Top 9 Questions to Ask Potential IT Providers

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Searching for an IT Provider can be intimidating, frustrating, and confusing. How do you know what service offerings will bring you a return on investment and which are too good to be true?

Before you begin interviewing IT Providers, you first need to ask, “What are my company goals and objectives with Information Technology?”

If you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish with IT, you cannot find a provider who best fits your needs. You may discover a provider who answers your questions perfectly, but the partnership will fall flat if they don’t match your needs, culture, and expectations.

For over 25 years, WEBIT has helped clients achieve their IT goals. In that time, we have learned the characteristics and resources that can make or break the relationship between client and provider. This article will share the key questions we think every client should ask potential providers to ensure they are a good match.

Questions to ask a potential IT Provider

1. “How many clients do you take on each month, and why that number?”

You want to ensure the provider in question is only taking on the number of clients they can serve well. A provider should be able to give new clients individualized attention and meet their needs without exhausting its current staff and resources.

The provider should have a large enough team to handle existing and onboarding customers. Conscientious providers are careful not to affect the service level to existing customers by taking on too many new customers. Both sets of customers—existing and new—should not feel any pains of the service provider’s growth.

Limiting how their number of onboarding clients also shows attention to detail and quality—this provider is concerned not about landing a high number of sales but is, in fact, more concerned that they can establish a good working relationship with clients.

Here’s the tricky bit: there’s no industry standard for the number of monthly clients. It varies based on the size of the IT provider. As a personal example, WEBIT is a privately held, employee-owned operation that only takes on two new clients a month. Also, if one new client has over 50 users, that client will take both onboarding slots for that given month. Because we only take on one or two new clients a month, our techs aren’t stretched too thin, all clients receive individualized attention, and we can choose clients that best fit our service profile.
So, in examining the potential provider’s answer, listen to the number but pay more attention to its reasoning. Mature providers will have an ideal number of monthly clients and an explanation for that number.

2. “How long have you been in business, and where do you expect to be in a year?”

While longevity is not always an indication of service quality, it does indicate a level of experience. For example, a provider who has been around ten years may have a more holistic and practical idea of what it takes to be successful than a provider who has only been around for two years.

IT is also an industry where smaller providers are frequently merged or bought by larger businesses. These organizational changes lead to a shift in culture, services, and expectations. Therefore, you should be aware if your potential provider is anticipating a change in leadership soon as it will also affect you.

3. “How much and what kind of insurance do you carry?”

As the world becomes more reliant on technology, it becomes more essential to ensure that data and equipment are adequately protected.
Typically, an experienced IT Provider will carry the following kinds of insurance:

      • Errors and Omissions (ENO)ENO Insurance coverage covers things like the cost to remediate an issue such as accidentally deleting data.
      • General Business LiabilityGeneral Liability Insurance coverage ensures protection if your equipment or location is damaged or someone is hurt on-site.
      • Cyber LiabilityCyber Liability Insurance is vital. It helps protect your business from the costs of cyber-attacks and data breaches. If your provider is not generally insured against these risks, you can request that they purchase a particular insurance policy to protect your relationship.

A provider who is improperly insured or uninsured presents a significant risk to their clients and their own business.

4. “What’s your onboarding process look like?”

The onboarding process lays the foundation for the overall success of the relationship, future services, and communication with your IT Provider. Equipment, users, and information should be properly documented so that the IT support team always knows exactly who is calling and what equipment is in their arsenal.

All equipment should be registered during onboarding. When you call in about a laptop acting up, your IT Provider knows which laptop you’re talking about, what programs it has, and when it was last updated.

It’s also vital for the provider to get to know you and your business. It’s their first look into your goals, setup, and expectations.

If the client has been properly onboarded, the handoff from sales to the onboard team to support is seamless for both IT support and the client.

5. “What is or is not included in your service package?”

It’s crucial to ensure that the provider in question has the programs and services that best fit your company. The support, strategy, service, and solutions they offer should suit your needs, systems, goals, and business size. In addition, they should have the experience and tools to help you create or improve your IT road map and proactively address potential issues before they arise.

Do they include the service hours you would need from their helpdesk? For example, if you have employees in various time zones, an IT service that’s only open during business hours in a single time zone will not be the right fit.

6. “How do you handle unanticipated issues?”

A mature provider will have dedicated engineers examining ticket history, equipment, and updates to ensure surprise complications are few and far between. They will proactively analyze more minor issues to make sure they aren’t connected to a potentially larger problem. More significant issues should be the exception, not the rule.

Less experienced providers may address each concern individually instead of looking at the larger picture. If this is the case, you will be contacting a helpdesk more frequently, and you will lose time addressing issues that could have been proactively resolved before they arose. The more time you spend on the phone with support, the more costly the relationship becomes.

7. “Is your helpdesk outsourced?”

This question is purely for your awareness and comfort. Are you comfortable if your IT provider has an outsourced helpdesk, or would you prefer localized service? Regardless of your preference, it’s good to know before signing the dotted line.

8. “How quickly can I expect a response through the helpdesk or on-site?”

Like asking about outsourcing, this question is again for your comfort level. What kind of response time are you looking for? How long are you comfortable waiting for a tech to arrive at your location? How frequently are you expecting to need to contact the helpdesk or have a tech on-site?

If your expectations do not align with the provider’s availability, it might not be a good fit.

9. “What service areas do you cover?”

It’s important to know what areas your potential provider covers. Firstly, you want to ensure that you are within their coverage zone. If you are not, then this relationship isn’t going to work.

If you are within their coverage area, what’s the estimated travel time for a field technician to arrive at your facility? Is this time window fit your service expectations?

If the provider has a large service area, do they have multiple offices? Do they have an office a reasonable distance from yours?

The logistics of availability and travel time matter in this kind of relationship.

A good proactive service will reduce the number of unplanned onsite visits needed, so consider that for the overall service. A truck roll is the most expensive part of providing IT Service, and good providers understand their cost impacts on both you and their business.

How do you know the IT provider is a good fit?

After asking these nine key questions, you will have a holistic picture of the provider and how they may fit your expectations. Your provider should be:

  • Able and conscientious about taking on new clients without taxing existing clients.
  • Adequately experienced and without impending organizational changes.
  • Properly insured.
  • Dedicated to a thorough and pleasant onboarding experience.
  • An organization whose service offerings match your needs.
  • Proactive against significant or frequent concerns.
  • An organization with a helpdesk structure that aligns with your needs.
  • Able to reply in a suitable timeframe.
  • Within reach.

Hiring an IT service provider isn’t just signing a contract for goods and services. This ongoing relationship is essential to your company’s success in today’s increasingly tech-dependent world. Technology can provide a business with a competitive advantage when planned and executed properly.

You wouldn’t start a relationship without asking questions to get to know your new friend. Why would it be different with your IT provider? Yes, the questions may differ from those you ask a date, but the end goal is the same. Questions help you determine compatibility.

So don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially the nine we’ve outlined. They will help you find the perfect match you’ve been looking for.