Monday, November 29, 2021

If Your Chat Bot Sucks, You Suck

Like it or not, "chat bots" are the future. But you need to manage them just like employees!

There are several kinds of chat bots. The most basic are just pop-ups on the web site that allow someone to start a conversation that is handed off to a real human. You've probably experienced a version of this at the drive-through window. "Welcome to Cousin Larry's Pretty Good Chicken Place. I'll take your order when you're ready." Then, when you start talking, you realized it's a different voice. The first was automated; the second is live.

In that situation, I doubt that many people are irritated or feel put out. The key to success with that kind of system is: There has to be a smooth transition from bot to human.


As we get ready for 2022, most people are not automatically irritated by chat bots. We start with the bot. Then we get handed to a real human. Sometimes, our problem is handled along the way. 

You might also have a chat bot on the phone. These are more expensive and require a more sophisticated AI (artificial intelligence). Here, you might add some personality and even a bit of quirkiness to fit your brand. Again, more money.

The most important thing to remember is pretty simple: A chat bot should enhance the customer experience, not detract from it

Consider your own experiences. I'm sure you've had experiences where the bot got you exactly what you need. But we're early in the bot era, so there's usually a handoff to a human at some point. The bot needs to do its job and then get out of the way. Again, the hand-off needs to be smooth.

I recently had a very frustrating exchange with a customer service email chain at my medical provider. The responses might have been humans with horrible customer service training, or they might have been chat bots pretending to be human. Either way, my experience was not good. 

When a bot goes bad, it gives absurd and inappropriate information or advice. It is out of synch with the client's needs and mood.

Remember this critical rule about customer service: When a client initiates contact, they are probably already frustrated, at least a little. They need something. You can (or might) provide whatever they need. So if your chat bot takes them down the path to inappropriate questions or recommendations, there has to be a way for the client to quickly make a smooth transition to a human.

If a client feels increased frustration while dealing with your automated service, that reflects very poorly on your company! And you get ZERO points for blaming your bad customer service on the bot you created/bought/programmed to provide that service. 

The most important thing clients need to feel at this moment is being heard. Did the IT consultant hear my complaint? Do they know what I need? Am I going to be taken care of? If your chat bot can accomplish all that, you're in great shape. But right now, chances are good that you bot needs to focus on that smooth transition to a human.

Do not assume your expensive chat bot is working effectively! In fact, assume it is not. Your clients will automatically be more frustrated with your bot than with you, especially in times of stress. So, implement slowly, and get lots of feedback. Take that feedback seriously. 

You've also had this experience somewhere along the line: The chat bot made you feed un-welcome and un-important. You felt that someone did not value your business. So you dropped the communication and went somewhere else.

A "bad" chat bot will cost your clients. A good one might automate your systems and help you solve a few problems before engaging people. But, ultimately, you are still in a people business. So figure out how to use chat bots to increase the human connection.

If your chat bot sucks, and that's your primary interface to a client, you will lose clients and prospects pretty quickly. If a chat bot works well, it will make people feel valuable and welcome. Then, your human team can help clients with a solid, positive connection.

Feedback welcome, of course.

:-)


Friday, November 19, 2021

Paul Draper - A Spectacular End of Year Roundtable - December 2nd

Note: This roundtable will *not* be recorded as requested by Paul – you’ll want to join us live!


The December SBT Roundtable will be a spectacular holiday party!

For this month’s Roundtable, we’re happy to welcome Anthropologist and Mentalist, Paul Draper!


December 2nd at 9:00 AM Pacific. 

The regular member Zoom link is in your dashboard.


Paul is an anthropologist and organizational expert. He has taught at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and served as a master lecturer at Yale University.

For seven years, he represented the Casino Floor and Marketing Department for Sands Corporation at the Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

He has recently consulted for Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California, and in Florida, he has acted as a consultant for Martin Memorial Health Systems, Orlando Healthcare Systems, Tallahassee Healthcare Systems, and for Lee Health in Fort Myers.

In addition to his multiple TEDx talks, Paul has been featured as an expert on the History Channel, A&E, and the Hallmark Channel.


The Small Biz Thoughts Technology Community presents a special Roundtable each month, on the first Thursday of the month. We ask our special guest to leave the PowerPoint at home and help us to have a business-level discussion you can't find anywhere else.


