10 Questions to Ask When Evaluating a Small Business IT Services Provider

By: Dan Larkin
June 25, 2014

small_business_IT_servicesThe meeting is finished and you’ve got a new assignment – your task is finding an IT services provider for your small business. However, you know that not all service providers are created equal. In order to evaluate how effective a small business IT services provider will be, ask your potential candidates these ten questions.

1.    What are Your Security Measures?
2.    How Reliable Are Your Services?
3.    How Reputable are Your Vendors?
4.    What is your Pricing Model?
5.    How Fast is Your Response Time?
6.    Will You Collaborate and Consult with Me?
7.    What is Not Included in My Agreement?
8.    Is Your Help Desk Outsourced or In-House?
9.    What are the Out-Terms On Your Agreement?
10.    What Kind of Guarantees Do You Have?

#1: What are Your Security Measures?

Security is a necessity for business, regardless of how big or small. You’ll need to know that viruses, malware and potential hackers aren't going to compromise you or your customers. What kind of anti-virus services do they provide? Do they have people prepared to deal with problems should security fail? How do they protect your information?

#2: How Reliable are Your Services?

You can count the money you lose in lost hours to downtime. Because of this, it’s important to know how reliable your service provider will be. How responsive are they when your system goes down? How quickly can they get you back up and running? Ask for response time data; you'll want to look at their history – numbers don't lie.

#3: How Reputable are Your Vendors?

Understand that when you select an IT service, you're not just hiring them; you're trusting the vendors they’ve chosen to trust. You want to know that you're working with a company with a good reputation and reliable partners. The best service in the world can’t make up for a low quality technology. Feel free to ask why they’ve chosen to work with their preferred vendors over some of the competition.

#4: What is Your Pricing Model?

IT services can be priced using many different models: time and materials, tiers, a la carte or, in a managed service environment, per user. Only you can decide which method best meets your business objectives and overall technology strategy. It’s important to work with your service provider to jointly decide which model best suits your business.

#5: How Fast is Your Response Time?

As you'd expect, faster is better. When you're dealing with an IT crisis, you want someone who will respond quickly. Think about it – the longer your IT issue lasts, the longer it affects your business productivity and your customer satisfaction. Both are critical to long term success, so it is important to have a partner you can trust.

#6: Will You Collaborate and Consult with Me?

The best IT service providers understand that they're not only providing a service, they're becoming part of your team. Instead of just telling them what you want, your IT provider should be able to look at your business's unique situation and make suggestions to accommodate your requirements. It shouldn't be just a one-time thing, either, but rather an ongoing process.

#7: What is Not Included in My Agreement?

Picture this: you get your monthly bill and find out that a service call you made last month cost you extra. It may not be a large expense, but it’s unexpected. These small additional charges can add up over time, particularly when you're not prepared for them. Ask exactly what is included in the service you’re paying for, and what you'll be charged extra for.

#8: Is Your Help Desk Outsourced or In-House?

The help desk is key to keeping your employees productive. Instead of getting frustrated and struggling with an issue, the help desk should be able to develop an understanding of your business and technology, allowing them to answer any questions your employees may have in a timely manner. However, if the help desk is outsourced, your employees will often times speak with a different technician each time they call, providing inconsistent results. Additionally, an outsourced help desk is another different business you're dealing with, another unknown factor.

#9: What are the Out-Terms On Your Agreement?

In other words, if you don't like the level of service you're receiving, how can you modify or, if necessary, discontinue your agreement? Are there any fees for early termination of any contract you have in place? What kind of advanced notification do you have to give? Be wary of any providers who include excessive fees in the out-terms of your contract.

#10: What Kind of Guarantees Do You Have?

Some small business IT services providers will offer you particular guarantees, usually dealing with their response time. You want to know what those specific guarantees are, and what happens if those guarantees are not met.

Small Business IT Services Providers

It's not always easy to select a service provider. However, answers to the above questions should give you enough insight to make an informed decision. 

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Topics: Managed IT Services