Managed Services Metrics Service Managers Should Focus On

Your managed services helpdesk team is very busy. There are several service desk metrics that can help measure your performance. Here are some metrics that a service manager should be focusing on.

Simple Service Desk Metrics

Open vs Close

The easiest service desk metrics to focus on is the number of tickets open versus number of tickets closed. If there are 200 support tickets opened in a day you should be closing at least 200 tickets a day. This is a simple measure of your closure rate. If you aren’t closing more tickets than you’re closing, you will end up with a backlog. A backlog of tickets will lead to longer resolution time on tickets which will lead to unhappy clients and stressed out support staff.

Mature Service Desk Metrics

Service Level Agreements (SLA)

Once your service desk reaches a certain level of maturity and is able to close more tickets than are opened in a day, the team can move on to more advanced service metrics. Service level agreements (SLA) ensure that when a support ticket is opened, it is acknowledged, started, and resolved in a set period of time. An SLA will ensure that not only is the simple volume of tickets being managed, but the priority of the tickets is being managed as well. Since not all tickets carry the same urgency, it’s important to be able to juggle a little and close the high priority requests fast. I did a very detailed blog post previously about managing SLAs [here].

Performance Management (Advanced metrics)

Tickets Per Tech

Once the team metrics are in place, you can start to focus on individual contribution. How many tickets should the support techs be closing? This can vary a lot from person to person, but having an expectation of output from each team member can be invaluable. Tier 1 support staff, in general, should be able to close 10-20 tickets a day. Tier 2 slightly lower at 5-10 and Tier 3 maybe 5 a day. Whatever the number is, just simply having an agreement between the team member and the service manager is important. This allows for a measure of the output from each team member against a target. If there is a slip in actual output, the manager can work with the staff member to determine why. It can also allow the manager to increase the team performance by setting higher output targets with the team.

Client Satisfaction (CSAT)

One of the key risks to increasing a helpdesk staff members output is it can often lead to low-quality closes. In order to hit a certain number, the helpdesk staff will simply close tickets without checking with the user to ensure they are satisfied with the resolution. When you’re smaller you can review each ticket to ensure the staff is following the support policy and contacting the user to make sure they are satisfied, but this approach doesn’t scale well. Using customer satisfaction (CSAT) as a team metric as well as an individual metric is a great way to protect the clients from quick-closes. Having CSAT scoring available to measure individual technicians metric is really useful as well. If you’re using Connectwise or Autotask surveys you’re likely not getting the amount of feedback that makes this a useful metric. Instead, use SimpleSat. SimpleSat makes it crazy simple for the client to give you quick feedback on every ticket that gets worked on. Plus the data is collected in a beautiful dashboard for easy review or team and individual staff members.

Simplesat Connectwise Survey Dashboard

Simplesat Connectwise Survey Dashboard

So if you’re just getting started with MSP helpdesk metrics or you’re already a mature operator, make sure you are using CSAT to measure and manage your customers feedback about the quality of the service your team is delivering. Simplesat has a free 30-day trial to get you started and if you tell them that you heard about Simplesat from Evolved, they will give you 15% the posted website price.

 

Header image thanks to Infocash on Flickr.

Getting your techs to enter time

I’ve worked in IT for 20+ years. I’ve worked at large enterprise systems integrators, small IT support companies, and run my own consulting group. I’ve run teams of 5 and teams of 50. No matter the place, no matter who I talk to in the industry, one of the most common issues people struggle with is time management and timesheet entry.

What strategies have people found successful in getting people to enter their time be accountable to this responsibility? Also, how do you manage your workload so that you don’t feel overwhelmed?

Here are a few I've found successful.

1. Explain why it’s necessary

It’s amazing how much a little bit of education can change someone’s feeling about having to do something. When onboarding someone, explain to them, “We need you to enter your time. Without your time entry, we can’t create invoices for the clients, which means we don’t get paid. So it’s pretty important. This is why I’ll be persistent about you getting your time entered.” Even if you don’t need the time entry for invoices, just substitute the WHY on the time entry, explain how it fits in the company process. If people realize it’s not time entry for time entries sake they may put up less of a fight.

2. Make it easy

The more cumbersome the time entry is, the less likely people will be compliant with the process. This kind of true of anything, but if time entry is important to your business, you need to spend the time to remove the fat/overhead from the process.

3. Prioritization

One of the major reasons people get overwhelmed is a lack of focus. There is only one thing you can do at a time. (check the research multitasking doesn’t work) Focusing on what is important. Making small gains feeds momentum. Anytime someone showed up to my office overwhelmed I loved working with them to write out on the whiteboard all the things they felt they needed to do. We would discuss urgency and importance of each. Stack rank the top three things and send them on their way. “Focus on these three first. If you need more help come back and see me after.” Usually, they just needed perspective to break out of the overwhelmed state. They rarely came back soon for help with the next three things.

