Fred Wannabe started his day by calling one of his first clients. He wanted to confirm their satisfaction with the work a technician had completed onsite at their location the day before. What he heard almost made him vomit...
Fred is a seasoned veteran of the computer industry. He founded his managed IT services business as a break/fix PC repair shop more than 10 years ago. His company has done okay, but lately he's decided to accelerate growth and profits. The business had leveled off. Things had become a bit stale and employees were less engaged than in the past. He wanted a change.
A few weeks earlier at an industry conference he had heard some wild-eyed, passionate speaker from the Left Coast give a motivational talk on leadership. Inspired, he decided to test out new methods of conducting business, like calling a few of his clients each week to confirm their satisfaction with his team's work.
Leadership Strike 1
The prior evening he had reviewed the list of tickets closed out by his technical team. He saw what he believed would be an easy home run and expected high client praise of their services. For his first conversation, he rang up Suzy Crow, the founder of I Got Talent You Got Nothin’.
"Hey, Suzy, this is Fred over at MSP IT .NET In-Queue. How are you?"
"Doing great. We're on a strong winning streak lately due to the depths of our talent," replied Suzy enthusiastically. “What’s up?”
“I’m glad to hear you’re doing well and your business is growing. Just checking in. One of our techs was out there yesterday doing some maintenance work on your servers. Were you pleased with the work he did and how he interacted with your people?”
There was a pause in the conversation that made Fred uncomfortable the longer it lasted, although it could not have been more than five seconds.
“You know, Fred, I don’t remember seeing any of your people here yesterday. Are you sure?” Suzy replied. “Would you like me to check with my receptionist?”
“Yeah, would you do that please?” Fred responded, trying his best to hide his frustration.
“No problem. Be right back.”
Fred looked at the ticket for some sign that there was a problem. Maybe he had read it wrong and Todd the technician had actually done the work remotely. Nope. Based on the ticket, which Todd had documented well, he had gone onsite, performed maintenance, and also identified a potential drive failure which he remediated.
After about a minute, Suzy rejoined the call.
“Wanda, our receptionist says your guy came in yesterday and told her that he was going to the server room. Don’t know when he left. Maybe he was just in and out real quick. Said his name was Bob or something…”
“Okay. Sorry to bother you, Suzy. I really appreciate you checking. The tech’s name is Todd. I can see from his notes the work he did for you. He was actually onsite for over two hours and did some great work. Caught a potential drive problem in addition to resolving some other issues. I’m sorry he didn’t check-in with anyone before leaving though. We’ll have to work on that.”
“No worries,” Suzy replied. “Anything else I can do for you?”
“No, as long as you’re good then I’m good. Don’t hesitate to call me if I can do anything for you.”
After Fred hung up the phone he was pretty frustrated. Todd the tech had arrived on time, performed good work, documented his time and the work, but forgot the most important part: the client relationship.
So Who Gets the Error?
Fred thought of confronting Todd, but then he remembered another simple, yet agonizing statement from the leadership speaker who motivated him to make these customer satisfaction calls: Any problem he encountered with his employees was his own fault.
Because he hired them. He (was supposed to) manage them, and develop their skills (i.e. how to interact with clients), and retain them (the stellar performers anyway).
If Todd was not interacting with clients in the way Fred wanted, then it meant Fred and/or his service manager were not training Todd properly and holding him accountable to their standards. And their other technicians were probably making similar mistakes in client dealings.
Fred had to assess his leadership habits before he could approach Todd.
Todd, and possibly other technicians on Fred’s team, were not engaged in problem solving from the client’s perspective. They hadn't thought to consider the following:
- Who is being affected
- What part of their business is impacted
- When the response is needed
- Where in their organization the response is needed
- Why this issue is so important
While they had important hard skills, like the ability to fix technical issues, his techs did not fully comprehend the soft skills side of the equation. By this I mean they were unfamiliar with the critical communications and behaviors of great technicians, which are equally important while onsite!
Hard skills allow you to play the managed services ball game. Soft skills decide how often you win, and how long you keep clients.
Leadership Strike 2
Fred chuckled, remembering how three years ago he had received a call from a client who questioned the bill she had just gotten from his company. He laughed, but then winced as his embarrassment still burned from the episode.
“Hey, Fred. Can I be candid with you? I mean, we go back a long time,” Rosalie started.
“Of course! I always want you to be candid. What happened?” Fred sincerely and naively replied.
“Well… your company billed us for five hours of onsite work on February 23rd. Can you see that in your system?”
“Give me a second… yes, I see it.”
“Well, our records indicate your tech arrived at 9:30 a.m. and left at 2:30 p.m.”
“That matches our records. What’s the problem?”
There was a pause.
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Fred, but from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. your tech was asleep in his car in our parking lot. We should not have been billed for that portion of his time.”
“You gotta be kidding me, Rosie! Asleep! In your parking lot!”
“I believe you, but I’m shocked anyone on our team would be so stupid. I’ll get you a credit immediately, and have all of your hours this year double-checked with each technician. I guarantee you it will never happen again.”
So Who Gets the Error?
Fred closed the conversation on a positive note, and retained the client, but he was not exactly a role model for leadership when he laid into that employee he promptly fired, about his unprofessional behavior and billing the client for that time.
“Well, at least Todd is not sleeping on the job,” Fred mused. But although he knew Todd was a good technician, he also knew Todd’s mistake was a HUGE problem. He failed to ask for Suzy or another executive before leaving to confirm the work he performed and to ask if they had any other needs.
Just as was the case with the technician who napped his way into unemployment, Todd's failure to touch base with the client was the leadership team's failure in training and teaching employees proper business conduct and accountability. Fred and management had to take ownership of both these strikes.
Otherwise, they would be racking up a “third strike”: Losing a client.
Getting Back on the Scoreboard
Fred’s people needed a charm school for I.T. geeks. Their technical skills were superb, but without consistently teaching business soft skills his people would never be their best. A lack of soft skills created an unnecessary risk of losing clients, and also top performing employees.
What about your company? How good are your people’s soft skills? Do they know how to think like a client? Do they get angry or frustrated with “dumb” clients? Could they manage their time better? Could they think more like an owner? The list goes on…
Do not assume your people know how to behave.
Coach them. Mentor them. Encourage them.
It will be one of the wisest plays you ever make.
Catch more of David's IT leadership blog posts:
- There's No Time to Lose! Why Every Leader Must be Punctual:
- 7 Actions You Must Take to Retain Top IT Employees