February 2014 - Mosaic NetworX

Hands-Free IT: 5 Tips for Better Process Automation for Technology Providers

The order came in at 3:42 on a Friday. With the click of a button – “This order is accepted and confirmed” – Jenny started a chain of events within her IT Managed Services provider. By 3:43, the contract and first invoice had been emailed to the client. By 3:44, the new account profile had been set up in the company ticketing system. At 3:46, the support team lead received an email confirming a Monday morning meeting to lead an on-boarding call for the new client.

Like dominoes falling over in sequence, one into the next, things were happening automatically and with almost zero friction. Jenny was pleased – just three months prior, each step would have been done manually. She used to fax contracts to clients, the administrative assistant used to create client profiles in a spreadsheet by hand, and the IT support manager used to write down the names and numbers of new clients on post-it notes. Things were changing, and Jenny knew that this change was for the better.

dominoes falling in line.

Process Automation is like dominoes falling in sequence.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One of the best ways to increase the efficiency of your employees and the effectiveness of your existing technology is to add automated workflows to your day-to-day organizational activity. While many small business owners and operators acknowledge that there are places where their company would benefit from automated workflows, most are hesitant to relinquish control of even the most trivial process. Those that are willing to implement systems of efficiency often don’t know where to start. The good news is that process automation for technology companies and providers is a natural fit.

Almost all enterprise software includes automation tools that are underutilized by the vast majority of users. For example, most small businesses know how to set up a workflow rule in their accounting software that emails an account statement to each client on the first day of the month. Unfortunately, very few of those same businesses realize that the same software can run regular reports on cash forecasting and email those reports to the management team. Similarly, many IT services companies know that their remote management and monitoring (RMM) tool collects data and connects to their CRM (customer relationship management) software, but don’t know that the CRM can email customers an expected time for ticket completion based on the type of ticket submitted.

For the uninitiated, process automation means having computers, machines, or other tools in place to handle tasks and actions in your business. Most often, these tasks are frequently repeated so customization is not required. The most simple (and common) software automation is an out-of-office reply on an email account. If the account holder is out of the office or away from their computer and not able to answer email, the software automatically replies to the sender of any email message received.

While this may seem like a tiny and potentially negligible automation, without an out-of-office reply, a customer or client might send an email and have no idea that the person they are trying to reach is away from their desk. Perhaps they’ll start to lose patience and get frustrated, so they pick up the phone and call the company: “I emailed Jeff three days ago and he hasn’t replied!” Email auto-responders cut out the frustration and unnecessary interaction; the client would have already seen a reply email informing him that Jeff was not responding to emails at that time. In short, automation is about setting up a process or action that is initiated when triggered by a measurable and specific event, and it can save a good deal of time and frustration that might otherwise pop up in a number of your processes.

If you are using automated processes or considering adding them to your organization, these tips can help you get the most out of your tools:

  • Write it down.  How can you know what to automate if you can’t put it into words? Systems and computers can’t read your mind and certainly won’t respond to commands like, “Make sure we get paid on time.” Automation is a process and as such, each automated task should start with a detailed and well-thought-out process that you want to implement. My suggestion is to start by writing out the desired end result (i.e. “Invoice customers on the last day of each month”) and work your way backwards through all the steps required to make that happen.
  • One thing at a time.  Process automation will save you untold sums of money and time – eventually. For now, focus on implementing one task at a time and managing that task until you are 100% confident that it is happening as intended every single time. My suggestion is to write out everything you wish you could automate and start with the task that causes the most headache. If that task seems too complicated or contains too many steps to automate, save it for later and move down your list.
  • Go outside your walls for feedback.  Process automation is about making your business more efficient, but at what cost? If your customers or clients are impacted negatively, then you have to take a long hard look at how much you are gaining from automation. For example, customer service phone trees are an automated process that saves significant payroll expense for businesses. It also frustrates customers and clients a great deal. Top-tier customer service providers almost always have a human answer the phone. So talk to your clients and customers: is the process you automated improving their experience with your company or dragging it down?
  • Link it up.  If you write down processes and work to automate them one at a time, you will invariably see how they link together. This is where the real gains are made! In the example above, Jenny’s company linked sales processes to service processes and created a workflow that benefited the company (a better organized and faster on-boarding for the client) and client (not waiting for service to begin!). Don’t be afraid to link processes together.
  • Document it again anyway.  As you automate more and more tasks within your company, it is important to continue maintaining a broad view of the entire activity infrastructure of your company. At any time, you should be able to break the automation and interject a human element if a problem arises. Writing down how each process is supposed to function AND how each process is automated will help keep perspective within your entire organization.

As you might imagine, automation can be substantially more complex than email replies when it comes to business. From CRM tools that automate reporting to customers, to financial software that automates transfers between accounts when payments are received, there is a near limitless number of processes that are able to be automated for your organization. That said, jumping into the deep end and automating too much, too quickly, can lead to disorganization and limited visibility of what is going on behind the scenes of your business. Like most tools, automated processes can be a huge benefit when used correctly…and a big problem when used incorrectly. Click here to learn more about how Mosaic NetworX can help improve how technology, including automation, is working for your business!