4. Train them

What makes humans amazing is our ability to contemplate and influence the future. We are terrible at influencing the past, but we sure do spend a lot of time on the past. Switch your thinking and focus on the future. Train yourself and your staff on how you want things to be done in the future, then give them feedback to ensure they follow their training. Forget about what people have or have not done. Focus on what you want them to do. Train them, support them, and coach them.

I’m passionate about helping MSP techs gets more done with less stress and a sense of greater control, so I built the MSP Productivity Accelerator Course. It teaches you techniques of the GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology and how to manage your workload in the Connectwise. I did this type of training in person a lot and people always found it helpful. If you want yourself and your team to be better at managing your time and staying on top of the work in your PSA check it out.

 

How Customer Surveys Create Better Customer Service

How do you know you’re providing excellent service? You can’t just go by your gut here. The quality of your customer service is defined by what your customers say about your service. So how do you get that feedback from your customers? How do you measure your customer satisfaction (CSAT)?

Do your customers like you?

Do your customers like you?

Why should you care about customer satisfaction?

New business from word of mouth is the cheapest and most rewarding marketing you can do. Satisfied customers are the best way to reduce attrition. As competition increases, costs decline, and technology gets more standardized, the best way to truly differentiate yourself from the noise is through remarkable customer service. That’s how you create, what Seth Godin calls, your purple cow

Like most things in business, you can’t improve something if you don’t measure it. Your customer experience is no different.

“What gets measured gets managed.” - Peter Drucker

The lack of focus on customer experience from most MSPs in the industry creates a huge opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition.


"As a result of this pressure to improve the customer experience, many MSPs are devoting more resources to IT/technology roles than sales and marketing. Surprisingly, a full half of those surveyed say they don’t prioritize the customer experience when evaluating their managed-service offerings, and one-quarter don’t measure customer satisfaction at all…. How can you retain customers if you don’t even care enough to see if they’re happy with the way you’re servicing them?"

-- Channel Futures article "New ConnectWise Research Shows MSPs Are Underwater"


The Negative

According to “Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner, businesses only hear from 4% of its dissatisfied customers. So if you hear a lot of negative feedback, it’s probably much worse than you realize, but even if you don’t hear negative feedback, you’re missing a ton of feedback points. This fact is even more relevant when you consider 95% of people who have a negative service experience will share that experience with peers. 

Managing negative feedback on your service serves a critical function in protecting your brand reputation and gives you an opportunity to correct any negative points of feedback.

The Positive

On the flip side of customer service feedback, according to RightNow, 86% of people are willing to pay up to 25% more for a service if they have a positive view of the service. A Bain & Company study suggests that just a 5% increase in customer retention rates can result in a 95% increase in profits. This makes sense when you consider the high client acquisition costs of new clients vs. increasing the lifetime value of a current customer.

Most businesses use surveys to collect feedback from their customers. In the MSP industry companies often use the Connectwise client surveys or Autotask customer surveys. This is a decent first step since some feedback is better than none, but what people find is the number of people that actually complete a customer survey is frustratingly low. Email surveys can give you a 5% completion rate on average. Which simply does not give you enough to work off of? 1-2 surveys a week, will not give you the data you need to find issues, make changes and wow your customers.

Simple is better

What if a simple change to your survey process would allow you to get over 50% survey completion? 

A typical customer satisfaction survey is a link that opens a webpage and asks you to complete a multiple choice survey. These are often multiple pages as well. Even if the customer is inclined to click on the link in the first place, over half of those people will bail out before completing the survey. Anything more than one click is asking too much of people.

Using a one-click survey like this one from SimpleSat dramatically increases the likelihood of the customer giving you feedback. 

Simple Customer Satisfaction Rating

Simple Customer Satisfaction Rating

They don’t need to go anywhere or fill out any forms. They simply click on one of three graphics that visually describe their satisfaction with your company. 

This simplicity of interaction reduces the friction between the client giving you feedback by not requiring a lot of time or effort on their part. You don’t need a paragraph of text, you don’t need to score their feedback across 6 different questions. You only need to know the percentage of people that are happy versus unhappy with the service.

Recovery

There is a hidden opportunity in having more negative feedback. After all, you can’t fix a problem you didn’t know existed. SimpleSat has a beautiful dashboard that empowers you to view feedback, customer details, a team member leaderboard and overall satisfaction stats.

This helps you keep the pulse of how people perceive your service. If you get negative (or neutral) feedback, create a workflow that alerts the service manager right away. Reach out to the user and hear them out. Make all efforts to resolve their complaint. People are trained not hear back from the companies they work with, so when you respond quickly you can win their confidence.

