Ask (the right) questions – Part 3
A colleague told me about his conversation with the owner of an appointment setting service. She gave several examples of types of companies she likes to work with. He then asked her about referrals she would rather not receive from him. She replied, “IT service providers.” He thought, “Oh, I can’t wait to share this with Davis!”
She told him most business owners think IT companies are all the same. At first, I was surprised (and perhaps just a little defensive). But the more I thought about it, the better I understood her answer. Whether its IT consultants or heat & air contactors, those of us who provide technical services to businesses struggle to differentiate ourselves.
Part of the problem is what we do is technical in nature. Potential customers usually don’t know what questions to ask in order to compare us. It’s not necessarily a case of being the same, it’s a problem of how to discover the differences.
So, how do you choose one over another? Let’s say you are not happy with your current service provider. They never truly resolve problems; problems go away for a while, then come back just at the most inopportune time. Or, you are asked for a plan to help you expand or get into a new line of business and it never comes. You talk about these things but never get good answers.
A conversation might go, “Don’t you guys all have access to the same products, technical tools, and training? My colleague uses one of your competitors, and he says he doesn’t have these problems. Should I switch to his guy?”
You feel stressed at this point. Changing service providers is risky, and you may be more comfortable with “the devil you know.” There must be a company out there that can help me. How will I know if I’m making the right decision? Perhaps the word “how” provides a clue.
Think about the companies you buy from because of how they do what they do. How they treat you? Their products or services are essentially the same as their competitors, but they simply provide them to you better, faster, more flexibly, more cordially (“my pleasure”). When something goes wrong, they own up to their mistakes and correct them. And they are understanding and accommodating when you need help, (e.g. an accepted reason for approving a return is “ordered the wrong thing”). You enjoy doing business with these companies because they treat you like you want to be treated. How do they do that when others do not? It is in their DNA, their culture. They build their business around being a trusted partner/advisor and providing exceptional customer service.
How can you tell if a potential service provider will be the right one for your business? You have selected 2-3 candidates based on referrals from colleagues, networking, web searches, etc., and now you are ready to make a decision, but how?
Start by asking the candidate the right questions. Some are…
- Describe your hiring process? Do you use behavioral assessment tools such as DISC? Are attitude and habits among the top considerations in hiring decisions?
- What types of training do you offer your employees? Do they invest in their team? Training in communication and managing customer expectations are as important as technical training.
- Tell me about procedures you have for scheduling and tracking progress on service calls and how projects are managed.
- Give me an example of how you resolved a dispute with a customer over service or billing.
- Tell me about how you handled an out of the ordinary request from a customer.
Get references and ask of them…
- Why did you select this service provider? What made you think they were going to be better than others? Were they? How?
- Describe the most impactful value this service provider has brought to your business.
- How well do their technicians communicate with your non-technical employees?
- Do they set expectations and follow through to see if they met them? Ask for examples.
- Do they stay within budgets and timetables on projects?
- Describe a situation when they disappointed you. How was it resolved?
You have probably thought of other questions to ask. Don’t hesitate to dig in. You are considering a partnership with someone who you expect to help you to build a successful business. Great relationships are sustained through communication and trust. Select your technology partner based on their culture – how they do things not just what they do.
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About Davis Merrey
Davis, is Owner/CEO of TeamLogic IT of Oklahoma City, part of an international network of franchisees providing IT support for businesses. He brings many years of experience in a variety of technology related industries, leading teams in providing technical solutions that respond to critical customer needs. The company culture is defined by its Mission Statement: “To help our fellow employees and clients be successful”.
Davis earned a BS in Electrical Engineering from the Virginia Military Institute and an MBA in Management from Golden Gate University in San Francisco. He serves on several business related and non-profit boards of directors.