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In today’s post, Paul Azad, the founder of ServiceTree talks about an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) and how it can help an MSP, and how you actually achieve having an SOP without impacting your customers? or without it dictating what you do to your customers in a negative experience that the customers will feel you’re not actually there for them?
What Is An SOP And How Does It Help An MSP?
So I’ll clear it up just to make sure we’re all in the same starting point. And SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) it’s something that enterprises and large businesses use, and we generally find that it’s being used so that we have standard practice or we have standard things, so it’s easier to ensure consistency. I personally am a big supporter and believer of consistency and ensuring consistency within a business. Within MSP it’s actually really critical, so critical for success: It’s critical for simplified success, it’s critical for profitability, and product profitability by a successful MSP.
The unfortunate element that an SOP brings in places is something that I see more often than I like, and that is it taking it to the extreme. I see often where an MSP will have a a definitive and mandatory stack that they expect their customers to use. And in all honesty, this was something that was very common pre-COVID, I actually don’t know how common it’s going to be thanks to COVID and post-COVID, but you’ll hear what I mean in a minute. But it’s common that in an SOP being implemented, an MSP sees some new customer or a customer comes across the MSP as a prospect. As part of the onboarding of a customer, the MSP stipulates that the customer has to be using this product or this stack or this hardware, from router model switches all the way through to brands of desktops and so forth. The desktop side is not something that I’ve seen before where an MSP will expect the customers to change, but networks, which are routers, and others I’ve definitely seen. And it really does come from the whole model of having an SOP. Unfortunately, I see more often that it’s actually not around the customer’s benefit, it’s around the actual MSPs’ benefit. What I mean by this is an SOP is designed so that you can hire and you can train your people on one standard practice.
What Is A Business Critical Item?
So, let’s just say for example, in an enterprise environment, the only CRM they use is Salesforce: We only use Salesforce, so if you want to use a CRM, use our Salesforce account, you can go do this, and this, and this, here’s our training documentation, our help desk, IT help desk within the company, within the enterprise company, knows that basically at Salesforce, we know how to log a ticket with Salesforce if there’s a technical issue, and so forth. And in an enterprise organization, it makes sense because you’re the one company, you’re one brand, and you have one line, it’s all from the head down to the CEO direction, and everybody falls within that sort of scope.
It’s different when you’re an MSP and you’ve got customers of an MSP because we shouldn’t dictate to our customers what they should or shouldn’t use. I definitely agree that we shouldn’t be letting our customers use non-business-grade equipment or hardware. In my MSP I will only support items that are business grade and things that are if anything that’s business critical, and the item has to be under a support contract with the vendor. So if they’re not under a support contract with a vendor, we will not treat that item as business critical. The reason we do that is it sends a very, very clear message: we are here to support you. But if we’re not there to support that one item and that’s a line of business-critical application, then it’s obviously got to be important that there’s a support agreement in place. It could be a hardware item, it could be a software item, it could be an on-prem sand it’s got all your data on there, expect that we’re going to require the item to be under a service contract with Dell or HP or over the brand hardware risk.
The Importance Of A Business Grade Service Agreement.
The reason we do that is because if that hardware fails, and there is no business, there’s no support contract on that hardware, who’s going to be the one that’s holding the problem? The MSP, and how is it our problem to hold your problem in place? when you think about it. If that sandbox is that critical because it got all your data, which generally is going to be always critical unless it’s a backup sand (sandbox) or is sand that is always backed up and the data doesn’t matter if it’s offline for a few hours or a day or two. Then it needs to have a business-grade service agreement on it, otherwise, what’s going to happen if, let’s just say one or two hard drives go down or a controller goes because a hard drive could be a data loss? Now, if you don’t have a service agreement, it can be a few days before you find a controller replacement, and so forth, who’s going to be doing all the running around? You as MS. At the same time, you’ve pretty much locked a resource up for the whole time to get that sand up. There’s a chance that you need more than one resource to try to work around that problem.
