One of the most challenging times for an IT business like ours is when we sign a new customer. There are documents to sign, people to meet, tools & services to deploy, and then of course there is the customer’s technology. Our Onboarding Process touches almost every facet of our business, and it is critical, but why?
- Consistency. Every single one of our customers has their antivirus, antispam, and offsite backup setup the exact same way. Each customer’s networking equipment is photographed (for our remote team), and every network is well documented. Our billing is setup correctly from the start. Our tools are deployed so that we can remotely support, monitor, and manage our customer’s networks. By going through a well defined process, we ensure that nothing ever gets missed.
- Start Well. There is never a second chance to make a first impression. I hate clichés, but they exist for a reason! Our Onboarding Process gives us a great opportunity to impress our new customers and it can really set the tone for our future relationship with them.
- Avoid Problems. Failing to onboard well has the opposite effect. It is very difficult to recover from a rocky start, and I’ll admit that we have had some very rocky starts in the past. We didn’t always prioritize the Onboarding Process as much as we do now, because we weren’t valuing it enough. This has cost us time, money, and even the occasional customer. That said, every company hits speed bumps along the way and we wouldn’t have such a great onboarding process today if we hadn’t made those mistakes and learned from them. The thing that I love most about our company is the constant desire to improve; from everybody that works here.
In mid September, Smart Dolphins took a calculated leap that permanently and fundamentally changed our company for the better. We came to the realization that we could not be the best at running an efficient and effective help desk (the part of our team dedicated to servicing our common and relatively easier reactive computer support service) while also running the best managed services business. So we established an IT partnership with a local Victoria Help Desk company, LiveVHD (VHD = Virtual Help Desk), who is the best at running an efficient and effective help desk.
When we first starting thinking about this potential change back in the summer, it seemed too scary. “We can’t turn our treasured clients over to a bunch of strangers.” Our core values include “Healthy Relationships” and it felt initially like we were going to be turning our backs on an important part of what we were doing for clients. That feeling started to subside when we met with Dan Sturgill and some of the LiveVHD team. We could see that this company had very similar core values, they focused exclusively on the help desk component of what we do (so they provide this particular type of network support better than we ever could) and they were specifically built for companies (internationally) who are JUST LIKE US. LiveVHD fit Smart Dolphins like a glove.
It seemed like it would make good business sense, but it was still a leap. How would the onboarding process work? How would clients react? How would our team react? Of course, we learned, LiveVHD stick-handles these transitions all the time so they had a lot of really good answers to these worries. We were also extra relieved by the unique offer they gave us: because they are just down the street from us, they were able and willing to hire our internal help desk guys and would assign them to our clients. So, to our clients, there will only be a new phone number and only occasionally a new voice. If we weren’t vocal and open about the change (and of course we were), most clients probably wouldn’t even have known the difference.
Some of the Smart folks at LiveVHD:
The results so far have been nothing short of great:
- Our clients agree: on the previous 100 feedback surveys prior to the transition, our clients gave us an average score (out of 5) of 4.72. The LiveVHD surveys so far have averaged 4.84!
- We also have been amazed by how much they have been able to accomplish: they have closed over 97% of the service orders (tickets/problems) that they have opened.
- And for our clients, they have an even larger team at LiveVHD to help maintain fast response times when we have a peak in demand.
The impact this change had on our operations has also been striking. By removing the “noisy” bulk of the reactive work that we had, our team can now almost exclusively focus on the most challenging reactive work and, more importantly, concentrate on the proactive work and larger projects we take on. This is really good timing as we have just finished redefining our IT best practices framework and now need our newly freed up proactive resources to apply this template to each and every one of our managed services clients.
So besides what I hope is an interesting story, I offer this up as a lesson to other businesses out there. Sometimes big changes can seem too scary and it is easy to find reasons why they won’t work. However, if you can get a large and important block of work out of your hands and into the hands of a partner company that is focused exclusively on that type of work, you will almost certainly be better off. And well, I guess I wouldn’t be a very good “sales guy” if I didn’t close this by suggesting creating IT Partnerships is EXACTLY what we do for our clients!
I met with a good friend of mine (shall remain nameless) recently to discuss his very serious business challenge (opportunity). He needed a better way to track the productivity within his business and felt doing so would probably increase his profits by tens of thousands of dollars per year or maybe even a 6 digit change. Wow. Big opportunity!
