Friday, April 26, 2013

SOP Friday: Assign Techs or Rotate Them?

There are two main schools of thought about the relationship between your technicians and your clients. One says that clients like to have a main tech they can count on, get to know, and feel comfortable with. The other says that rotating all techs between all clients provides overall better service in the long run.

There are plenty of side issues and consequences to the approach you adopt. Let's look at some of them.

Let me start off by saying that you need to talk to your clients and understand what they want before you assume that you know what they want. Don't have both sides of the conversation. Even if clients have an opinion, probe to determine how strongly held it is.

We sometimes assume that clients want something they have never asked for.

Example One: Sometimes we try to save the client money and we sell "cheaper" products even if they haven't asked for them.

Example Two: We frequently assume that every client request is high priority - especially if they call after hours.

Example Three: We sometimes assume that clients want super-personalized support so they're comfortable with a technician.

Those things might be true sometimes for some clients. But they are usually not true for most clients.


Assigning Technicians to Clients


I think the concept of assigning specific technicians to specific clients overflows from the world of Account Management. Account managers are used by larger firms to handle the entire client relationship, especially for larger clients. Account managers ride herd over the service department to make sure the client is happy. They meet regularly with the client to make sure all their needs are met. And they keep an eye out for all sales opportunities to make sure the client gets quotes in a timely manner.

In smaller firms, most or all of these duties are performed by the owner or service manager of the I.T. company. As you grow, it's tempting to hand some of these duties off to the salesman or the tech.

I have heard clients complain about companies that treat them like strangers. We just acquired a new client whose primary complaint about the old service provider was that they'd been with them for five years and no one knows who they are when they call. Neither company is very large, so there's just no excuse for that.

Experiences like this lead I.T. companies to assign techs. That way the tech gets to know the machines, the people, the configurations, and the quirky stuff within the network. And, to be honest, the quirky stuff within the personal relationships at that office.

Small business clients want to feel like they've got a relationship with their service providers. If you've got technicians with good people skills, assigning technicians to clients can really help keep that relationship strong.

The Downside to assigning techs should also be taken seriously. Almost every time I've heard about a technician leaving a company and trying to take clients with them, it was made possible because the technician was assigned to the client and had a strong relationship with them. Even if the technician was incompetent and not taking good care of their network, they know, like, and trust him.

One of the great dangers of having an assigned tech is that there's far less oversight of the quality of service your company is providing. See the discussion below on helping each other implement policies and processes.


Rotating Technicians Among Clients


Let me just say that my very strong preference is to rotate all technicians through all clients.

The most important reason for this is to increase the overall quality of service provided to the client.

One of the most important reasons to adopt Standard Operating Procedures is to provide consist high quality support to your clients. One of the biggest challenges to adopting Standard Operating Procedures is that team members in isolation tend to ignore or forget SOPs. That's why lots of SOPs include the appeal to "support each other" in this policy.

As a team, you can check each other's work, verify that processes are being followed, and help each other with best practices. In isolation from the team, individual techs will virtually always stray from the chosen path. That means they will provide a lower level of service than they would if they knew other team members would see their work.

Here are some common examples:

1) An assigned tech doesn't have to complete the entire monthly maintenance if he runs out of time. He'll "get it next month" and no one will know.

2) Changes are made on the fly and not documented because the tech knows the network so well.

3) Lots of work is done without a service ticket, or inside another service ticket. No one's looking and no one will know.

4) Paperwork for hardware, software, and warranties is stuffed in a file drawer disorganized. No one's looking.


It's not like we all sit around spying on each other. But when we all know all the procedures, it's easy to help each other follow the procedures. And when a technician knows that anyone on the team could be the next person to visit a client, they take the extra two minutes to do the job right.

Don't forget another advantage to having a team: When it's time to troubleshoot or strategize about network issues, a "different pair of eyes" can be extremely helpful. The more another technician knows about the client network, the more helpful they can be.


Managing the Overall Relationship with The Client


There are just a few key elements to maintaining a good client relationship. You need to provide good service. You need to understand their needs and where their company is headed. The Roadmap meetings will help with this. And your client has to have faith that you are taking care of them.

Part of that faith comes from personal relationships. And part of it comes from the way your company presents itself. In my opinion, having more than one technician show up at a client's office shows them that you are all cross-trained and anyone can take care of any thing. It shows that you are a "shop" and not a one-person show.

On rare ocassions you might have a technician who is not a good fit with a client. You may even get a note that says "We don't want him here any more." If you get several of these, it's time to evaluate that tech's performance overall.

For the most part, having everyone on your team know everyone on the client's team makes it much easier and more comfortable to do business. No matter who is on vacation (in either company), you can work well together. And when there's turnover (in either company), the relationship continues strong.


You need to decide how your company will handle client relationships. You certainly don't have to do what we do. But you should make a conscious decision about the policy you adopt. Don't continue doing what you did yesterday just because you did it yesterday.


Comments welcome.

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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at SmallBizThoughts.com.

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Next week's topic: Travel Policies

:-)
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