Real-time website testimonials

Publish customer feedback to your website with one click

Publish customer feedback to your website with one click

After you set up a good process to take care of negative and neutral feedback, you should make sure you’re taking full advantage of all the positive comments you’ll be receiving. 

SimpleSat makes it easy to publish these comments directly on your website with the click of a button. No more out-of-date website testimonials!

Fresh Testimonials right to your website

Fresh Testimonials right to your website

Customer Experience as a superpower

It is not likely a client would refer you to a peer in their industry because you have great technology. In many cases, the people running the businesses you support do not care about the technology. The hired you, so they Don’t have to care about technology. What they DO care about is if they get value for the service you provide and if their staff complain about the service you provide. The quality of the customer service you deliver and the client satisfaction with that service is the only true differentiator you have in the IT support industry. Make customer service your business superpower. Measure it, improve it, and win your clients love in the process. 


For more info on the simplest customer satisfaction survey system in the industry check out SimpleSat and sign up for a free trial today.

5 Key Ingredients To A Successful Team

team-meeting-at-a-table.jpg

Google is a massive company and has had tremendous success. So what's the secret to growing a company like Google? The people operations team (HR) set off on a two-year quest to research what made successful teams. They guessed it would be something to do with a supportive team composition with complimentary skillsets and experience. What they found instead was something much simpler than they expected.

Google loves data and in order to research what makes a successful team, they spent two years interviewing 200+ Google staff members from all sorts of different teams. Development, sales, finance, marketing, everyone they could get their hands on. They cataloged the attributes of the teams and compared them against various performance metrics. These were the top 5 attributes to the teams that had the highest performance and most engaged team members.

  1. Psychological safety: Confidence to speak and act without feeling insecure or being embarrassed.
  2. Dependability: Individuals can count on each other to deliver high-quality work on time.
  3. Structure & clarity: Team has clear goals and plans to execute.
  4. Meaning of work: Feeling their work has personal meaning to them.
  5. Impact of work: Feeling their work makes a contribution.
5 keys to team performance according to Google Re:Work

5 keys to team performance according to Google Re:Work


Psychological safety

evil-eye.jpg

One of my all-time favorite business books, is Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. One of the central themes of the book is how teams are an extension of tribal culture and there is a deep-rooted need for safety in groups. This is demonstrated really well by close bonds formed between military units and first responders. Most of us are lucky, in that if our team members fail us we won't die. Military and first responders lives often depend on the person standing next to them. In the book, Sinek speaks to how a team with a low level of trust will often turn on each as they sense a threat from each other. A strong team will bond together and recognize the external threat. Everyone can recognize the truth in this. We've all been a part of teams that were bogged down in infighting and people sniping at each other. The amount of distraction and negativity this creates is a huge boat anchor on productivity and morale. Naturally, teams that don't trust each other perform poorly compared to teams with high trust.

Dependability

team-huddle.jpg

Dependability feels like an extension of trust to me. If team members feel that their peers will deliver their work on time, it has a tangible impact on trust. It also serves as peer motivation for the rest of the team to also deliver high-quality work on time. Of course, the inverse is true as well. When a team member doesn't deliver their work, the rest of the team gets frustrated and sometimes feels less inclined to do their work as well. This is why flagging and managing underperforming team members is critical. You can't let them spoil the work product of the rest of the team. Provided the team sees that a manager or even other peers are applying pressure to that person to correct their accountability, that can be enough to keep the team performance from suffering overall.

Structure & Clarity

leader-at-boardroom-table.jpg

This is one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of business planning. In most cases there is no strategic plan for the company. If something does exist it's often in the owners head. The effectiveness of leadership has a strong correlation to being able to communicate the goals of the organization. It's not enough to say, "We want to make lots of money and provide great service." I encourage businesses to write down strategic plans in a simple format that makes it easy to communicate. This is often done in the form of a one-page-plan. There are several ways to do this Gazelles, Traction, A3 (lean method). You don't need a 13 page report on your strategy. It will only make it more difficult to communicate. A simple one pager that outlines the goals of the organization is drastically easier to explain to someone else.

Once you have the clarity of the plan with target goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). It becomes easier to measure what is needed from staff. The clarity of the core responsibilities of the role make it much easier for management and staff to agree on what productive work look like. It shifts the conversation from, "You're not doing well at your job." Which is subjective and feels like a personal attack to, "You closed 4 tickets this week. Everyone else on your team hit 15. So what happened?" Don't fear measuring your staff performance. Provided your KPIs are fair, people will love the visibility. People that resist metrics are usually under performers. 