Before I could recommend that he invest and engage in an excellent, industry-specific software solution to do this tracking, he told me that he actually already owned a piece of industry software that was known to be excellent for his type of business . Unfortunately, the software had been sitting idle for some time, waiting for upgrades to his computer network before it could be used.
For reasons I won’t touch on here, we agreed that Smart Dolphins would not be able to do work for them. So it was nice to give him some really impartial, but knowledgeable advice.
He had also already been through the process of getting several quotes for the work to be done and had found one IT Service Provider in particular that seemed very professional and knowledgeable. He was so close to realizing the large, quantifiable benefits of embracing technology, but he was stuck. He hadn’t given the go ahead because of the significant cost of the hardware and service required. However, this cost was a lot less than their annual expected gain. In short, he worried he was over paying; paraphrased: “how could these things cost so much for our small operation?”
In my review of their quote, I suggested it was a little on the high and could probably be trimmed down 5-15% with a little discussion with the service provider. However, the quote wasn’t unreasonable. The ongoing managed services costs were also very reasonable to my eye. Overall, I suggested that these costs would likely be paid back in the first 6 months of the investment, given the opportunity he had to improve his business by making this investment. He agreed and, here is the puzzling piece: he had thought so prior to me suggesting so.
So here is a very smart business person who was holding up on one of the biggest improvements he could make to his business because he was worried he was potentially overpaying for the solution.
I tell this story like this friend is a poor decision maker, but I’ll say this: his decision making process is incredibly common.
In my opinion and my experience, it comes down to people’s myopic view of the costs involved with their computer network. It is easy to take the benefits of technology for granted or to get cost-focused when a comma is used in the proposal for the investment required to enable technology. The benefits of technology are usually vastly greater than the direct costs you pay an IT service provider (assuming they are any good and don’t charge excessively).
Not so sure on my claim here? Cut the power to your office right now. The full costs of a lack of technology come clear when the technology stops working; humans tend to better recognize the true value of something after it is gone.
Sure, you want to be sure your costs are reasonable as per the market for your IT services, but if you have three sources quoting in the same ballpark, you can probably safely choose the IT Service Provider of the three that offers the best overall value and move ahead. And that is what makes for success business: move ahead.
Here at Smart Dolphins, it’s not uncommon for one person to use both a workstation and a laptop in different scenarios. The workstations are used in the office at people’s desks, while the laptops go onsite when visiting clients or down into the boardroom during meetings.
However, recently we’ve been changing that. Some of us having been opening up our laptops while sitting at our desks and utilizing them as a third screen. Overkill right? Well, we’re computer guys after all.
Of course, it’s not really a third screen is it? It’s actually an entirely different computer that I’m working on, and not all that efficient if I have to juggle my hands between different keyboards and mice.
This is where products like Synergy and Input Director come into play. These products connect two or more computers together and allow you to share a single keyboard and mouse between them. I can literally drag my mouse off of the left hand side of my workstation monitor and the mouse cursor will jump over to my laptop. Great right? I use a lot of different applications in my work day and having my laptop so easily available is a really great productivity tool for me.
Synergy is completely free for anyone to use, whereas Input Director is free for personal use but requires businesses to contact the author and pay a small fee. Both products do essentially the same thing and I’ve used them both with great success, but I definitely give the nod to Input Director for being slightly simpler to configure. Either way, if this is something that interests you then give us a call and we can get your workstation and laptop talking to each other within minutes!
I have changed the names in this story to protect the guilty.
Today I bought my lunch at a local establishment and was witness to some common, but bad customer service. A fellow patron had ordered chicken, but when he went to pick up the food he found out it was no longer available.
Lisa, the person making the meal, said, “Ahhh! I already told Larry we don’t have any chicken left. So it’s not my fault. I’ll have to give you Turkey instead.”
Now of course, there are whole bunch of things wrong here, but it all really boils down to a very simple rule about customer service ( human interaction): empathy. The employee needs to put herself in the patron’s shoes. This customer is not going to care about Lisa or Larry or why there is no chicken. He wants chicken. He paid for chicken. Throwing your co-worker under the bus is the exactly wrong thing to do. Doing so robs the patron of any sense that the establishment is taking responsibility or that you care. It also shines a very poor light on the culture of the business. “Nothing we can do about it: Larry is incompetent. Here’s your turkey.”
Now, of course, this is a “fast food joint” so you might fairly suggest my story is not unique. I do think this type of behaviour, in slightly more subtle forms, is very common. I know I’ve seen it at Smart Dolphins from time to time. Watch for it.
