Tuesday, November 25, 2008

We Can Fix Everything We Touch

Didya ever have a client that wants to "replace" some of your services with an in-house technician? You know, the guy who knows all about installing games and therefore must be really good with computers. He even opens them and does stuff.

Freakin' genius.

We kindly refer to him as Cousin Larry.

Cousin Larry can be there all the time. He doesn't cost much. And he can fix lots of little stuff.

So the client wants to step down from Platinum to Gold. Cousin Larry will handle all the rest.

In our case, that means you just dropped support for the network, firewall, routers, switches, and printers. Oh, and the spam filtering. And vendor management.

Cousin Larry is a hobbyist who knows deep in his heart that he's just tinkering with computers.

Is is Vlad's SPF writ large.

But knowing you're competent, and that your client is considering relying on someone who isn't, does not help you right now. What can you tell this client?

After all, they're just trying to save money. The stock market is down 50%. Everything related to the housing industry is down. Everything related to the car industry is down. We're told that the times ahead will be bleak.

Your client wants to save money. You charge $125/hr. Cousin Larry charges $10/hr.

Consider three important points:

1) The client doesn't understand computers any more than you understand law, accounting, dentistry, etc.

2) For twenty years, people have been used to the "fact" that computers are unreliable and stuff just breaks for no reason. (This is not true and never has been, but people believe it.)

3) You and your staff are supremely more qualified than Cousin Larry. You need to communicate this to a client who doesn't understand the technology.

First, do not try to educate your client on technology. They don't care or they'd be in this field instead of that field. What you can tell them is that it is extremely important that they place their computer systems in the hands of someone who really understands the technology. This is the only way they can maximize the value they receive from their investment.

Second, ask the client to think back to the "before time" (when you weren't around). Remember when machines rebooted randomly for no reason? Remember when everything was slow? Remember when the Blue Screen of Death was a regular occurrence?

Those things don't happen anymore because you have excellent technical support. Computers can and should be trouble-free background technology. Virtually all of their bad experiences with technology can be traced to incompetent technicians. Computers don't show up broken or mis-configured.

I once gave evidence in court about improperly sold and configured hardware. The loser party wanted to argue that he sold a perfectly working device and that the software (drivers) were to blame. I had to explain to the judge where the line is drawn between hardware and software.

What it came down to is: The technician has to have the skill to make these things work together. We can't throw junk at the client and expect them to make their stuff work. Does the refrigerator repairman throw you compressor and a screwdriver? No. If you're inclined, you can figure it out. Or you might totally screw it up and break other things while you're at it.

But you're paying a professional to just do it right the first time.

Computers should be like that. Computers can be like that. Computers ARE like that when you do the work.

When Cousin Larry does the work? Who knows.

Third, use this extremely powerful phrase with your clients:

We can fix everything we touch.

We all know that Cousin Larry can set up a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. But we've also had "helpers" like him get the keyboard and mouse wrong and blow out a motherboard.

Here's a great rule to put in your contracts: All work must be completed by _Your Company Name_. Any work performed by you to fix up after someone else is completely billable and outside the managed service agreement.

We've had them spend hours and hours working on stuff they couldn't fix. Eventually it gets turned over to us. We have to charge for all of our labor to un-do what he did, and to provide the real fix. In the meantime, your downtime is significantly longer than it should have been.

We can fix everything we touch.

Cousin Larry can fix some things. But everything he can't fix makes a bigger mess for us. Everything he can't fix becomes a bigger expense for you.

$10/hr doesn't seem so cheap any more.

Tattoo it on your arm: We can fix everything we touch.

- - - - -

I've mentioned before that we sometimes need to step back from what the client is asking us for and figure out the real problem. For example, a client calls and says "We need a new router." What are you talking about, John? Why do you think you need a new router?

The Internet is suddenly slower than it was before. The collision light keeps blinking.

You could just order a router, grab some juicy installation labor, and be on your way. But you probed and discovered that there's a 99% chance that the client's problem has nothing to do with replacing the router.

When it comes to hiring Cousin Larry the Wonder Tech, you need to do the same kind of probing.

Why do you think you need to do this? Is this just a money saving adventure? Is it a permanent situation, a temporary cash flow problem, or is this guy just looking for a job?

Probe. Talk to your client.

If the problem is about money (and we expect to see more of this), find ways to save them money. We've blogged about this before. (See Making Money When Clients Want to Save.)

Just remember, in the end, competence matters. Make this about competence and efficiency and you will win the day.



  1. Anonymous11:43 AM

    Thanks Karl, very informative. Do you have any tips on dealing with the situation when a client gets taken over by another company? We lost a client last week because they were bought out by a larger company and this other company already has an IT provider. They gave notice on terminating the contract etc and wont enter into any discussions - even though the existing client is very happy with us.

  2. That's a tough one, Mike.

    I guess the best thing you can do is to be gracious and provide the smoothest transition possible.

    I covered this a bit when Vlad dropped us as a client (http://smallbizthoughts.blogspot.com/2008/04/vlad-dropped-me.html).

    We've had two cases where clients dropped us because of a buyout. One of them eventually came back in the form of another company.

    Your relationship is with the people who are there. Maintain that and be 100% professional. Play the long game.

    I'm sorry that's happening, especially at this time of year.

    With luck you'll get two clients to take their place!


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