Meaning/Impact

Success.jpg

I will roll these two together since I feel they are strongly related and probably the toughest ones to get in place. Unless you work for an organization that is saving whales or curing cancer. It can be tough to conceptualize the impact you have in your job. This is why is critical for leadership to help frame the impact of people's work. In a knowledge based job like technology it's tough for people to point to a job well done. Hopefully you have some metrics to measure your success, but it's not like you can point to a house or a bridge and say, "I built that."

Some simple things you can do are ensuring staff have a sense of direction in their career. As a part of their development they need to be thinking about their future. Do they want to grow in to a management position? Do they want to be the cloud or security expert in the group? Do they want to complete their CCNA or MCSE? Whatever their goals, the goals need to be kept alive by the team member and actively supported by management.

Celebrating success with the team is also important for a group sense of accomplishment. When you win a new client do you ring a gong in the office, or have everyone participate in a group cheer? When you complete a large project or new client on-boarding, do you order in a nice lunch (not just pizza) or a cake to mark the occasion? Keep your team success visible and celebrate at every opportunity. It will be really helpful to the teams morale and sense of accomplishment.


If you'd like to learn a bit more abut creating psychological safety you can watch this TEDx talk from Amy Edmondson below.

MSP Documentation Systems

Love it or hate it, documentation is critical for effective IT support. Techs having access to documentation about the infrastructure they support will dramatically reduce the time it takes them to resolve issues. Documentation will also increase the quality of support by creating repeatable procedures.

Like many things in business and technology, there is a spectrum of maturity in how organizations approach documentation. On the low maturity end groups may just create a bunch of folders and documents on a file share or maybe they are sharing a Onenote page with loose notes. Here is a list of documentation systems that can help get your documentation from a messy garage full of unorganized junk to an F1 garage where you could eat off the floor and everything is in its place.

IT Glue

My favorite tool is IT Glue. If you run a managed service provider (MSP), IT Glue should be the frontrunner for your documentation platform. It is purpose built for MSPs with powerful features like built-in sync to your PSA and RMM tools, like Connectwise, Autotask, Labtech, and Kaseya.

IT Glue interface

IT Glue interface

Some of my other favorite features of IT Glue is that everything in the system can be linked together. When you open an asset like a Virtual Server, it will show you what Host the server sits on, what network switch that server is attached to, standard operating procedures (SOPs) related to those systems and passwords you may require when working on those systems. All of this information is at your fingertips, hyperlinked together. There are other subtle, but powerful features, like the completeness page. This page shows each client and the percentage of their documentation that is completed. This is useful when onboarding a new client and you can see how much of the documentation you have captured. Another key advantage of IT Glue is that you can share the documentation with the client online. You can also produce physical runbooks to print out, but only if you have the enterprise package.

There are dozens of other powerful features in IT Glue, if you’re not familiar check out their webinars for more details.

One of the key negatives about IT Glue that people note is its price. Also, IT Glue used to have a 5 seat minimum, but they recently changed this policy.

  • Price - $19/user/mth (Basic) to $39/user/mth (Enterprise)

  • Pros

    • Mature platform

    • API & Integration with PSA/RMM/etc.

    • Domain Tracking

    • Linked asset and documents

  • Cons

    • Limited customization

Recognizing that IT Glue may not be for everyone, here are some alternative platforms to review.

Confluence

If you have more time than money, Confluence might be a useful alternative for you. The major plus of Confluence is that it’s dirt cheap for small teams. $10/mth for up to 10 users.

Confluence is a great wiki and it’s highly customizable, but it will take a serious investment of time to build the basic structure of your documentation platform.

Confluence Interface

Confluence Interface

Confluence has a large community so you can find templates and plugins that may help you replicate some of the more advanced features in other platforms, but it will take an investment of time and the additional plugins cost can quickly add up. One other warning, the SaaS version of confluence can be a bit slow, so I would suggest you get the self-hosted version after you’ve tested it out.

  • Price - Cheap!

    • Cloud

      • 10/mth for <10 users

      • $5/mth/user >10 users

    • Self-hosted

      • $10 one time <10 users

      • $60/user one time with scaling discount

  • Pros

    • Cost-effective

    • Highly customizable

  • Cons

    • No RMM/PSA Integration

    • Requires a lot of time to setup and customize

    • Cost goes up as you have to buy additional add-ons for features

IT Boost

IT Boost is a newer entrant to the market and shows promise as a mature solution. IT Boost seems to have a lot of feature parity to IT Glue and their dev cycles are very fast. It’s worth tracking their development and position in the market.

  • Price - $50/user/mth

  • Pros

    • Documentation + business dashboards + customer satisfaction surveys

    • PSA/RMM Integration

    • VOIP integration

  • Cons

    • Pricey

    • Fast dev. cycle comes with bugs.