I’m starting to get geared up for more social media activity (who isn’t, right?), but I’m also trying to find a way to hold on to the core of what I feel this is about. Like so many important tasks in business, I can see some people making social media a purely numbers game and they end up just going through the motions.
I believe those participating in social media need to make a choice: value or noise. It is akin to the classic quality versus quantity struggle.
- Do I spam ten million people and hope that I get a 0.025% conversion or do I target my efforts with a quality effort on a thousand prospects and hope to get a 25% hit rate?
- Do I retweet 10 different irrelevant news feeds just so I’m in front of my followers all day long? Or do I find the one hidden gem that a few people find truly interesting.
- Do I introduce myself to 20 people a day on LinkedIn hoping to build this massive, but disconnected list of strangers? Or do I connect with people in the real world and then leverage the technology to build on those real connections?
As these bullets might suggest, I think in the long run, value wins. Anything else is a just commodity and to win there, you need to be the cheapest. No thanks.
So forgive me if I’m a little quiet at times. I hope I make up for it by sharing something of real value that changes something in the real world.
We all have our ups and downs. I have been super productive and feeling great about things at Smart Dolphins for a while now. However, that slipped a little this week. It is Thursday now and the first three days of this week seem to be a complete blur. I thought I’d share my awareness around why I’ve slipped this week, for what it is worth.
First, I’ve been really working on my energy and health. However, this past weekend was not a healthy one. I’m still feeling the effects of a rather significant birthday celebration last Saturday for one of my best high school buddies. I don’t regret creating that memory, but I think I underestimated how much it would cost me this week.
I’ve also been trying to build more routine into my work day, especially at the start of my day. This is really grounding for me and gets me focused during the day on the most important things. For a variety of reasons, I’ve been missing that routine this week (until today) so I’ve been all over the place.
Lastly, sometimes life just throws big storms at you. I normally start my week with some good free space in my calendar. This week so far was a perfect storm of meetings and unexpected, urgent and important demands. I’m just now today getting my first chance to stop and breath and get myself back in the groove.
I was in Dallas last week at the TigerPaw conference. I love learning and meeting new people so a good conference is a beautiful thing to me. This was a good one… except the trip down, but I digress.
Two huge benefits to a good conference:
- Where else can you go and meeting hundreds of other people who are all in the same business, but who have all tried different crazy experiments in their business and can share with you what has and hasn’t worked for them?
- Where else can you go and soak up great industry-specific information from a fire hose for days on end?
Bonus Benefit: Where else you can drink, have fun and legitimately call it productive for your business?
Of course, not everyone will agree with my opinion that conferences are a good thing. I would be willing to bet that most people do not get enough value out of a conference to justify the cost of time and money.
There are two things that I do that I think swing the odds of getting good value of a conference to my favour:
- There are hundreds of people to meet at a conference, but when you get back, you can’t maintain more than a couple good relationships. So I try to meet lots of people, but I focus on REALLY connecting with just a couple of those people. This is a strategy I believe is critical for any networking event (and in life in general). The trick is to try to find people with this same philosophy.
- One of the presenters at the conference said, “Business education without action is just entertainment.” Ain’t that the truth. A really good presentation can change the way you think and that can change your behaviour. However, most educational content needs more deliberate action to be of value. So I always try to come back with a solid “to do” list and I get it in action ASAP. As is the case in my first point, you also want to focus on a few key actions.
Strange. I don’t seem to have a problem capturing the value of the Bonus Benefit.
The first Smart Dolphins blog, here it is! What do you think so far?
I have to admit, this first blog is a tough one. I battled for a while trying to decide what our blog would look like and in particular what this first one would say. This first blog sets the tone for the rest. The rest sets the tone for our company. First impressions are critical, right? So, we best wait until we have it JUST right and then launch, no?
Of course, reality is, we never achieve perfection – especially with the first try. The software industry is a great example of this. If programmers waited to finish the perfect software, we’d all still be working with pen and paper. And, of course, if they did manage to ship perfect software, Smart Dolphins wouldn’t be around to fix stuff!
This unrealistic expectation of myself and my first impression has always been a challenge. I’ve grown to understand this about myself and I usually fight through it with action. I just take the first step. I just show up and see how I do. I just start writing that first blog and see what comes of it. It won’t be perfect and a lot of the time it won’t even be good. However, without the first step you learn nothing and failure is certain.
There. I didn’t fail.