In the meantime, the business is going to be impacted, and they’re gonna feel like IT hasn’t done its job, this MSP is crappy, and they should have done better. So really, it’s not a win-win, you’re not winning, because you’re gonna get a bad reputation no matter what you do, and the customers don’t go to win because they’re down and staff members are going to be doing nothing as well so they’ll feel very bored or they’ll be impacted as well. Overall, it’s not helping anybody.
How Do You Define Business Critical?
That’s the only one that we sort of stipulate is that: if it’s business critical, and the item has to have a service agreement, or service contract, or whatever that is called within, or however that’s defined, that’s the only one we mandate. The other one is that the items that are being used in the business have to be a business grade. So don’t bring in a hodgepodge home Wi-Fi network into the office and expect us to be asked to support it, that’s insecure, or that kind of stuff. We definitely won’t support home-grade devices or Windows Home on devices for a similar reason. Not being part of a domain these days, Windows Home doesn’t actually have as much impact as it used to. But from our point of view, Windows Home is generally only available on a home-grade device. Therefore, from that point, it sort of helps us clarify whether the hardware, is of a business grade.
Aside element of that, the one that really surprised me is the Lenovo X1 Carbon laptop. They’re premium business laptops in the low range, I actually have one, and it’s available Windows Home Edition, but I don’t get it. But anyway, I’ll get off that one.
It’s Unfair To Our Customers.
What I was trying to get at is dictating within our customers, dictating to an SOP, it shouldn’t be around the hardware, we should be able to within our business, within our MSP have the strength, have the resources, have the processes in place, that we can service our customers, and not require them to be running the specific brand hardware that we want on our switches and routers and so forth. Because really, it’s unfair that a customer is coming to your business, and as part of doing so they have to run their own hardware and your hardware brands they have to buy it through you. It also really, if you think of yourself as a consumer, makes them wonder why you want us to replace our hardware. Where you’re making the money from? That’s also definitely not adding to the integrity of your brand or your business to your customers. So that also impacts that.
The good thing with the market is that there are enough businesses who are out there, there are enough prospective customers, that if you’ve got a specific vertical that you’re in, there’s enough business out there and opportunities that you can stay within that sort of vertical or multiple verticals. So it might be the case that you’re a medical, or you’re in another industry, that vertical there has got specific products in there, so you can upskill your resources, your team to know that industry, that vertical, so that way your team understands it, and you’re able to, without enforcing an SOP, have a framework of an SOP so that your customers are within a scope that you’re happy and comfortable to support, and they are not feeling that you’re pushing something down their throat.
Some Brands Of Hardware That I Don’t Recommend And Why.
So that generally works a lot better if you’re sort of showing the customers why. Based on my MSP there are some brands of hardware that I don’t, and I’ll tell our customers why I won’t suggest them, and it’s not because of the margins. In one case, the actual brand has got one of the highest margins but I haven’t had a good experience when it comes to service or support, having a next business day warranty, and then finding that server, because the new model, I had to wait 42 days to get that server serviced. And I always tell the customer that story, and I’ll say, this is what happened to us if you really want, we will still buy that brand but I’ll tell you right now, that is the experience that we had and that’s why we will not suggest you use that brand. But if you want to use it, go for it, go for your life, I’m not going to stop it because it is a business grade, it is one of the top three, top four brands of hardware. But we’ve had that experience, which luckily, it didn’t impact us. The customer bought all this new equipment just before they came to be a customer of my MSP and the equipment, we had actually about three months up our sleeve for that project to go live, so it didn’t actually delay the project. But my gosh, if it did, or if that server was actually in production, that would have been really, really painful that they’d spent about $14,000 on a server that was actually not being supported, because it was, let’s say brand new, and they didn’t have any hardware in country.
Don’t Let Your Customers Dictate Your Standard Operating Procedure.
Regarding an SOP having a Standard Operating Procedure, don’t dictate it to all your customers, don’t dictate that they are specific in things that realistically you as an MSP should be able to do within your wheelhouse. If you’re not able to within your wheelhouse, reconsider if that customer is a good fit for you, and look for the win-win, look for something that the customer is going to benefit from as well as you, so generally those win-wins are going to give you long-lasting customers and customers that believe in your direction and believe in your integrity.