All SBT Roundtables are members-only.

Not a member? No problem!

Join today - and you can join us December 2nd!

Your timing is perfect: Community Membership Prices Go Up January 1st! Join now and you lock in the lower rate for life.

More details at https://www.smallbizthoughts.org

:-)


Tuesday, November 16, 2021

A Very Productive Year for CompTIA's Advancing Tech Talent and Diversity!

No kidding: Bookmark this post so you can find it and come back to download these resources as needed.


I am honored to sit on the Advancing Tech Talent and Diversity Executive Committee for CompTIA. And I want to give a HUGE shout-out to Yvette Steele, perhaps one of the greatest cat-herders of all time. She organized us, worked in the background, and helped inspire us. She's a huge part of the success of thing community. We are one of the largest, and easily the fastest-growing CompTIA community!

You can check out the Community here: https://connect.comptia.org/connect/communities/advancing-tech-talent-and-diversity-community

Here are some of the highlights of what this community has produced this year along. These are great resources. That's why I recommend you bookmark this post and return to it. If you employ people, you'll honestly find these to be great resources.

Diversity contributes to creativity, profit, and and success. But how do you actually apply that in the real world with a small business? That's exactly the approach we looked at. And here are some great resources for you to pursue.

(Thank, Yvette, for the survey that gave me the fodder for this post.)


Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI)


Workforce


I know that's a lot! But that's the point: I am honored to work with a group that has accomplished so much this year. And I know the year's not over with, but if you're trying to hire in the final six  weeks of 2021, then the tips here might just help you recruit some amazing new talent that your old hiring process missed.

:-)


Grab This Client-Facing Sample Cybersecurity Training PPT


Grab this resource at www.MSPWebinar.com


I did a paid client-facing cybersecurity training for office workers in November 2021. So I figured, as long as I'm at it, I'll update the sample training for YOU, the IT Service Provider.

Everyone is welcome to:
  • View the training exactly as I presented on Zoom. See https://youtu.be/Z5FFGeDe-g8
  • Download the source PowerPoint Slides
  • Remove my graphics and customize the PPT for your company and your clients
Small Biz Thoughts Technology Community Members also receive:
  • Client-Facing Cybersecurity Questionnaire for 2022 in Word doc format (great for beginning both the education and the discussion about security in the 2020's).
  • Client-Facing Data Handling Guide. This is a table you can help clients fill out to educate their employees about which files can be copied to which locations (cloud drive, email, personal drop box, etc.).

ATTENTION: Copy This Client-Facing Security Presentation For Your Business
Educate Your Client about Security Threats and Crypto-Viruses.

Client-Facing Best Practices for Safe Computing

Webinar Speaker: Karl W. Palachuk – Author, speaker, podcaster, and coach. This is a recording of a live client-facing presentation from November 2021. Includes client questions.

This is being made available for use by all IT professionals as a place to start. This is just one sample of IT training, focused on a non-technical audience. It may not be a perfect fit for your business or your clients.

If you want the source files for the handouts and sample Data Handling Guide, those are available only inside the Small Biz Thoughts Technology Community at https://www.smallbizthoughts.org.

Comments and questions welcome here.

:-)

5-Week Class - Service Agreements for SMB Consultants - Starts November 23rd

Class Starts November 23rd: 

Service Agreements for SMB Consultant - Applying the Book

All About Service Agreements for I.T. Consultants


Next Offering:

- Five Tuesdays - November 23 - December 21, 2021 

- Register Now

- All classes start a 9:00 AM Pacific


Updated Class for 2021!

Based on the best-selling book Service Agreements for SMB Consultants, this course covers everything you need to know about developing your service agreements. And the book subtitle is important, too: A Quick Start Guide to Managed Services.

Most I.T. Professionals sign - or don't sign - contracts for the wrong reasons. Most think contracts are intended to draw battle lines for when you have a disagreement with your clients. In fact, that piece of the relationship is almost always outside the contract! We'll explore why you really need contracts or service agreements.

We'll also look at various options, including a 2-page "terms of service" as well as managed services, programming agreements, and more.

Tuition for this course include the ebook version of the newly revised and expanded Service Agreements for SMB Consutants! That includes all the downloads from the book as well.



