How to treat your customers right by properly registering hardware and software 

Karl Palachuk

One of the most annoying things you'll ever come across is a new client who doesn't "own" the software on their systems. Their hardware is not registered to them. They have no warranties. The services that must be registered are not in the names or emails of anyone in the company.

In most cases, this client has no documentation.

So the former consultant disappears one day or gets fired. You come in and look around, and you can't log into the firewall or the server. Eventually you have to replace the firewall, crack into the server and sell the client a bunch of legal software and new hardware. You get the idea.

In end, you have to charge the client thousands of dollars for the goods and services they supposedly already bought from someone else. It's a horrible situation.

Developing documentation

documentation.jpgI developed documentation in our business to guarantee to my clients that I would never leave them in such a situation. The client owns the software, the hardware, the network and the documentation. It is dishonorable and dishonest to leave them in the situation described above.

But your policies around software and hardware should focus on more than the basic rule that you should act honorably. Your policies should be clear, hones, and provide a sustainable process that contributes to the smooth operation and future profitability of your client.

Here are some basic policies and processes we use to manage software and hardware with our clients.

Key software policies

License.jpgInstallation

When we sell software to a client, we always install that software. Unless there are extreme circumstances, we install the software and we charge the client for doing so. Our managed service agreement (MSA) states that all software must be installed by us. In addition, it states that all labor necessary to fix machines after someone else (including the client) installs software is billable.

It may not seem to you or your client that software installation is a skill worthy of a $125 per hour technician, but it is. If you don't believe me, watch three or four of your clients install software: they put things in strange places, they don't choose the right options and they do it differently every time.

This is what you do for a living, and you will be careful to make sure that you can support the software you install. If the client does it, you don't know what actions they took or decisions they made. That can make it more expensive for you to support.

Activation

We always activate software. Whatever the process, we make sure that this is taken care of.  Some clients react favorably to a pop-up that asks them to activate software. Others will call on the phone or even log off their computer. It is a simple thing to activate the software and make it a non-issue. This also eliminates the question of whether the installation is complete, so you can check the last box on the installation checklist!

Registration

We generally do not register software unless it is required for support services. Normally, registration benefits the manufacturer and not the purchaser. It results in spam, but provides few, if any, benefits. Of course, if product activation requires it, then we do register the software.

Licensing

All licenses must be legally registered or recorded in the client's name. They paid for it. It's theirs.

Custom Installations

We always choose custom installations when given the option.

There are two primary reasons for this:

  1. If the software includes default options to install tool bars and demo software, we want to avoid that.
  2. The default options may not always be the best choice. For example, many options are disabled by default in Microsoft Office.

Hardware policies

Registration

As with software, all hardware that needs to be registered should be registered in the client's name. The same arguments apply.

Lifespan

It is our core belief that a business-class machine’s useful life is three years. Even if it is in perfectly working condition after three years, its truly "useful" life is over. It is slow by today's standards. The hard drive is too small. It doesn't have enough memory. It doesn't have the latest ports and hardware options.

Upgrading hardware

We do not upgrade hardware in machines that are more than three years old. It has been our repeated experience that either there will be a significant loss of time vs. profit just getting the correct parts from our supplier, or some other hardware issue will exacerbate the scenario such as the motherboard failing after the memory is installed.

The only two possible exceptions are:

  1. We need to provide a retrofit (not an upgrade) of a business-critical machine in an attempt to keep it alive long enough for its replacement to come online.
  2. We have explained our position to the client and the client is willing to pay for the time to find the correct parts, plus all time for installation and troubleshooting of issues arising from that installation.

It is highly unlikely that any client would ever be so attached to a machine that they would select option 2.

Documentation policies

All hardware must have a Machine Specifications ("Machine Spec") sheet filled out and placed in the Network Documentation Binder. 

All licenses, software, warranties, and hardware registration information should be documented in the Network Documentation Binder and in the PSA system (under "configurations").

Storage policies

For every machine (server, desktop, printer, firewall, etc.) there is a pouch-type folder. If there is physical media for an application, it is stored in a folder for the machine on which it is installed. The same is true of warranty and license information.

If there is electronic media, such as a downloaded application or update, those files must be saved in either the C:\!Tech or the D:\!Tech directory. 

The most important process

The most important process regarding software and hardware is that it should be registered to the email address Administrator@[client_domain].com.

If a human name is absolutely required, you can enter in the primary contact. But the registered email address must be the administrator account for the client's domain.

Sometimes we think the primary contact will always be there. Maybe it's the owner. But time and time again, something happens so that the email changes, the company gets bought, the contact gets another job, etc. It is therefore critical that software (warrantees, etc.) be registered to an email address that you will always have access to. That way, you will always be able to deal with renewals or other issues, even if the primary contact is on vacation.

All registration information must be recorded in the Network Documentation Binder and in the PSA system.

Implementation notes

Implementing these policies follows a familiar pattern: 

  1. Decide on your policies. 
  2. Write up your policies. 
  3. Meet with your staff and make sure they understand your policies.

These processes include policies on registering software and hardware, storing physical media, storing electronic media, upgrading software and hardware, and more. Don't think that these are all simple policies. These interrelated policies affect sales and long-term goals as well as simple documentation.

How this helps

When you have properly registered and documented software and hardware for your clients, you provide them with much more than the basic proof of ownership. When properly documented and stored, you'll have everything you need to recover or replace the

client's systems in case of flood, fire, theft, or some other insurance-related incident. In fact, you'll have documentation you can fax right to the insurance company. For licenses, you'll save the client thousands of dollars because you won't have to re-buy licenses for damaged or stolen machines.

In the long run, having all of this information properly registered will make upgrades easier to manage.

It will also make it easier for you to "retire" old equipment without leaving all kinds of software and paperwork behind. Because everything related to a specific machine is where it belongs and where you can find it, cleaning up is easy.

And as an added bonus, it’s very cool to donate old machines to a charity and include all the relevant paperwork and documentation!

As you can see, these simple-sounding processes work their way into a great deal of the smooth operation of your business. Over the long run, this will make both your business and your client's business run more smoothly and profitably.

Three takeaways from this blog:

  • Be one of the “good guys” and put all of the client’s purchases in their name!
  • Use the administrator email address for all client registrations. That way it is always available no matter what personnel changes happen down the road.
  • Keep track of all hardware and software information by using pouch folders that can be easily recycled with each machine.

(Used with permission of Karl W. Palachuk, SmallBizThoughts.com)