Call me a bit nosy, but I like knowing what’s going on in other IT organizations. As someone who’s been in the tech industry for decades, I know what an optimized process and healthy workplace looks like, and I also care that tech teams are functioning at their best – that’s why I started ServiceTree in the first place.
When it comes to a knowledge base (KB) platform, you will find that people belong to one of two groups.
Social distancing measures during the coronavirus pandemic have resulted in slapdash transitions to a remote workplace. Naturally, I was curious to see how other MSPs are handling the transition, and I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to MSPs all around the world.
Going from one MSP to another, it’s fascinating to see the similarities and also the differences in how we in the MSP community are delivering very similar services, yet going about it in very different ways.
Most people are surprised when I say that a fast food restaurant and an MSP have elements in common.
As a business owner, I know exactly what it’s like to have some vendor spouting off about how you should be running your business.
One of the questions that invariably pops up when any group of MSP owners are talking is price.
What do you charge? How do you charge? What’s your best margin solution?
My answer to that question is fairly simple: Your services automation tool should answer those questions. You should be able to see the uptime (or downtime) of any solution you deploy with your customers, You should be able to easily see what products are consistently triggering support tickets, and which solutions are sailing along smoothly.
The cost of a solution isn’t its price tag, it’s the cost to your business to keep that solution delivering in your customer’s environment.
Many MSPs struggle with pricing because they don’t have or don’t know how to use the data from their own business. How do I know that? Because, in the early days of our own MSP business, This Solution, we were running blind. We were constantly trying to understand and, in some cases, micromanage our costs. The issue? We weren’t looking at our staff as a cost we could effectively manage. Instead, we were completely focused on what products we could squeeze more money out of. We also weren’t delving into where our products were adding to our costs by routinely demanding technician attention. It’s at the intersection of labor and product where most bad things happen for MPS businesses.
Tried, Tested in a Real MSP Environment
When we invested in the technology that became ServiceTree, we knew that having accurate, real-time data about each solution we deploy, in each customer’s site, was elemental to not only delivering a good customer experience but also pricing our services and offerings correctly to maintain margin.
That’s why our tool’s UI clearly shows data on each solution, its ticketing history and more. With our real-time data, MSPs can see what costs money—wasted tech time, troublesome products, needy customers (come on, we’ve all been there …). After you act to right the ship, you can then easily track the impact of whatever change you make—the data will tell the tale.
Sometimes a troubled business can make one simple change to staffing, to a product line or support level in a contract, and see a tremendous impact on their margins and, ultimately, the bottom line. Learn how our intuitive UI helps you see real-time data from your business and make seeing trends and hiccups easy.
One of the most difficult parts of owning a services business is developing, standardizing and then meeting SLAs. While most MSPs, including our own This Solution, have standard agreement levels with our customers. But even with standardization comes variances and exceptions within those contracts as we tweak for size or geographies, response time tolerance, unique vertical demands, etc.
Keeping tabs on those details can be painstaking and time-consuming. Perhaps more importantly, while executing against those contracts and SLAs is definitely a team effort, managing them is not. Unfortunately, many MSPs leave those details—which customer and project combination is a priority—to their tech team members to determine, which is not only ineffective but can be costly.
Let’s be clear, you hire your techs for their skill with technology, not to be the hallway monitors for your customer contracts. Asking them to do that is simply setting them up for frustration and your business up for potential failure.
Take the Guesswork Out of SLAs
As a manager, I want to have my SLAs integrated into my services automation tool. With ServiceTree, once a contract is in the solution, support tickets are intelligently routed by customer, project, SLA and more to ensure the right ticket is getting to the right tech at the right time. No longer will your techs have to look at a list of tickets from multiple customers and waste time trying to determine the next step.
Why is this important? Not only does our PSA solution enable the manager charged with coordinating your SLAs with a full line of sight into real-time activities tied to each contract, it keeps your technicians from having to look up each contract every time a ticket hits. More effective. More timely. More accurate. That is what a good services automation tool should do for your MSP business.
Want to see how we support SLAs in your business, check out our demo.
Hi. My name is Paul, and I’m a techie. I love to solve problems, dig into weird patterns and tackle quirks in the network. But I’m also a business leader, so I know that using my talented team of tech experts well is the foundation for a successful managed services business.
When I talk to other business leaders—who are often also techies—the conversation quickly turns to how to make the most of the technical assets we invest in as part of our business. How do we enable technicians to focus on what they do best, keeping them challenged and busy without distractions? Utilization of technical talent can be one of the biggest hurdles to MSPs’ growth, for a number of reasons:
- Techs aren’t getting the right tickets to put their skills to use in the best way, which is a waste of their talent and pushes your costs higher.
- A lack of process for assigning tickets and then resolving problems with standardized (read: cost effective) workflows means you can’t use your junior techs effectively.
- Techs are being asked to make prioritization decisions about tickets and clients without any insight into contracts and SLAs. It’s literally a guessing game.
- The urge to pick out the most challenging ticket to work on can derail SLAs and leave your best techs working too long on a single problem while the demands of other clients go unmet.
- Then there is the paperwork. Listen, no one likes paperwork, but when you’ve invested in a technician with high levels of expertise and valuable certifications, you don’t want them doing busy work like time cards. You want him or her working on tasks that deliver value to your customers.
So, how do business owners take that investment we’ve made into our technical talent, keep it engaged, focused and excited to deliver exceptional—and profitable—services?
Use The Right Tools To Keep Your Team Focused, Effective
My answer is simple: Don’t ask your techs to do anything but tech. Enabled by ServiceTree, your techs will see the next ticket and nothing else. They don’t need to worry about what is the right fit for them, or which client has what level of support in its contract. The system has already evaluated and prioritized that ticket to deliver it to the tech best qualified to do the work and to meet the SLAs of the customers that have tickets in the system. No more wasting time tracking down a manager to find out when ticket should have priority. Instead, that technical team member can concentrate on the task at hand.
