Hourly Support - Why We Don't Do It

Hourly Support: Why we don’t do it.

I lost some business recently.  A potential client that I’ve been talking to for months called me up.  He needed help with some basic support issues.  The request was one that we do all the time for our clients on a monthly support agreement with us.  The problem was that he didn’t have an agreement with us.  He wanted me to just bill him hourly.

That sounds completely reasonable, and it really is.  I set bad precedent with this prospect by having my guys do exactly that a few months earlier.  Their workload was less at the time and we felt like we could give him a hand without impacting our existing clients.  That wasn’t the case this time when he called.

I tried to politely tell him that our workload with our clients that we had made commitments to was high enough that we simply couldn’t help him now without impacting their service.  We are unwilling to do that.  He was put out and let me know that it would impact his decision about hiring us.

Keeping Promises Must Come First

There are honestly a lot of reasons why we don’t do hourly support.  I’ll tell you about some of them, but here is the most important one.  We as a company MUST keep our promises to our clients.

If we sign a support agreement with a managed service client, we make them a promise at the same time.  We promise that we’ll be there to support them when they need us.  We promise that their needs will come before our own.  Also we promise that we will proactively work to serve their interests.

Doctors have something called the Hippocratic oath.  Lawyers have a concept called fiduciary duty to their clients.  The ideas are similar.  The proponent promises to do all they can to work in the best interest of their clients.  They promise to represent their interests and work for the most positive outcome possible for their clients.

There is NO SUCH THING in IT support.  Maybe there should be.

At i.t.NOW we want those agreements to mean something.  We want to be part of your team and promise to do our best to have needed resources to help when you need it.  That means that we don’t do additional hourly support.  It’s good money for an IT company.  There’s no risk in it.  However, the commitments we’ve mad to our clients are worth more.

Don’t you want an IT provider that cares that much about your business?

Motivation is Important

I think that motivation is a key.  Why we do things is almost as important as what we do in a lot of instances.  Motivation is a huge problem with hourly IT support.

All businesses exist to make money.  We all have families to support and dreams to pursue.  Money helps with that stuff.  However, if your IT provider gets paid every time something breaks, you’ll soon realize you have a problem with motivation.

Hourly support incentivizes an IT provider to provide a Band-Aid fix.  If it breaks again, they get paid again.  Why would they look for a permanent solution?  Also, if they’re getting paid by the hour why would they work to fix it FAST?

Don’t you want an IT provider that in motivated financially to make sure that nothing breaks ever?  That’s what you want for your network right?  Functionality so reliable its boring right?

Hourly IT support has a motivation problem.  At i.t.NOW we do flat rate support agreements for our clients.  It flips that model on its head.  Every time something breaks on your network, we lose money.  Our motivation is aligned with out clients and we are motivated financially and otherwise to make sure that we prevent problems wherever possible.  We’re also motivated to fix it FAST when there is a problem because the more time we spend the more it costs us.

Continuity is Important

Having a deep understanding of your client’s network and what makes it run is a critical function of IT.  Without that understanding you can spend hours troubleshooting simple issues.  Plainly put, if you don’t understand the lay of the land it will take you longer than it should to solve problems.  That is particularly painful if you’re paying someone hourly to do discovery of your network to understand a problem.

Hourly IT providers are called upon on a sporadic basis.  They don’t always have the luxury of working on the same client over and over.  Time is the enemy of memory.  Things get forgotten, and simple fixes turn into costly mistakes.  They aren’t paid to keep meticulous documentation on your network.  They’re paid to fix a specific problem.  It’s not their fault.  It’s a problem with the system.

IT isn’t a one-time event either.  There are a lot of things on a network that require ongoing maintenance and support.  Backups and security patches are a couple great example.

The best-intentioned hourly IT guy in the world can set up a rock-solid backup solution.  That solutions will run without a problem for a period.  At some point however, something will cause a problem and kick it offline.  That hourly IT support isn’t paid to monitor the backup.  They don’t check it for success, and don’t test it to make sure it works down the road.

We hate everything about that scenario.  We always want to be able to provide fast solutions to our clients’ problems.  We never want to spend hours on simple problems because we didn’t know enough.  We always want to have documentation at our fingertips, so we know exactly what to do.  We never want a client to have a failed backup without us knowing about it so we can fix it.  Seriously.  That kind of stuff keeps us up at night.

The solution is to go to a flat rate support agreement.  This allows us to build in the support that our clients really need into a single monthly fee.  It allows us to document every client network.  We get to know everything about them.  It allows us to fix problems quickly because of that knowledge.  Backups are monitored and fixed when there are problems.  Security patches are proactively applied.  Problems are prevented.  Everybody sleeps soundly at night.

A Better Solution

I’m not saying there aren’t good shops out there that do hourly IT.  There are.  I’m sure they’re nice guys and really want to help their clients.  Our experience has led us to what we think is a better way of doing business.

Hopefully that potential client I lost will read this and understand our motivations.  We don’t do hourly support because we don’t feel that it’s good for our clients or us.  We want to be a partner and not a fix it guy.  We want to be part of your team, and we’re unwilling to bend on keeping our promises and doing things the right way.  Even if that means we lose some business as a result.

Don’t you want a partner that puts your business first?