You will learn

  • Defining Yourself and Your Relationships
  • Define Yourself
  • Define Client Relationships
  • The Language of Service Agreements
  • The Service Agreement Construction Kit
  • A Sample Credit Agreement
  • Boilerplate: A Sample Service Agreement
  • Flat Fee or Managed Services Parts
  • The Managed Service Agreement
  • Getting Help and Managing Agreements
  • Getting Help - Lawyers, Accountants, etc.
  • Managing Your Service Agreements
  • PLUS lots more. This class is filled with great advice and tips on running your I.T. company and moving into the world of recurring revenue with managed services.


Delivered by Karl W. Palachuk, blogger and author of the very popular "SOP Friday" posts.

Includes five weeks of webinars with related handouts, assignments, and "office hours" with the instructor. All classes are recorded for download.

This course is intended for business owners and managers. It is particularly useful for the Service Manager or Operations Manager.

Only $299

Register Now


Note: Small Biz Thoughts Technology Community Members receive huge discounts. Get your code inside the Community.

:-)


Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Finish the Year Off Right - Join Me At the SMB Roadshow Las Vegas - December 14th

Registration is Now Open for the SMB Roadshow in Las Vegas !!!


Details: https://www.smbroadshow.com/las-vegas/


BECOME UNBREAKABLE

Las Vegas

Courtyard by Marriott Hotel - Las Vegas

December 14, 2021

1-5pm, local time


Mission Control we are ready to blast off!


Please join us for a great LIVE event.

I am posting this notice because we have officially locked down the meeting room, signed the paperwork, and bought the airfare. 

In other words: We are 100% ready to blast off in Vegas.


More information and registration at: https://www.smbroadshow.com/las-vegas/


This event is four hours of great content, networking, and education . . . followed by a beerfest. The price is only $399 for the first attendee. But you can save $100 right now in Early Registration.


Our theme this year is all about the Absolutely Unbreakable Rules of Service Delivery. We'll start with some networking and then a fun and educational Game Show I designed just for this event.


After that the agenda includes:

  • Running Successfully in the 2020's
  • Post-Pandemic Clientele and Offerings
  • Building YOUR Absolutely Unbreakable Rules
  • Looking Forward to the next normal

(and, of course, a trip to the pub)

We all have rules we use to help us be successful in life and in business. I've spelled out some of my most important rules and then we'll help you down the road to codifying the rules that have made YOU successful.

As always, we have plenty of handouts and time for Q&A.

Join us and take your business to the next level.


Note: Small Biz Thoughts Technology Community members get in Free of Charge with the code posted inside the Community. Members, get your code here: https://www.smallbizthoughts.org/member-account/coupons-and-discounts/.

Not a member? No problem! Join today and save big on this roadshow, all of our 5-week classes, and thousands of dollars worth of other benefits.


We've been off the road too long. PLEASE join us live in Las Vegas for a great event.

Your satisfaction is always guaranteed.

:-)

Sunday, October 24, 2021

NSITSP Membership Meeting November 17th

The National Society of IT Service Providers has scheduled a general membership meeting for November 17th. Everyone is welcome, whether you’re a Professional member or not.


November 17, 2021

9:00 AM Pacific / Noon Eastern

Register Here


The preliminary agenda includes formally introducing the Board of Directors and the Committee Chairs. 

We’ll give an update on where we are in the “launch” phase of the organization, and the activities we’re working on.

Of course we will have time for member questions and general discussion.

Plan on about ninety (90) minutes, although we’ve scheduled a full two hours in case there are lots of questions or the discussion is just going strong. We realize this is a large commitment, and we want to make sure you can take a break and get to the next meeting on time.

If you have suggestions, please post a comment here or in the forums. Thank you for your continued interest!

NSITSP Membership Meeting

November 17, 2021

9:00 AM Pacific / Noon Eastern



:-)

Please Follow NSITSP on Social Media

NSITSP Social Media

We have created pages or accounts on the following social media. These will be used to broadcast news and get the word out. Please take a minute to follow each of these and share them with your friends and contacts.


Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/National-Society-of-I-T-Service-Providers-108845781574908


LinkedIn Page:

https://www.linkedin.com/company/national-society-of-it-service-providers/


Twitter:

https://twitter.com/nsitsp


And, of course, you can always find the NSITSP home page at www.nsitsp.org.


