Are You Getting a Service Desk Outsourcing Consultation or a Pitch?

A group of men and women sit around a table collaborating

A common and very annoying outbound marketing approach these days is the unsolicited email. Prospective vendors have a pitch and a service and they target their audience with all of the precision of a carpet bombing campaign used to hunt a rabbit. As if that weren’t enough, the fact that you’ve completely ignored that first and second blast of emails is now grounds for a relationship, a rationale that if conducted in person would be grounds for a restraining order. Yes, outbound marketers are starting to double down by first acknowledging that utter lack of interest on your part by then demanding an explanation why. Or worse, they suggest it’s now time to schedule a conference call to discuss why you’ve never responded after repeated provocation. While precious few buyers would subject themselves to this high-pressure strategy for a pair of tube socks, it is frequently the way they choose to reach out to service desk outsourcing vendors when considering a fully managed, enterprise level, multi-year IT support commitment. They ask for a pitch instead of a dialogue. There is indeed a better way to find out what you’ve been looking for all along.

As much as any sales representative would love to recite the company background, list clients and awards, and industry related experience, most IT organizations should assume an inbound audience has done some degree of homework or they wouldn’t have contacted them via their website in the first place.  Obviously, potential vendors must be willing to demonstrate their level of competence via a thorough vetting process, but anyone who does the dance at the behest of the person who initiated the communication is inviting a one-way conversation. Rather than invoke the sales pitch, the communication dynamic should be more of an “ask, listen, educate, and repeat” proposition.

On the other hand, if your goal is to obtain a ballpark price to relay to your boss or present at a budget meeting, certainly a number of service desk vendors would be willing to accommodate with precious little investigation into the intricacies of your business requirements. While this transactional approach obliges short-term convenience for both parties, it shortcuts what should otherwise be a thorough vendor evaluation process worthy of any significant investment. If, on the other hand, both parties have a vested interest in developing a detailed, workable solution, questions that engage in a consultative approach are a much more worthwhile place to start. For prospective clients, below are some questions to expect when you’re not part of the vendor’s month-end quota.

What is your monthly volume? Are you overwhelmed and simply don’t have the staff to accommodate or are you looking for someone to handle the occasional after-hours call that wakes you up?  If you’re dealing with an IT entrepreneur, any volume that trickles in is welcome volume. Just bear in mind for a low volume solution, the repertoire of incident types resolved may be more geared towards standard MS Office products versus unique or proprietary applications. A reasonable correlation to anticipate for any sized vendor is: the higher the volume the higher the customization in all respects. For example, if there are any unique language requirements outside of English and Spanish, billable monthly volume dictates the extent to which a US-based vendor can invest in those unique resources assuming they are not already on the payroll.

What applications and operations systems are supported? Do you have any proprietary applications unique to your business? If so, what documentation exists if any? During the discovery and implementation process, it’s up to the service desk vendor to identify gaps in procedural documentation and create new articles along with a training program. Since the state of any organization’s technical environment is more of a snapshot than a permanent destination, it’s good to know whether the vendor charges an additional fee to support things like new application rollouts or if that’s included in the recurring service.

Do you require remote or on-site support? Are you looking for shared or dedicated staff? The service desk outsourcing vendor should be prepared to review the cost and service quality advantages and disadvantages of all support combinations. With regard to the staffing model, a good follow up question would be what are your service level agreement requirements? Clients looking to maximize support quality with a fast Average Speed to Answer (ASA) and low abandon rates must understand that a shared or hybrid staffing model would be the only way to achieve aggressive numbers during temporary spikes in volume or seasonal peaks. Both factors can be detrimental to hitting those targets when staffed with a limited number of dedicated resources even if the fixed monthly costs would be appealing to any CFO.

What ticketing system do you use if any? More importantly, is the service desk provider willing to work with whatever industry standard tool you have already invested in or do they insist on using their own? While this is a somewhat leading question, some service desks stand to generate additional revenue by implementation and licensing a favored ITSM platform and may package these fees in with the overall solution. On the other hand, vendors who remain brand neutral are more likely to pass the litmus test for flexibility. Moreover, to what extent is the vendor willing to merge with your in-house IT solution? If you’ve got a full staff during core hours, will the vendor fill in those support gaps after hours or on an overflow basis or is it an all or nothing proposition?

Is the solution white labeled for your organization or is the vendor representing themselves as a separate entity? Most service desk providers are prepared to serve as the operational extension of your internal IT staff. Especially when the service is remotely delivered over a dedicated 800 line and the agents identify themselves by your brand, end users should not be able to distinguish the service desk from internal colleagues seated in the immediate vicinity.

Unlike a quiz show, there is no one final answer to any of these questions. As discussions get more detailed and granular, they should prompt follow up communication including conference calls if not site visits and involve additional participants (i.e. key stakeholders or those with the in-depth expertise on any given subject). Prospective clients should expect to review data security compliance standards, hiring and background screening as well as training practices, implementation procedures, and ongoing support and reporting requirements. Outsourcing service desk support is a big decision and one that should not be arrived at in haste. Even for organizations needing to make a decision quickly either due to an underperforming vendor or rapid growth, it’s up to both parties to step up the communication and address all aspects of what is being offered and how it will be delivered; preferably with a little more attention to detail than a fast pitch.