By John Kolkmeier, Director, Global Service Delivery, SSCS
I’m truly delighted to see a rapid growth in companies trusting and choosing independent hardware support (third-party maintenance) for post-warranty servers, storage hardware and networking equipment. With the support of Gartner, this industry is finally getting the traction and credit it deserves. OEM pricing for post-warranty hardware is all over the board, but generally grows more expensive the older the asset gets and the more they want to drive the tech refresh. TPMs just make good financial sense – a measurable bottom line impact.
While there are many good providers in the industry, some independent providers are starting to dilute the quality of service we’ve all built to earn credibility in the first place. That building took hard work and great investment. Recent industry trends have caused several providers to shift their service standards so that they can further reduce their pricing. This specific blog is a follow-up to Mark Haven’s last piece about Service Quality. We’re merely trying to help procurement pros properly vet maintenance providers so there is no buyer’s remorse. You deserve both Service Quality and, especially transparency, so that “choice” is entirely in your very capable hands.
I’d like to share a bit about Service Quality, as it relates to “Communications & Tools.” Not every independent provider will cut corners in this category; however, it’s important to be able to identify when and where games can be played. Or, to get exactly the service you need.
Communications & Tools
Most in data center operations or data center management would agree that the quality of vendor communications, communications processes and vendor tools are critical to proving the vendor’s ability to provide “Stability” and “Resiliency” in your data center environment.
What exactly do I mean (since this category sounds rather vague)?
- The style of the onsite field engineer(s), their approachability and willingness to flex to meet the informational needs of each client is critical to your satisfaction. And, this element can be a huge differentiator from OEM support, where CEs are hard-wired to avoid visiting your site. A good third-party maintainer will welcome the opportunity to get onsite and prove their troubleshooting skills.
- Escalation processes need to also be flexible in their transparency, as do the people assigned to various levels of the escalation path. You, or members of your team, may desire (or require) incredible transparency for select assets. However, your team members may not want anything more than basic status once-per-hour for other assets. Service Quality is not rooted in “cookie cutter” approaches, but instead must be unrelenting in its flexibility. And such flexibility should blow you away, when compared to the OEM’s escalation model. At SSCS for example, our processes are designed to support the fact that despite how much we plan and prepare, sometimes an outage is a fluid situation, with unexpected twists or turns – we build in the flexibility to allow for this occasional fact.
- Agility is often just as important as flexibility. How often have data center operations pros wished for, even begged for, one customized nugget of data in a SaaS-based incident portal (including views or output formats)? Think about the possibility that some maintenance providers may have designed “agility” into their digital communications tools and how easy it just might be for a provider to accommodate nearly any request. Is it possible?
How might you find hardware support providers that have built their communications and tools to have the flexibility and agility to meet your scaling or changing needs? You should try these questions during the vetting process, or even within your RFP:
- Are your field engineers trained in communication and the agility of their communication approaches with varying clients, or the changing needs of a single client? Does this exist in their performance review or are there associated KPIs? Could I see a sample copy of your FE performance review documentation?
- Does your company measure Client Satisfaction (CSAT)? Do you have data sets specific to satisfaction surrounding field engineer communication? Flexibility? Agility with changing client needs? Please provide your latest CSAT outcomes so we can see the if there is measurement of this kind.
- Specifically, what have you built into your Escalation model that permits significant transparency? How about changing transparency throughout the term of any one incident? Please explain fully.
- Can you prove to me with specific examples or process maps that your Escalation models are designed to flex with client transparency requests? Are these based on manual and/or human judgment or are they automated? How was any automation created/designed to avoid “cookie cutter” service delivery?
- If our company requested any single customized data point or view/report within your incident/ticket system, would it be granted without cost? On average, how long would it take to complete? Please provide two specific examples of when this occurred and the results. Personally, I would LOVE to answer this question.
- Did the builders of your incident/tracking system, those dedicated to User Experience, start with any sort of mission/objective rooted in client-focused agility? Please provide that mission/objective statement that guided them.
These are incredible questions, aren’t they? Even for the best support providers, these questions are incredibly challenging and very clearly set a standard for quality. In your vetting, not every TPM will get an “A” grade, but a few with a “B” grade will stand out from those that are “Ds” and “Fs.” But, I promise you’ll be delighted at what you reveal and how very different this niche of providers stands apart from your OEMs’ service.
In my next blog, I’ll further discuss technical ability and expertise, as it relates to the promise of Service Quality. It’s an incredibly important subject that is too often mishandled during vendor vetting.
John “JK” Kolkmeier, Director, Global Service Delivery, SSCS
This year will be John’s 29th year with SSCS Global IT Services. A graduate of University of Houston, Clear Lake, most of John’s field service career has been with SSCS. Having several years of experience in direct field service and break/fix maintenance for multiple OEMs and platforms, John was promoted to Global Service Director eight years ago. All global field support and OEM subject matter expertise reports up to him.
In addition to his deep levels of interest in data center support best practices, John is an avid outdoorsman and conservationist, committed to non-profit groups dedicated to habitat protections and enhancement. He is also an avid fan of all sports, with a great appreciation for golf.