000.