Taking up references for IT support contracts

IT support employee working on an apple macIt's important you get the right IT support company for your needs. This reference checklist will help you narrow down the contenders

Once you’ve narrowed your list of potential IT support suppliers down to two or three firms, make sure you talk to the clients they cite as references.

No IT support company is likely to offer dissatisfied customers as referees, but you can still learn useful information about what it’s like to be a customer of your potential supplier.

Although referees don’t have to be in the same industry as you, it’s important their use of IT is at a similar level to yours. It’s best to speak to the person in charge of IT – this may be a separate IT manager in a larger firm, or the owner-manager in a smaller one.

What to ask the referee

  • ‘How long has company X provided support for you?’
    It’s useful to see that support has been provided over a decent period of time, as this makes problems easier to identify.
  • ‘What systems does company X cover for you? Is there anything they won’t cover?’
    The system the support company covers for the referee should be broadly comparable to your own. However, some IT support companies won’t cover equipment supplied by other firms.
  • ‘If you had to name one thing, what is it that company X does particularly well?’
    Get them to elaborate on this point. It indicates what real value the support company can offer to you.
  • ‘If you had to name one thing, what is it that company X doesn’t do particularly well?’
    It’s even more important you get the referee to elaborate on this point. If they answer with something that’s important to you, seriously consider if that would be a problem for your company.
  • ‘Does company X stick to their procedures, and does this cause any problems?’
    Support processes don’t always work well in practice. If the referee has identified any bottlenecks, consider changing your support agreement to avoid them.
  • ‘Is it easy to get support from company X? How do they prefer you to contact them?’
    Find out if the referee has ever had problems getting support when they needed it. Ask about out of hours support too: is it provided to a good level? 
  • ‘Have you taken out different levels of support with company X?’
    Many businesses require different levels of support for different items. For instance, you might want a one-hour response in the event of a server problem, but be happy to wait till the next day if there’s a problem with a computer. It’s important to find out how this works in practice.
  • ‘What percentage of problems do you estimate company X solves within a day?’
    The aim of this question is to find out if there have been any particular difficulties. For example, has the referee ever been stuck without a key piece of equipment for an extended period?
  • ‘What are the support staff like to deal with?’
    The relationship your business develops with your account manager can make a real difference to the quality of support provided. However, you must also have faith in the ability of the support staff.
  • ‘Have you ever felt fobbed off by company X?’
    If the answer is yes, find out more about what happened. Did it cause extra stress for the referee?
  • ‘Does company X always call back when they say they will?’
    Waiting for a call can be incredibly frustrating when you have an IT problem. Check that the support company keeps the referee informed of progress and that they do what they say they will, when they promise to.
  • ‘Will you be renewing your support contract with company X?’
    The answer to this question speaks volumes about the quality of support provided. If the answer is a ‘no’, make sure you find out why.

Finally, remember that this isn’t an exhaustive list. There may be issues important to you which aren’t covered. For instance, if your company operates from more than one location, you might want to ask how well they support businesses with multiple offices.

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