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Technical Support Options for Small Business – Part Three

Even a small network needs ongoing maintenance from trained technicians to keep pace with rapidly changing technology. If you can’t afford to hire a full-time IT manager, than you are left with three options:

• Do nothing
• Do it Yourself
• Outsource to a technical team

In previous posts we covered the reasons why ignoring your IT maintenance and doing IT yourself with part time or existing staff can be problematic for any business that relies on a sound infrastructure. Today, in the third part of our three part series on IT options, we’d like to describe the different types of computer support vendors and explain the differing levels of support that they can offer.
Obviously, outsourcing your support to a competent technical team is going to be the fastest and surest way to solve your computer problems, but it’s not an easy decision. With new computer repair companies springing up every day, your options for outsourcing seem endless. How do you know how to choose the right technician or technical support company?

As it stands today, there are 5 different types of computer support vendors that you can use: Vendor support, computer support hotline services, the “one-man band,” the major tech support company and the independently-owned consulting firm. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Vendor Support
You know the drill.
“Press one for English… Press four if you have a question about a product you’ve already purchased.”
You have to navigate through a maze of options before you get to speak to someone, probably in another country, who is just going to read off of a script. Most major software and hardware vendors – such as Dell, HP and Microsoft – offer this kind of phone support for their products. The worst part is that you often have to pay for a phone call that doesn’t help solve your problem.
If you get disconnected, you’ll have to call back and explain the situation all over again to a different person who is reading from the same script.
At the end of a long and painful conversation, you may find out that your problem isn’t directly related to their hardware or software. And that’s where the conversation ends. Vendor representatives aren’t authorized to offer support beyond the product they represent, so you’re out of luck. It could be something as simple as a loose cable or poorly configured firewall, but you’re going to have to find another way to figure that out.

Computer Support Hotline Services
These services are usually very helpful for personal use or home use, but are often a complete waste of time and money for businesses. For a set fee, you’ll get access to an 800 number and 24-7 technical support with a junior technician. This is great if you’re sitting at home troubleshooting why your computer isn’t connecting to the internet, but it’s an entirely different story when every second is costing you money. Your problem may be too complex for the technician or it may be something that needs to be diagnosed in person. Either way, that call could end up being a total waste of time and money.

The One-Man Band
This might be someone who left his IT job willingly, got fired or was laid off.  In most cases, this guy will try to do a good job for you. He means well and will often work cheap because he is eager to please.
Still, there are a few things you should consider before hiring a one man band.

Since most of these guys work from home, they don’t have office support to handle your requests. So when you call, you’ll get an answering machine, or a spouse or a child who takes a message that may not reach the technician. The technician is often at another client’s site, in his car or on his personal time.

These things can be more than just a minor annoyance. If you have a major network crisis, you need a response right away. But the problems don’t end there…

What happens when he goes on vacation or gets a stomach virus? What if you’re in crisis mode at the same time as another one of his clients? Or, what happens if the going gets tough and he decides to take another job? These are all scenarios that happen frequently with one-man band computer consultants.

These guys rarely carry the proper insurance, so they can’t compensate you if they screw something up and lose your data. And without workers’ compensation or liability insurance, you’re completely liable if they get hurt in your office.

Even if they offer a guarantee, how do you know they’ll be around to fulfill their promises? Without any employees or insurance, addresses and phone numbers can be changed in an instant. It’s easy for the one-man band to become a ghost.

The “Major Player” Tech Support Company
This vendor seems to have it all: multiple technicians, snazzy offices and a full support team. Depending on their size, they may even have offices around the world. Pretty impressive, right? Well, it certainly can be. There are many first-rate computer support companies that have grown to mammoth proportions because of a commitment to superior service.

But there are three things to consider before choosing one of these companies: schedule, price and availability.

Schedule
In many cases, these companies are so busy servicing a number of large, profitable clients that they might not give you, the small business owner, the service, response time, and support you need.

Price
Those snazzy offices don’t come cheap, nor is the support team there on a volunteer basis. These businesses have major overhead costs, so their rates tend to be high. This may be ok for a large organization with a big IT budget, but it’s not going to work as well for a smaller business.

Availability
Unless you’re running a major corporation, you’re small potatoes to these guys. And the bigger they get, the less personalized your service becomes.

The Independently-Owned Computer Consulting Firm
You may accuse us of being biased, but we’ve heard all the horror stories and have even been called in to clean up some of the messes that came as a result of companies making the wrong choice for their IT partner. These horrors can be avoided.
They aren’t as likely to happen at an independent consulting firm because of the way the business is set up. Independent consulting firms are usually large enough to provide backup support with speedy response times, but small enough to provide personal service.
Of course, not all consulting firms are created equal, but these are the key tenets on which we have built our business. We take pride in our ability to deliver consistent, professional services to all our customers.
Many other managed services companies operate on similar fundamental beliefs, but not all. That’s why it’s important that you interview any firm that you’re considering as your partner in IT. In future posts we’ll discuss how to recognize the warning signs when you’ve hired the wrong consultant as well as some demands you’ll want to make of your prospective IT partner before you sign up.