IT Boost Ticket Portal?

IT Boost Ticket Portal?

Passportal docs

Passportal is a well established solution for managing passwords for MSPs. Recently they have been working on a documentation solution. It’s still early days of the development of the documentation platform, but it will be worth watching them to see what the solution develops into.

  • Pricing - $15 - 20

  • Pros

    • Combine Passportal Ocular functions with documentation

  • Cons

    • Younger in its dev cycle. Not as feature rich as others

SI Portal

The last noteable solution in the field SI Portal. Honestly, this one needs some work. The basic structure of the platform is similar to IT Glue, but consistent industry feedback says that it’s “unpolished.”  This is reinforced by the fact that when I browsed around on the demo portal it throws all kinds of errors and appears broken. It doesn’t exactly engender trust.

  • Pricing - $15/mth/user

  • Pros

    • Integration to PSA/RMM

    • Cheaper

  • Cons

    • Mixed market feedback

SI Portal Interface

SI Portal Interface

Honorable Mention

  • Stella - Syncs with Connectwise, like a pre-structured confluence.

  • Bizdox - Connectwise solution, which apparently has come back on the CW roadmap. Keep an eye out for future announcements.

  • Docuwiki - DIY, Open Source, Free.


Regardless of the direction, you go. Investing in a documentation platform is worth your time and money. Using a standard system will drive standardization and improve your team's results.

Just remember that documentation is a cultural process, you must be ready to drive the cultural change necessary to sustain a documentation culture. You will fail if you just buy the platform and expect people to use it. Training time, project work, and targets are required to get the team using the system in a way that will drive the results you hope to see.

Improve your project Management Practices - Conducting a Project Kickoff and Close

Not planning for success, is the same as planning to fail. 

In an earlier blog post I explored 5 measures of your project management maturity. You can refer to my blog post here.  

In this post we'll dive deep on the importance of a project kick-off and close.

If you're not conducting kick-off meetings you're missing an opportunity to set your projects up for success. If you're not conducting a project close meeting, you are missing a valuable opportunity to learn to apply lessons from every project that will make subsequent projects more mature. 

Pre-Meeting prep required? 

In keeping with the 80/20 rule. 80% of your project meetings should involve a kick-off and close. The kick-off meeting should involve the project manager(PM), the delivery team, and the stakeholder(s). In some cases, you can even run a prep meeting with just your internal team before involving the stakeholder. This can be a simple 15-minute review of the project to ensure the internal team is clear on the project approach so you appear better prepared once the stakeholder is attending. Alternatively, you could provide the required reading for the internal team before they join the kick-off call. Whether this shortcut works for you will depend largely on your level of preparation and your team's adherence to reading the materials. If your process maturity is low, you should probably stick to the pre-meeting method first, then graduate to the required reading approach later. 

Conducting a Kick-off Meeting 

Once the project scope of work (SOW) has been signed off, schedule the kick-off call with the client. Getting the kick-off scheduled quickly is the first indication to the stakeholder that you are organized and responsive. If it makes sense to conduct the meeting in-person than you can, but doing it over the web is generally just fine.  

As with any mature meeting, you will want to outline the agenda in the invite. Here are the primary topics you will want to cover in the kick-off. 

  1. Introductions 
  2. Review Scope 
  3. Review RACI 
  4. Reporting

1. Introductions 

It's important to give the team context to the project. As Simon Sinek famously says, "start with why." Why are we working on this project? Why has the client asked to engage in this project? Are there any specifics to the project that will be important to be aware of? Is the client doing the project to meet some regulatory requirement like HIPPA? Is this project the first step in preparing the company to implement a new ERP? These details matter because they give the team context to what the purpose of the project is. 

It's also important to introduce the team to the stakeholders of the project. There is some psychological safety in knowing the people involved in doing the work. After all, people do business with other people. Capitalize on this opportunity to drive home trust of the delivery team. Speak to their experience and success in delivering these sorts of projects in the past.  

2. Review Scope 

Reviewing the scope with the client is critical. Formalizing what work the project will include will give you a stronger position to defend the scope against creep. This is your opportunity to clearly state what the expectations of the project are. What is in scope, what is out of scope, when the project will start, when the project will end, and what the end state will look like. Low maturity project groups either don't have SOWs or they skip over reviewing the SOW in detail with the client. This creates a risk of having the client's opinion become the governing truth of a project.  If you find there is a lack of alignment on the scope, consider if the project can proceed or if the scope needs to be re-visited. In some cases, your team may have missed something that needs to be in scope. 