NOW is a great time to do this.

Thank you.

- Karl

:-)


Sunday, October 17, 2021

Forget HIPAA - Client Information Portability and Accountability is on the Horizon

I'm sure you've heard the famous line from T.S. Eliot's poem, The Hollow Men:

"This is the way the world ends
 Not with a bang but a whimper."

Well I'm here to tell you that sometimes major changes with profound effects also start with a whimper, or perhaps a whisper too easily ignored.



Great changes are coming to our industry. Not bad things, but big things. Things that will make it a little more difficult to operate. Things that will make your tools more expensive and your operations a bit more bureaucratic. What are these major changes?

Quite simply, we are quietly entering an era of data transparency and accountability that hasn't existed before. Which data? All the meta data and supporting system data that's used to monitor, update, access, backup, and secure your client's information.

This data includes everything client-related in your PSA and RMM tools. For example, the entire configuration of how you manage clients. Alert level settings. IP address information. Successful and unsuccessful checks. Logs of everything that happens inside your RMM tool.

The whisper came in one of the CISA documents I blogged about recently: "Risk Considerations for Managed Service Provider Customers." See https://www.cisa.gov/publication/risk-considerations-msp-customers.*

That document gives some very specific advice to your clients, including advice to require an MSP to provide . . .

  • "Direct access to security logging information, network intrusion detection, and anomaly analysis data telemetry from all systems managed by the MSP that support the service being procured"

and

  • "The ability for the customer organization to examine the systems that directly and indirectly support the contracted service on-demand by the customer organization with appropriate data handling considerations."

As I pointed out earlier, I don't know of any tools that currently exist in the SMB space that make this reporting and access possible. But if your RMM vendor isn't working to create this kind of reporting, you may find yourself looking for a new vendor.

Within about five years, I predict that MSPs will be reporting "data telemetry" to their clients on a regular basis. This will include a standard list of what you monitor, how frequently you monitor it, who has access to your dashboards, how one client's data is securely separated from other clients' data, etc.

All of this information has to exist somewhere inside your RMM or other tools. But you probably don't have access to it. That's why I call it meta data: It exists in support of the services you provide, but you don't have any way to back it up, print it out, or show it to clients (or government agencies) that ask for it. It's simply the bits and bytes that make the tools do what they do.


On a somewhat unrelated note . . .

I had a chat with a MSP owner last week who had a startling realization about her RMM, which I won't name. One of her employees accidentally applied a filter to a dashboard. So, when the owner logged in, she only saw her own company and two clients. Everyone else was GONE - or so it seemed.

She panicked. "How will I recreate every piece of monitoring, scripting, and reporting for every client?" She soon discovered that this was a filtering issue - but not before her brain went scurrying off to settle the question. She contacted the RMM vendor and was told:

"Sorry, you're out of luck."

All that information is somewhere in the cloud, controlled and monitored by the RMM vendor. But it's not backed up in a way that could actually be restored for one client or one MSP. In other words: You need to back up all that configuration information by hand.

She didn't give up. This can't be true. There has to be a way to access the settings for MY business, MY clients, and MY contracted data services. The response was only a tiny bit alarming: The only way to do that is to have an on-premise server. That way, you've got your SQL database. And however difficult it might be to get the data out, it will be on YOUR backup of YOUR database.

A-hem. Except . . . if I'm correct, ALL the recent "supply chain" ransomware attacks have involved on-premise servers and not cloud services!!! So how do I back up the client-related data in a cloud environment?

You can't.

You simply can't.

We don't make that available to MSPs.

You just have to trust us.

THIS, my friends, is going to change. Whether they like it or not, RMM vendors will have to make these reports, this data, and these configurations available to you (and your clients) in the next few years. And, in a less cumbersome challenge, PSA vendors will as well.

Ultimately, we as an industry will be asked to address a very important question: Who owns the data involved in monitoring and managing a client's network? Is it the RMM vendor? The MSP? The client? The answer matters!

If the RMM vendor owns this data, then what do they owe the MSP or end user? What reports are reasonable? If there's a ransomware attack or other cybersecurity attack, what should the MSP or their client expect? Like it or not, you should be able to document this information.

If the MSP owns this data, what reports do they owe to the end users? Should this information flow on a regular basis or just when there's an incident? (BTW, I fully acknowledge that clients will ignore 97% of this information until there's a cybersecurity attack.)