Open Channels: Improving Sales & Technical Team Communication for Managed Service Providers

Calvin was beyond frustrated. Six months prior, he had taken a job with a small IT managed service provider. The plan was simple: he was responsible for finding new customers to help the company grow. Things had started off well enough, but then quickly eroded to the point where he barely wanted to come to work in the morning. It wasn’t that his coworkers or colleagues weren’t good people; he had a great affection for each of them. The problem was that his sales efforts were largely wasted by the fact that the technical team simply didn’t have the resources necessary to support the business he was bringing in.

Early on, the new customers had great experiences with the support desk and the network engineers. But then a new customer would sign a contract and there wasn’t enough time in the day to provide the same care and service to older customers. Eventually things got so bad that Calvin would go days without making a single sales call. He didn’t feel like the technical team could support any more customers and he was tired of looking foolish when he promised customers a level of service that he knew the company couldn’t deliver.

Inside sales team

Salespeople and technicians should work side by side if possible.
Image courtesy of Erento.co.uk via Speerhead.com

Calvin’s situation is far from unique. Salespeople for technical organizations are tasked with making promises and they count on their technical teams to keep those promises. Technical teams support the salesperson as much as possible, but in the end they count on the salesperson to set reasonable expectations with clients, or else every project is destined for failure.

Who is right? Who is wrong? When the customer is upset, does it even matter? The sad reality is that communication between sales teams and technical teams at IT service providers is often lacking at best, and toxic at worst.

Read the full article…

Exceptional Customer Service in the Enterprise Doesn’t Have to Be the Exception

As recently as a decade ago, Dell was the preferred IT hardware provider of many consumers and businesses alike due to the exceptional service provided by the organization. Excellent products and top-notch service both before and after the sale distinguished the company from its competitors and lead to years of rapid growth. But as hardware prices continued to decrease in the PC market, Dell felt the pressure of declining margins and fierce competition, and they repurposed their customer service infrastructure. Instead of a friendly voice answering the phone, customers were greeted by an automated phone-tree and extended wait times. Support technicians empowered to solve the problem at hand were replaced with scripted support lists and procedures. One of the things that for so long distinguished the company from the competition in a positive way was diluted and diminished until all distinction was gone. Getting support from Dell was no longer any different than support from any number of other IT hardware providers.

help desk

Happy customers are key to a growing business. Are you providing excellent customer service?
Image courtesy of Flickr’s Creative Commons, user Bytemarks

Have you ever noticed that companies providing fantastic customer service are the exception rather than the rule? Zappos and Nordstrom built their businesses on the concept of exceeding customer expectations in every way imaginable. But for each example of responsive and attentive service there are dozens (if not hundreds) of company profiles detailing customer frustration and aggravation. Why is exceptional customer service so hard to come by? Why are so many organizations in the “service” business de-prioritizing the customer experience they deliver?

Read the full article…

Are You Listening to Your Data? Using Business Intelligence Tools in the IT Sector

The amount of data available to businesses today is staggering. Many marketing and sales departments can quantify exactly how many television advertisements or how many cold calls or how many proposals it takes to equal a specific number of customers or revenue. Quite literally, the influx of data available makes many parts of an organization a living, breathing math formula where a specified input results in a predictable output.

As an IT services provider, you too have quantifiable data to measure in the pursuit of working more efficiently and effectively. That said, however, the results you are after aren’t as easily defined as activities like lead generation and customer satisfaction. From a technical perspective, your data is much more specific in nature, but wider in scope. From server uptime to the time it takes to close a support ticket, your data is telling you what you need to know to run a better IT organization. But are you listening?

IT and big data

Turn all that data into valuable insights about your organization.
Image courtesy of Dell’s Official Flickr Page

Understanding the information at your disposal requires some help. Business intelligence tools, or “BI” for short, are available from companies like SAP, Microsoft, Tableau Software, and many others. Choosing a BI tool for your organization starts with understanding exactly what you are trying to measure. Here are four key metrics that IT service providers should be measuring on a regular basis.

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Moving to a Colocation Facility? Here’s How to Handle Your IT Hardware Relocation

“I can’t find the cable.” Dennis was frustrated. He’d packed the server room himself and the entire team was working over the weekend to move their hardware into a nearby colocation facility. The facility they’d chosen had excellent power and connectivity, as well as on-site engineers ready to help at any time of day. They had leased just the right amount of space and gotten a great price. Now everyone was standing around waiting on him to connect the storage array. As luck would have it, Dennis couldn’t find the power cable for the primary SAN.

A lost cable. Mismatched servers. A broken hard drive. Moving your IT hardware to a colocation facility brings with it the same risks as moving from one house to another. While some people view IT hardware relocation as a simple process, there is actually substantial risk that must be addressed. Leaving your organization open to mishap can greatly affect your timeline for implementation and the continuity of your business operations. Here is a simple checklist designed to make your transition to a colocation facility a success.

Read the full article…

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