3. Review RACI 

RACI for those unfamiliar stands for: 

R-responsible

A-accountable

C-consulted

I-informed

Detail to the client and the team who is responsible for what deliverables. Also, outline who are the contact points between the teams. If there are multiple people or teams involved in the project it's important to clarify who is involved at what point in the project. For example, a technical staff member is responsible for provisioning servers and configuring the network switches. The project manager is accountable for the delivery of the project and the communication to all team members. The client’s internal IT team needs to be consulted to coordinate any change windows or outages to the network. The client stakeholder(s) need to be informed about the progress of the project or any roadblocks that are encountered through the course of the delivery. The RACI matrix will grow in complexity with the number of deliverables and number of participants of the project. Be as detailed as possible by assigning individual tasks to responsible team members. 

4. Reporting 

Reporting is a key component to any successful project. How often you report on the project, how you report to the team, and stakeholders will vary depending on the complexity and timeline of the project. As a general standard, I suggest starting with weekly reporting via a scheduled phone-call/web meeting. The trick to making this not a burden is getting everyone to agree that this will be a very fast meeting. It should take no longer than 10 minutes. Come prepared, if you're asking your team for an update with the client on the line you're wasting everyone's time. The implementation person should be reporting their work to the PM in a PM tool, or simply via email. The PM will report the status of the project simply as green, yellow, or red. If the project is not green, there needs to be a plan to get the project back on track. 

if you’re asking your team for an update with the client on the line you’re wasting everyone’s time.

As a part of the kick-off you can ask the client if they would prefer to just have a weekly email update instead of a status call, but as much as possible, stick with an actual meeting. Especially in the early phase of the project. The beginning of a project is always the riskiest. Scheduling conflicts, missing equipment, and other issues will more likely pop-up early. You want to make sure the team is well connected until the project is in full-motion.  

Conducting a Project Close 

Once the project has been completed and all the deliverables have been met, it is important to formally close the project. The kick-off clearly sets out a vision for what success looks like. The project wrap-up meeting measures the performance of your project against that vision. One of my favorite quotes is from Peter Drucker, "What gets measured gets managed." If you're not doing a project wrap-up you're missing a huge opportunity to improve your delivery by simply analyzing, "What went well?", "What needs improvement?" Here are the key components of a mature project wrap-up meeting. 

  1. Review completed deliverables 
  2. Have client formally agree to close the project 
  3. Request feedback on the project 
  4. Review budget performance 

1. Review Completed Deliverables 

In the kick-off, you detailed the project deliverables. To wrap the project, it is important to state that these are completed. You can also provide a tiny bit of color to each deliverable. Maybe noting a roadblock that was overcome. Also, if there were any scope changes that were made, especially additions to the scope, these should be highlighted. 

2. Has the Client Formally Agree to Close the Project? 

In kicking off the project we noted it was important to have the client agree to the scope and deliverables. At the end of the project, it is important to have the client agree that those deliverables have been accomplished. This could require the client to sign a document, acknowledge an email, or simply state that they agree the project is complete. One of the key reasons for this is to ensure your project team is protected from issues regarding scope and testing. Far too often I have seen situations where the client holds the project hostage by continuing to add small changes to the project. In some cases, the client will come back weeks or months later suggesting that something was missed and they need the project team to come back and add/fix something. Most often this is the result of poor testing on their part. If you have some formal documentation of the project being closed, you can at least have a stronger footing to add additional revenue for the work required.  

3. Request Feedback on The Project 

Asking someone for feedback can be tough. The majority of the time they will likely just tell you, "It was great." or "No problems." The truth is they may have some small grievances, but they also don't want to insult you. It helps to be much more specific in what you ask for. Instead of asking, "How did it go?" you could ask more targeted questions like,  

  • Did you feel like you were kept up to date on the progress of the project? 
  • Did you hear any concerns raised from your team? 
  • If we did this project again, what was one thing that would have made it a better experience for you? 

These types of specific questions will help to frame more constructive feedback. Be cognizant that the client may be uneasy about sharing negative feedback with you, especially if the delivery team is involved in the project close meeting. If you get an indication from the client that they have some concerns that they are not sharing, follow-up with them in a more private conversation. Cues that they are not being entirely honest will be things like, pausing or stammering when providing feedback. If in person there will be body-language cues like crossing arms or adjusting their position in the seat. 

4. Review Budget and Performance 

Unless there is a reason to share the fiscal performance of the project with the client, this step is likely an internal review. 

If nothing else, you should measure the performance of the project by the accuracy of the budgeted hours. If you expected the project to take 64 hours and you completed the work in 62 hours, awesome! If it took you 68 hours, you did okay. If your work effort is beyond a 10% variance, it's important that you understand why. When I build a project scope, I usually factor in a 10% variance to account for overrun on administrative time, and small issues. This is fair in fixed-fee projects especially. If you manage your scope well, you shouldn't overrun the budget with work that wasn't accounted for. If your variance consistently runs at 10-25%, you're leaving money on the table or running an unprofitable department. Top line revenue is great, but your business won't survive if you have no margin.  