But if the MSP owns this information, it should be downloaded, separated by client, and backed up. For how long? You need to add this to your general data retention policies. Some things we keep for three years; some for seven; some forever. Where does client monitoring telemetry fit in the big data retention picture?

If the end-user client owns the data, then the picture changes considerably. If the client owns the data, they should be able to take their "monitoring profile" to another MSP and get equal (or very similar) service based on the devices being monitored, the thresholds for alerts, the automated responses or scripts being run, and the reports being generated.

NONE of this is possible today. Even at the enterprise level, I don't think this kind of data portability exists. But once someone (e.g., CISA) lays the groundwork for expectations, I think you'll see these kinds of requirements finding their way into to requests-for-quotes.

Perhaps the closest analogy for most of us is HIPAA - Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. In this case, maybe it becomes CIPA or Client Information Portability and Accountability. If someone has a better term, I'm open to it. 

What data, or meta data, should be made available to clients with regard to the monitoring and management services you provide? Aside from merely making useless information available, what USEFUL information should be made available? Ultimately, there should be some standardized reporting made available to law enforcement and insurance inspectors after a cybersecurity incident.

What can a client reasonably expect? Again: I fully acknowledge that most clients won't care. But more and more, their insurance company will care. What actually-useful information can you provide to clients who dutifully pay their bill every month and expect your to just take care of their network?

. . .

I almost started this post with an apology. I'm sorry I have to write this post. And I'm sorry you need to read it. But you need to read it.

The details will be worked out a bit at a time. But, in the big picture, I think this is the world you can look forward to. Luckily, this is an evolving world. And that means you can join in the conversation and help mold the future as it emerges.

PLEASE leave comments and questions. I'm happy to respond.

-- -- --

* I previously blogged about the document itself (https://blog.smallbizthoughts.com/2021/09/the-government-is-telling-your-clients.html) and some things you should be doing right now in response to this (https://blog.smallbizthoughts.com/2021/09/three-things-you-should-do-in-response.html).

:-)


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

5-week class - Financial Processes for the IT Services Firm – Starts October 19th

Financial Processes for the IT Services Firm – 5W07

Taught By: Rayanne Buchianico


Five Tuesdays

October 19 - November 16 - Register Now

All classes start a 9:00 AM Pacific


You're guaranteed to learn something that will make or save you the price of admission!


There are few things more important than the finances of your business. But most technology consultants didn't get into business to run balance sheets or figure out cash flow.

This class provides unique content from a unique teacher! Rayanne is a managed service provider from Tampa, FL. She is also an accountant and an Intuit certified ProAdvisor. In addition to her MSP business, Rayanne helps I.T. consultants to take control of their finances and understand their own business at a deeper level.

Topics for this class include:

  • Learn to read and understand your Balance Sheet and P&L Statements
  • Create a chart of accounts that makes sense for your business
  • Separating out information on the P&L for management decisions
  • Entities and tax considerations - understanding how your entity is taxed. Handout is a tax projection worksheet for this year's taxes
  • Cash flow forecasting - Handout is a cash flow projection spreadsheet to forecast revenues and expenses
  • Understanding margins and ratios - Deep dive into the P&L and Balance Sheet to understand how the numbers work together to make decisions. Handout is a worksheet on calculating and understanding the ratios & margins.
  • Use margins to price your services for profit
  • Calculate billing and burden rates
  • Action plans for success

. . . and More!



Week One: Introduction to Your Company’s Finances

Week Two: Cash Flow Forecasting

Week Three: Margins, Ratios, KPIs, and Breakeven points

Week Four: Jobs, Budgeting, and Internal Controls

Week Five: Planning for Taxes

-- -- --

Delivered by Rayanne Buchianico, Financial Coach and QuickBooks Advisor. Rayanne has been an MSP - managed service provider - for many years and advises MSPs on how to get the most out of their QuickBooks and PSA integrations.

Includes five weeks of webinar classes with related handouts, assignments, and "office hours" with the instructor.

Each class is 50-60 minutes, although we often take extra time for questions.

This course is intended for business owners and managers. It is particularly useful for the Owner or Operations Manager.

Only $299.00 

Register: Financial Processes for the I.T. Services Firm