And, because of the process baked into ServiceTree, he or she also has all the information to execute a solution according to the preferences of our business.
What does that mean:
- Techs only see the tickets they are assigned—no distractions.
- Business best practices and workflows are customized and integrated into the tool to ensure repeatable, streamlined processes around every type of ticket, allowing junior techs to add value from nearly day one.
- The system has already determined the right response time and priority for every single ticket.
- Every minute spend on a ticket is automatically captured—keystrokes, screen shots, communications—everything. Your tech isn’t trying to remember how long it took to fix that server last week; the system tracks every step. No more timecards filled with guesstimates about how long a ticket resolution took.
This solution is a win for everyone. Empowering your techs to focus on their work, unhampered by debates over SLAs or paperwork, helps them become content, engaged members of the team. Happy, well-balanced teams deliver the best experience to your customers. When it all works, your team is more satisfied, your customers are happy, and your business is growing. Win. Win. Win.
If you’re asked how much you like your job today, your answer will depend on many factors. If your boss is breathing down your neck for a report, this is the day you’ll likely respond, “I hate my job!”
If you’re asked the same question tomorrow after the report is turned in, your response might be different. You might feel more positive about work, especially because your stress level is reduced and you feel more secure about your role.
Now, imagine your IT team members feel the same way from day to day. Their beliefs about their roles affect their perceptions of workplace culture. These perceptions influence the success or failure of the team.
Understand Your IT Team’s Needs
While you may have high empathy and feel able to place yourself in the shoes of team members, it’s impossible to understand their needs all the time. Whenever you get caught up in a difficult project, you may forget to discuss their assignments and how things are going in terms of work satisfaction, workload, and level of stress. You may forget to ask them about their families and their personal lives, but you should understand their beliefs about the team even when there’s no time.
Why are their beliefs important? These are the foundation of your team’s culture! However, you can also influence their beliefs to strengthen the team. It’s a general belief that, in order to build a strong team, especially in IT where people collaborate from multiple locations, you should give your team shared dramatic experiences. This means scheduling time for the team to leave the workplace and attend corporate retreats or team challenges.
What Workplace Culture Means is Subjective
Whether we’re content with the workplace culture or not, we should understand that the team’s wellbeing is a matter of perception. Bob in Project Management might conceive the state of wellbeing in the company to be vibrant, fast-paced, friendly, and supportive of diversity. Meanwhile, Maria, the coding team’s administrative assistant, might feel that her co-workers belong to cliques and don’t like her; she really wants to transfer to another project.
Workplace Culture Changes
Rajeev Bhardwaj writes: “Work culture is an intangible ecosystem that makes some places great to work and other places toxic. In a nutshell, the ideology of an organization is what constitutes its work culture.”
We also know workplace beliefs frequently change. Employees don’t develop or hold onto their beliefs in a vacuum. What’s more, employees view this ecosystem according to their own working conditions. A big factor impacting employees’ perceptions of culture lies in the relationships they maintain with colleagues. Even two people working on a year-long project hold different cultural views and feel it currently meets (or fails to meet) their needs. The question becomes what IT leaders should do to create a better workplace culture. First, let’s consider the rest of the definition of workplace culture.
How Culture Works
When we consider how to define an organization as having a good culture, such as one where people want to work, there are a number of factors to consider. Obviously, employees want to work for a company with a good reputation and competitive salaries/benefits. They also prefer a work schedule that fits their family’s needs. Some employees want opportunities for advancement and to receive benefits that help them prepare for future jobs, including management training programs and tuition reimbursement.
While these benefits may seem like enough to attract employees and keep them in the organization, they aren’t.
Set a Priority for Cultural Values
As leaders, we can introduce new benefits to the workplace that help employees feel healthier, more positive about their jobs, and able to maintain a work-life balance. If we want employees to be productive and to feel they belong to the culture, we must give them every opportunity to succeed.
They need to work in a positive ecosystem where they feel appreciated and that the level of benefits equals or exceeds what they invest themselves. How else will they feel valued and want to keep working for us? We can set a priority for employees to be well and to provide benefits that promote their wellbeing. This includes offering incentives for high performance, encouraging workers to take time off and rewarding them with flexible scheduling (even telecommuting), and offering a gym membership or gym reimbursement program.
Start With Small Changes
While we can add employee benefits in waves and try to change their working conditions, a word of caution is needed. If we believe there’s something wrong with our team’s culture, it doesn’t make sense to upset employees by introducing too many changes at once. Sometimes, employees respond better when their leaders attempt small changes. The mindset is that leaders should try to improve workplace ambience, which can be achieved without spending too much.
Over time, an organization’s leaders can also shape culture, through conscious and unconscious actions (sometimes with unintended consequences). The best leaders we have observed are fully aware of the multiple cultures within which they are embedded, they can sense when change is required, and can deftly influence the process.
Map It Out
Before you try to introduce changes to the team, make a diagram of all the cultures in which you’re embedded. Be sure to add the names of team members who are also in those cultures. If you value your employees and want them to stay, make it easy for them to believe they belong to the workplace team.
Make your meetings with the group and with the individual members a top priority. Do everything in your power to help them buy into the shared beliefs of the team, to contribute new ideas and values, and to increase their rapport with others. When you see problems with the culture, sit down and have an open discussion with all members about where to make improvements.
They should be part of the process of determining changes to make the workplace climate better. The result will be a more positive work atmosphere where people feel secure about their identity, or sense of belonging to the team.
To learn how ServiceTree enhances your business culture, aligns your team members and respects everyone’s unique talents and beliefs, click here.