Managed Services Providers (MSPs) aren’t perfect. Here’s what to consider before choosing your next MSP.
Managed Services Providers (MSPs) aren’t perfect. No business is. But the way an MSP⏤an outsource firm that provides onsite and remote information technology (IT) guidance, services and support to small and medium businesses (SMBs)⏤recognizes and addresses customer concerns makes a difference in the client’s overall satisfaction and success.
Outsourcing any task or function creates an opportunity for misunderstanding or misplaced expectations. Within the complex world of information technology, such risks increase.
Fortunately, outsourcing information technology expertise and responsibility to an MSP is a widespread practice with much history from which to learn and make adjustments. Unfortunately, issues still sometimes arise.
To better ensure an organization’s MSP relationship proves healthy and productive, firms should familiarize themselves with the common problems clients might experience when working with an MSP, as well as the corresponding methods for effectively addressing each challenge.
1) The client firm may not match the MSP’s focus
Every MSP targets specific types of organizations. Some MSPs might prefer working only with nonprofits, whereas other technology providers might focus on small and medium businesses employing 100 users or less. Still others may be best equipped to service only those clients working within specific professional fields, such as dentistry, whereas others might prove a good fit supporting clients working within any vertical market.
The best way to know whether an MSP is a good match for your firm is to ask. You can gauge an MSP’s focus by exploring other customers the firm services. If your organization will prove an anomaly⏤maybe the MSP has never worked with a customer with as many employees or sites as your organization⏤that’s a potential red flag but not a deal breaker. Simply asking how the technology services firm expects to adjust staffing or workflows to accommodate your firm’s needs can go far confirming the MSP is committed to servicing your organization’s particular needs.
It’s also important to ensure both organizations match philosophically. Firms that resist making appropriate hardware investments or that seek to get by forgoing fundamental recommendations⏤such as investing in centralized advanced threat management platforms, email filtering and proper firewalls, adopting multifactor authentication and requiring operating system, software and firmware updates regularly be patched and updated⏤may best be served working with an alternative provider that doesn’t insist a client follow minimum recommended best practices.
2) Service response times may vary
A potential frustration for MSP customers is the rapidity with which service requests are resolved. Just how quickly does the MSP respond and correct issues the customer reports is an important question to ask before signing a services agreement.
MSPs, which necessarily and continually juggle multiple clients’ simultaneous needs, are familiar with the challenge, which is why they’ve already adopted practices and procedures for managing any conflicts. Most technology service providers address the potential problem by offering service level agreements, known as SLAs. These SLAs are terms by which MSPs determine which crises must be addressed first, as SLAs describe and dictate the various scenarios (site wide outages versus, say, a single user unable to print) and corresponding time frames for beginning remediation efforts and resolving troubles.
Customers worried their needs might not receive the response they require can address those concerns by insisting on SLA and service guarantees that meet their needs, including on evenings, weekends and holidays. While some customers running traditional offices may not be that concerned with expedited after-hours support, an accountant or CPA firm might need to ensure its MSP agrees to providing emergency service during tax season.
3) Technicians aren’t always physically on site
Managed services providers typically excel remotely monitoring and maintaining information technology systems and resolving problems. As a result, an IT professional isn’t always needed on site.
Some organizations, especially those accustomed to having a technology professional always readily available to assist with anything from showing a user how to correct a formatting error within Excel to troubleshooting a malfunctioning wireless connection, may find it necessary to first create a ticket, open a chat session or pick up the phone and request assistance. While a potential change in the way users or an organization work, MSPs typically offer capable help desks and a broad range of technicians, even if these experts consistently work from a remote location. The benefits of an MSP are frequently its range and depth of knowledge, skills and expertise, which usually exceed those available to just a handful of in-house tech staff. If that process works, so be it. If not, alternatives are available.
Organizations concerned that not having a technology professional physically available at their location can contract with their MSP to ensure rapid response or, if necessary, actually place technicians onsite. Some customers find having an MSP assume on-site staffing responsibilities a convenient extension of other contracted IT services, although that step isn’t always necessary. In some cases, the customer’s own in-house IT department may well prefer being able to pick and choose the projects and systems actually outsourced to the MSP.
4) Technicians may rotate or change
Some organizations prefer forging deep relationships with employees, contractors and suppliers. Those that do might be unnerved to learn MSPs sometimes dispatch the first available and qualified technician to a client location when onsite service is required.
Because the MSP is understandably focused on resolving problems as quickly and efficiently as possible, dispatching different technology professionals makes sense. However, the practice can make it more difficult for customers to build deeper relationships with the MSP’s designated representatives.
MSPs understand, though, that consistently working with the same technical professionals assists customers in building stronger senses of trust and connectedness. Whenever business relationships deepen in such ways, the result is commonly beneficial to both parties, so firms shouldn’t fear broaching the subject. Customers are likely to find technology service providers are just as motivated to strengthen the cooperation and interactions that regularly occur between both firms.
Customers that prefer working with the same individuals or that feel they use specialized hardware or software that require time to master should request an MSP assign specific team members to service its account. Language insisting on such an arrangement can even be included directly within a master services agreement, should the client wish.
5) Invoices may not match expectations
Service estimates, sales quotations, managed services agreements and contracts are one thing. Invoices are another entity in and of themselves.
While no one typically appreciates billing surprises, the fact remains the best-prepared estimates and contracts don’t always include expenses associated with scope changes, disaster recovery (such as commonly occurs with fires, floods, hurricanes, tornados, storms and other events) or new, previously unforeseen projects (such as expanding an office or opening a new site). As a result, the bill a customer receives may not always match expectations.
As a matter of course, customers should plan on invoices occasionally charging different amounts. The client may require new computers or hardware not included within the managed services contract, a broken pipe could cause flooding within the client’s office necessitating emergency after-hours services and new equipment or an anticipated project could expand to include a new branch office or other features.
The keys to cooperatively navigating such events are how well an MSP documents its charges, both for services and for software, hardware, licenses and other out-of-pocket expenses, and how patient the MSP proves reviewing invoices and answering questions. A good MSP truly seeking to build long-term relationships won’t resist sitting with the client to review each line of an invoice, should the customer wish.
Reviewing anticipated pricing upfront, and providing continual communication as a project proceeds, goes a long way toward eliminating surprises. Thus, customers shouldn’t hesitate asking an MSP how it tracks fees and services and reviews billing questions when they inevitably arise. There’s nothing wrong with a customer requesting a sample invoice, either, including before committing to any managed services agreement or contract. Organizations should, in fact, be wary of any MSP that refuses to provide sample invoices or answer questions regarding its billing and accounting practices.
Most MSPs genuinely want to know where a client’s satisfaction stands. Many technology consultants invest in customer survey and satisfaction systems, while also regularly touching base to ensure the customer’s needs are being met. When things go wrong⏤and they sometimes do⏤the quickness and sincerity with which the MSP responds should tell the client all it needs to know as to how committed the MSP is to standing by and supporting the customer.
If an MSP’s behavior is entirely defensive, it may be time to move on to another provider. But if the MSP takes time and energy to provide data-backed explanations supported by carefully considered recommendations for resolution, you’ve likely found a partner committed to assisting resolve your issues.
Whenever in doubt, feel free to share your experiences and recommendations with another technology expert. But giving a partner an opportunity to explain and address concerns typically goes a long way toward building long-term, sustainable relationships.