Should you assign techs to clients or rotate them?

Karl Palachuk

There are two main schools of thought about the relationship between your technicians and your clients. One says that clients like to have a main tech they can count on, get to know and feel comfortable with. The other says that rotating all techs between all clients provides better service overall in the long run.

There are plenty of side issues and consequences to the approach you adopt. Let's look at some of them.

Have a conversation before you start

Karl_conversation.jpgLet me start off by saying that you need to talk to your clients and understand what they want before you assume that you know what they want. Don't have both sides of the conversation. Even if clients have an opinion, probe to determine how strongly held it is.

We sometimes assume that clients want something they have never asked for, like:

  • Sometimes we try to save the client money and we sell cheaper products even if they haven't asked for them
  • We frequently assume that every client request is high priority – especially if they call after hours
  • We sometimes assume that clients want super personalized support so they're comfortable with an assigned, regularly scheduled technician

Those things might be true sometimes for some clients. But they are usually not true for most clients.

Assigning technicians to clients

I think the concept of assigning specific technicians to specific clients overflows from the world of account management. Account managers are used by larger firms to handle the entire client relationship, especially for larger clients. They meet regularly with the client to make sure all their needs are met. And they keep an eye out for all sales opportunities to make sure the client gets quotes in a timely manner.

In smaller firms, most or all of these duties are performed by the owner or service manager of the IT company. As you grow, it's tempting to hand some of these duties over to the salesman or the tech.

I have heard clients complain about companies that treat them like strangers. We just acquired a new client whose primary complaint about the old service provider was that they'd been with them for five years and no one knows who they are when they call. 

Experiences like this lead IT service companies to assign techs. That way the tech gets to know the machines, the people, the configurations, and the quirky stuff within the network. And, to be honest, the quirky stuff within the personal relationships at that office.

Small business clients want to feel like they've got a relationship with their service providers. If you've got technicians with good people skills, assigning technicians to clients can really help keep that relationship strong.

The downside to assigning techs should also be taken seriously. Almost every time I've heard about a technician leaving a company and trying to take clients with them, it was made possible because the technician was assigned to the client and had a strong relationship with them.

One of the great dangers of having an assigned tech is that there's far less oversight of the quality of service your company is providing.

Rotating technicians among clients

quality_of_service.jpgLet me just say that my very strong preference is to rotate all technicians through all clients.

The most important reason for this is to increase the overall quality of service provided to the client.

One of the most important reasons to adopt Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) is to provide consistently high quality support to your clients. One of the biggest challenges to adopting Standard Operating Procedures is that team members in isolation tend to ignore or forget SOPs. That's why lots of SOPs include the appeal to "support each other" in this policy.

As a team, you can check each other's work, verify that processes are being followed, and help each other with best practices. In isolation from the team, individual techs will virtually always stray from the chosen path. That means they will provide a lower level of service than they would if they knew other team members would see their work.

Here are some common examples:

  • An assigned tech doesn't have to complete the entire monthly maintenance if he runs out of time. He'll "get it next month" and no one will know.
  • Changes are made on the fly and not documented because the tech knows the network so well.
  • A lot of work is done without a service ticket or inside another service ticket. No one's looking and no one will know.
  • Paperwork for hardware, software, and warranties is stuffed in a file drawer, disorganized. No one's looking.

It's not like we all sit around spying on each other. But when we all know all the procedures, it's easy to help each other follow them. And when a technician knows that anyone on the team could be the next person to visit a client, they take the extra two minutes to do the job right.

Don't forget another advantage to having a team: When it's time to troubleshoot or strategize about network issues, a "different pair of eyes" can be extremely helpful. The more another technician knows about the client network, the more helpful they can be.

Managing the overall relationship with the client

There are just a few key elements to maintaining a good client relationship. You need to provide good service. You need to understand their needs and where their company is headed. Roadmap meetings will help with this. And your client has to have faith that you are taking care of them.

Part of that faith comes from personal relationships. And part of it comes from the way your company presents itself. In my opinion, having more than one technician show up at a client's office shows them that you are all cross-trained and anyone can take care of anything. It shows that you are a "shop" and not a one-person show.

On rare occasions you might have a technician who is not a good fit with a client. You may even get a note requesting a different technician. If you get several of these, it's time to evaluate that tech's performance overall.

For the most part, having everyone on your team know everyone on the client's team makes it much easier and more comfortable to do business. No matter who is on vacation (in either company), you can work well together. And when there's turnover (in either company), the relationship continues strong.

You need to decide how your company will handle client relationships. You certainly don't have to do what we do. But you should make a conscious decision about the policy you adopt. Don't continue doing what you did yesterday just because you did it yesterday.

Three takeaways from this blog

  1. You need to talk to your clients and understand what they want before you assume that you know what they want.
  2. Remember: The consistency of your service delivery is your brand.
  3. Having everyone on your team know everyone on the client's team makes it much easier and more comfortable to do business.

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