Every week, I run into clients wanting to leave their existing IT service provider firm for a new one and have mostly bad things to say about their previous provider. I've worked in Vancouver's IT Consulting scene for long enough that I know most of the firms in town. It was very curious to me that so many people have something negative to say about all of these firms. Yes, some of them I've worked with myself and have mixed feelings towards, but I think the problem isn't necessarily with the firm themselves that results in such negative reviews.
1. You Are Looking for the Wrong Service
If you don't know me, I do a lot of hobbies on the side. One of these hobbies is interior design and home decor. I'm not formally trained by any stretch so I end up watching a lot of YouTube videos on the topic. In watching one of these videos (if you're into interior design, Nick has great content) it really struck me when Nick said this:
"If you don't have a designer, then congratulations, you are the designer. Your job is to make sure the tile is put down the way that you wanted to put down so you are going to be happy. Your contractor and your tile person are not your designer. You're going to have to be able to do that."
This concept translates perfectly into IT services and I think this is the reason why so many clients looking for IT service providers end up unhappy.
Most of the Small Medium Enterprises (SME) I've run into have a Managed Service Provider (MSP) to help with them with their day-to-day IT tasks. If you are a SME, chances are you already know what an MSP is. They are like your internal IT staff, but out sourced; they answer your support requests via phone, email, or support portal, and usually will remotely assist your users with resolving their technical issues.
At the same time, in every SME environment I've consulted with, the client does not have a Chief Information Office (CIO) or similar type of person. Even when there is an internal person responsible for IT, they generally have not followed technology trends and don't know how to make majority of the decisions required of a true CIO. They know what their business currently does (maybe!) and often their focus is on the status quo, not improving their environment.
Just like attempting a home renovation without a designer, it's not reasonable to expect your typical MSP to become your CIO and make technical decisions that should be made by you. I say "typical" because every MSP is a bit different, and some do offer a vCIO service. So make sure you're not expecting your service provider to be something they're not.
2. Wrong Expectations
Similar to looking to MSPs to make your CIO decisions, you may have an entirely wrong support expectations altogether. What do I mean by that?
Depending on the size of the firm and the service contract you signed, you may have 24/7 support, and you may not. I've found cases where clients were expecting their MSPs to be responsive 7 days a week when the MSP they've engaged with only offers 5 day a week service. I've also seen clients that want their service provider to be able to always pick up the phone when they call and resolve their issue - fast. In the industry, we call this "response time" and "time to resolution".
If you and your service provider cannot agree on coverage, response time, and time to resolution, this will obviously lead to dissatisfaction, on both sides, very quickly. To avoid this, ensure you're clear on what type of support you may need before signing the contract.
3. Hiring the Wrong Consultant for the Job
Circling back to the interior design analogy... If you enjoy watching HGTV or design shows, you may have noticed that you gravitate towards certain design, and designer, more than others. Your design and style is usually driven by your personality and there's not much you can do about what appeals to you vs not.
In that same thread, you likely wouldn't want a designer whose core style is traditional French country to design your minimalist house. While the overall project may be a success regardless (we are talking about a professional after all, with years of training in colour and design theory), it may be more trouble than it's worth.
Likely, you'll end up spending way too much time trying to explain your vision and your style vs someone who gets you and can jump right in and do all the things you love. IT isn't that different. Different IT people may approach a problem from a different view point. Make sure the consultant you hire can see your vision.
There are also different specialties when it comes to technology. Some are very strong in networking while others have strength in architecture. What you may require at different junctures of your IT needs will likely be different. For example, you wouldn't want a plumber to lay your tiles. IT folks have specialties too. Make sure you hire the right one for your needs to avoid grief.
4. You Just Don't Get Along
We're all people. As people, we have personalities. We have life experiences that shape us. We have likes and dislikes. And sometimes, you and your consultant just simply don't communicate on the same wave length.
Do you have that one friend where you seem to be able to finish each other's sentences? And that other person you just don't get a good vibe from?
These things happen, and it can certainly happen with your IT consultants. There may be nothing wrong with their technical skills to execute your project, but there's just something that doesn't sit right. Perhaps, it's as simple as your communication style that's incompatible.
For example, I've had a client who loved phone calls. He was super friendly and a very outgoing person. Unfortunately for him, I happen to prefer emails. (To me, email is the perfect communication tool but that's a topic for a different post.) While I was able to deliver the project, I suspect he would've preferred if he could've chatted with me more. So no, our personalities meant that we were likely not the right match for each other.
So when you choose your consultant or IT provider, it doesn't hurt to mention your communication preference, or throw in a couple jokes just to gauge if you are on the same humour level. It just may make your working relationship more fruitful than otherwise.