As you mature your project management practices you can start to measure more specific goals, like variance hours on specific deliverables or tasks. Where you find variances, dig deeper. Understand why those variances occurred and develop processes to eliminate or at least mitigate those issues from recurring in future projects. The Project closure review should be a cold hard look at the performance of the project, don't convince yourself that problems were unavoidable or simply hope you'll do better next time. 

Set goals, measure performance, make plans for improvement, repeat. 

How MSPs Achieve Great Service Level Agreements

If you are a mature Managed IT Service Provider (MSP) a Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a key metric to measure.

Why? An SLA commits your business to an acceptable level of service to your clients.

Few things drive a client crazier than submitting a ticket and having it disappear into a black hole. Non-responsive or ad hoc support are short roads to dissatisfied clients. Agreed upon SLAs helps frame expectations and communication helps manage these expectations.

Once you have SLAs in place you are also in a position to work towards consistently exceeding them in order to wow your clients with world class service!

Why are SLAs important to your customers?

An SLA is typically written into the contract, and in some cases, the contract may have a cost claw back.

In the IT service space, this is often not the case because of the general unpredictable and limited control that the service provider has in dealing with another company's infrastructure. Regardless, the SLA is a contractual obligation and repeated breach of this agreement is cause for termination of the agreement.

The importance of having an SLA is to have the client and provider agree on what the expected turnaround times for support should be.

Typically this is:

  • 8hrs for most support issues
  • 4hrs for urgent issues
  • 1hr for emergency issues

Once defined it is important that the SLAs are communicated to the primary client contacts as well as the users. This leveling of expectations can curb issues where someone submits a ticket and 1 hour later goes storming off to their boss's office when it hasn't been fixed yet.

Never make your customer wait!

As an IT provider, managed or not, you are a service organization first and a technology company second!

How long a person waits for service is a very tangible measure of the quality of service a person receives. Think of all the places that are notorious for poor services, the DMV, Call-Centers, food service. "We've waited 15 minutes and no one has come to the table." "I'm number 214. They are currently seeing number 167." "We are experiencing higher than normal call volumes." I have a question, when are they not experiencing higher than normal call volumes? The theme is the same, people hate waiting. People especially hate waiting when they have no feedback to manage their expectations.

Communication is critical to effectively managing expectations around SLAs. If you are a ConnectWise user, Brightgauge has a great visual guide on setting up SLAs, and provides a great monitor of SLA performance.

Always work to overachieve on your SLAs

World-class IT service companies achieve SLA >90% of the time.

Average SLA achievement is 75%.

Underperforming companies are around 50% and below.

With this as a reference, let's explore strategies to help you overachieve in the eyes of the client!

1. Manage the psychological contract

If a user is upset about how long something took to get fixed, NEVER dismiss their concern saying, "This was completed within the SLA." The SLA is only ever useful before a problem exists or in an after-action review.

Communication is the key to managing the psychological contract with the user. Acknowledging a support request with an auto-responder does little to dampen the client’s concern, it only acknowledges that an email or ticket submission was received. Auto-responders should not be used as a measure of response time.

Direct contact is a far better measure. It may look something like this, "Hi Jane, I understand from your ticket that you're having trouble opening an attachment. I've scheduled a tech to review your request and you should hear back from them in 2 hours." You've now acknowledged the issue and scheduled time for follow-up. This allows the user to expect when they will hear from someone.

The trick to this is maintaining that expectation and following through with the communication. Regular updates will buy you grace from the user, but not indefinitely. One of the best ways to manage this accountability to tickets is a dispatcher. Someone that can focus on juggling support requests, who those requests get delegated to and assisting with client communication.

2. Repeatable process

First call resolution is the best way to streamline your techs time and your clients time. The most powerful way to manage this is with well-structured documentation and standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Most of the issues that techs face are not some rare event that no one has ever seen before. In fact, most support issues are recurrences of a previous issue. Having a clean and easy to navigate documentation system like IT Glue™ drastically reduces the burden on techs of searching for the information.

SOPs act as a script for resolving typical issues or executing procedures. So rather than each tech re-inventing the wheel for each problem, a repository of information exists for them to reference. This is especially important in:

  • system builds (server/laptop/desktop)
  • application installation
  • user creation/decommission

These procedures get done a lot and have detailed requirements. Just allowing staff to wing it on each one will inevitably lead to error, which increases the time required through re-work or escalation. Missing details from a SOP can also create a poor perception with a client. "You guys have done this dozens of times. How come you get it wrong so often?"

