There was a time when I thought I was doing my clients a favor by adapting to their technology stack and not forcing them to adopt a standard range of devices. It was part of my value proposition. I was saving them money. I was their hero.
Then I hired another technician, and the nightmares began.
Put simply, you will never effectively scale your business beyond yourself if you do not put standards in place. By the nature of what we as managed service providers (MSPs) do, there is enough diversity in our client base already (unless you serve a specific vertical, which by the way is not a terrible idea). Standardization helps you to train personnel easier, keep less stock of emergency parts, provide more consistent service, and be more profitable.
Standardization of equipment across your client base means you only have to train your technicians how you want things done on a set number of devices. It is not that your technicians are not good at their jobs, it’s just that it’s more efficient if you can give them specific configurations for specific devices. It’s also easier to document; if you only have one brand of router to configure, that only requires one set of documentation.
It also means that as you scale, your existing technicians can train new technicians more easily, and your clients are less reliant on one technician who knows all their systems. They will still be able to have their favorites, but they can be helped by the next available technician if you’re really busy.
Staying stocked up on parts reduces turn-around times when a critical fan, hard drive, or router fails. However, it’s cost-prohibitive to stock a wide variety of parts—so standardization can help you reduce stock of the critical replacement parts that you need to carry. The knock-on effect here is that this can drive up your customer satisfaction scores when your customers realize you stock their most critical parts. In fact, you can use this as a value proposition when trying to sell the concept of standardization to your customers.
Selling standardization can be the hardest part because we are cost-driven. In the same way that we need to get away from cost-driven pricing in favor of value-driven pricing, we also need to talk about value when selling standardization. The benefits to your customer are easy to quantify: quicker times to resolution, less failure, and less dependency on individual technicians.
Quicker time to resolution is due to several factors. Technicians do not have to perform discovery or relearn systems when a problem arises. They can just jump in and fix it. Time to resolution is also affected by stocking of parts. By stocking the most common critical parts, you can resolve issues faster than if you have to ship parts in. Also, there is typically lower failure rates in the equipment that you will specify, because these devices are higher grade than you will typically find in the average SMB closet. Finally, as I mentioned before, any technician in your shop can quickly and confidently diagnose an issue because they know the interface, configuration, etc. of the device they are working with.
In the end, the debate over standardization is one of cost versus value. Cost-driven decisions may have short-term satisfaction and revenue, but they will never match the long-term value and profitability of standardization for you or your client.
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Eric Anthony is Director of Customer Experience at SolarWinds MSP. Before joining SolarWinds, Eric ran his own managed service provider business for over six years.
You can follow Eric on Twitter® at @EricAnthonyMSP
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