SME Survival Guide: 10 things to look for in an IT support specialist
No matter the size of your SME, finding the right IT support partner to fulfil your needs can be tricky. Not only is it time-consuming to create a shortlist of companies you’d like to find out more from, but – as is the case with any service provider – it can be difficult to deduce whether they’ll be able to walk the walk after talking the talk.
A crucial aspect of the search process is working out what you need from an IT support specialist. So, to help you along your way to finding the right partner for your company, we’ve collated the top ten things you should look for:
- Great communicationWhen you first set out to source an IT partner, it’s vital that they understand what your needs are and can explain to you – in simple terms – how they will be able to meet these. Having a face-to-face meeting is always a good idea in this respect, and it’s important to ask who your designated point of contact will be further down the line. Knowing exactly how your support will be managed and who will be taking care of it is crucial.
- TransparencyTo the uninitiated, IT service package lingo can literally seem like another language. And where there’s confusion surrounding technical concepts, it can be easy for those in the know to talk you into bolt-ons that you don’t actually need. It goes without saying that you want a provider that’s not only open with you about which services are essential to your business, but also transparent about how much they’ll cost.
- ProactivityForward planning and responsiveness aren’t just nice-to-haves where IT support is concerned – they’re essential. If your SME was to suffer a network outage or data breach, you want the reassurance that your IT provider would be there to take the necessary steps to mitigate any disruption or damage, and get your systems back up and running without delay. Be sure to ask potential partners about typical response times and how they deal with urgent requests – especially out of hours!
Just as no two SMEs are the same, managed IT support providers aren’t all created equal. The best ones will make the effort to get to know your specific requirements and be happy to map out and deliver a tailored service that’s designed purely for your business. There may even be aspects that you haven’t realised you need help with – whether that’s cloud computing, back-ups and recovery, cyber-security or something else entirely – so you’ll want a partner that will be able to recommend and deliver other beneficial services, without pushing you into paying for more than you need.
- Proven expertiseWhether in the form of accreditations or experience – or, ideally, both – genuine know-how is a crucial box that your IT provider needs to tick. Having said that, certifications and a long history of helping companies means nothing if the firm isn’t up to speed with the latest developments, so be sure to find out more about the services they offer and who they’ve helped. Which brings us onto…
- Glowing client feedbackSometimes customer retention rates speak for themselves, but even if the provider you’re looking at hasn’t lost a client in the past five years, it’s a good idea to dig a little deeper and ask for testimonials – or to speak directly to those currently using their services if you can. Nothing gives a better indication of performance than feedback straight from the horse’s mouth, and trustworthy providers who are doing a good job will have neigh – sorry, no – problem putting you directly in touch with existing clients.
- Straightforward processesFrom logging technical issues to scheduling updates, knowing what form your provider’s support will take is really important. Not only will you need to factor these new processes into your day-to-day business operations, but you’ll have to make all employees aware of the procedures they’ll be required to follow too. Simple tends to be better in this respect – whether that means having one number to call in an emergency or a single email address to direct non-urgent requests to.
- Size and scalabilityAs your SME grows, your IT infrastructure will inevitably need to as well. Even if you’re not currently looking to scale up, seeking assistance from a provider whose services and support can grow with your business is important for the future. The size of potential partners is therefore a key consideration too – if they’re a tiny team, will they be able to provide the level of service you require? And what happens if someone is ill or goes on holiday? That’s not to say size is everything – small providers can deliver a personalised service and even act as a bolt-on IT team for your SME – but they must be able to fulfil your needs. So, these might seem like insignificant questions, but asking them will certainly help you avoid any surprises down the line.
- A good fit (in more ways than one!)Finding a provider that’s a good fit for your SME in terms of size, support and values might seem like a big ask, but it’s a crucial one. For small business owners, partnering with any support provider entails a great deal of trust that they will deliver on their promises. So finding the right IT specialist for your company – that you can 100% rely on – often comes down to sharing the same values and making clear agreements from the offset. Whether this entails more formal arrangements such as having a fixed term contract in place or laying out SLAs (Service Level Agreements) is largely up to you, but both parties should know what’s expected – as well as what great IT support looks like.
- Happy to helpThere’s nothing worse than feeling like you can’t pick up the phone when you have a problem, or like your issues won’t be taken seriously. We didn’t want to add “friendly” to this checklist for fear of marring the other, highly professional criteria we’ve set out..! But do bear in mind that you can’t just enlist a specialist and then forget about them – outsourcing IT support is an ongoing professional relationship, so having respect and good rapport with your provider makes it better for both sides. Plus, having someone on the end of the phone who’s happy to go out of their way to assist you with any issues, and able to explain updates or solutions in plain English, is a huge bonus.
On the lookout for an IT support provider? We know just the people who could help! Get in touch with one of our communicative, transparent, proactive, flexible, expert, excellently reviewed, scalable, suitable, happy to help and – yes – friendly team, to chat through your requirements.