Distill the knowledge from your team's experience into SOPs. This will reduce the time spent looking for a solution and therefore the resolve that issue.

3. Escalation path

A defined escalation process is important to ensure someone doesn't end up burning a bunch of time on an issue that might be out of their capability. Staff should know how long they should spend on an issue before asking for help or passing the issue up to the next support tier.

Great team members will often hold a high degree of personal accountability for the issues that they are given. They truly want to be able to solve the problem and help the client.

The dispatcher also plays a support role in keeping the team accountable to the escalation times and ensuring communication to the client. The service manager should be reviewing the tickets that miss the SLA and determine if there is an opportunity to update or create a SOP that would make that type of ticket easier in the future.

4. Low costs, high value

Some issues will require escalation, but a focused effort on reducing the number of escalations is important to drive up your “first call resolution” numbers. This strategy will facilitate hiring more entry-level (tier 1) technicians.

Here are the costs to demonstrate why this is important:

Tier 3s cost $75,000 - $80,000 a year. They tend to deal with complex issues and thus close fewer tickets in a day, say 5-8 tickets.

Tier 1s cost $35,000 - $40,000 a year. They should be closing 15-20 tickets a day.

Therefore: 2 x Tier 1 techs who cost no more than $80,000 = 40 Tickets per day!

This means the tier 1 approach is guaranteed to drive better results and help achieve your SLA goals.

Clean and logical documentation is critical to ensure the tier 1 technicians are being set up for success. It starts with team member onboarding. One of the reasons more seasoned technicians can resolve issues is that they know where to look. A good documentation system will ensure techs have a clear view of the client environment, assets, dependencies and other related information. There are a number of options available such as Dropbox, Google Drive, using your RMM or PSA, or IT Glue.

The on-ramp time for new people that have access to the collective knowledge of the team will also be dramatically higher. This is preferable to new folks having to rely on a steady drip of experience with each environment.

Finally, since the team knowledge is captured,  the tier 1s are more likely to be able to close issues on the first call. These quick closes mean SLAs are exceeded, clients are happy that they don’t have to wait and high-performance team members feel the success of blasting through issues while getting high-quality feedback scores on their work.

This post orginally appeared as a guest blog on the IT Glue website.

SaaS - How cloud application delivery is changing

This article originally appeared in the Annex Consulting Group Newsletter.

Cloud is becoming a familiar term in business. In recent years, the adoption of cloud services for business has accelerated at a breakneck pace. Instead of replacing physical servers at the end of their life, businesses are opting to move their computing needs to a cloud provider. This shift in approach carries the benefits of reduced risk, lower capital costs, and greater flexibility.

SaaS

The next phase of cloud adoption is represented by the adoption of the software as a service model (SaaS). Traditional applications have to be installed on your computer making them difficult to deploy, support, upgrade, and access. The SaaS model puts those applications in a web browser and on your smartphone, making them accessible from anywhere, anytime, without complications. Email, finance, CRM, file sharing, project management, from simple to complex, these apps are being delivered over the web.

IT has a seat at the table

This whole evolution is changing the role of the IT group in a business. If there are fewer servers and applications to look after how does this affect the role of IT? In many cases, the result is a positive shift that elevates the role that IT plays in the business. With the wide range of applications and integrations available, businesses require more guidance in matching their needs with an integrated solution stack they can operate their business on.

Vendor management and performance management also play a much greater importance. Network reliability and stability become critical in this new model. Traditionally if there was an internet outage, browsing would be affected and email would stop flowing temporarily, but staff could still work. The risk in the SaaS model is amplified since so many more work functions are impacted by a network outage. This is why many organizations are looking at redundant internet providers for their office. One primary line as well as a backup in case there is an outage.

Business Continuity

In some organizations, their business continuity plan relies on the ubiquitous availability of the applications. If there was a flood or fire at the office location people would still be able to work from home using personal computers or work laptops. This availability also extends to facilitating remote work. In fact, large enterprise companies like IBM, Microsoft, Telus, and others are saving millions by having their workforce based at home, reducing the need for large office spaces. 

This enhanced partnership between the business and IT allows for greater opportunities for innovation, efficiency, and productivity. A business may start by moving email to a SaaS-based platform like Office 365, then adopt Salesforce or CRM online, then move finance to Dynamics online or Xero. With each success, productivity increases, support costs go down, and user satisfaction goes up. Pretty soon the business is reviewing all of the workflows in the organization and asking IT, “What about these parts? Can this be integrated, templated, and optimized?”

Digital Transformation

Businesses are increasingly becoming more digital and not just tech companies. Data is often the lifeblood of any organization, regardless of the work being done. The SaaS model of application delivery is changing the way organizations see, understand and work with that data. Future organizational success will likely be determined by how progressive the business relationship is with IT.