Client Relationships

By Russ Levanway

Keeping the Love Alive
With Valentine’s Day coming up, relationships are on everyone’s mind. I’ve been thinking about relationships, too – not so much the romantic variety but, more appropriately for this column, the relationship between IT providers and their clients. What makes a good IT partnership work?

I believe that for any relationship to be healthy, it must be win-win; there has to be some level of give-and-take on both sides. Your relationship with your IT company should be the same. (Okay, not exactly, because there is a financial transaction involved, but the point remains that it should be a win for both client and provider.) If it’s not mutually beneficial, we can’t do our job well, and neither can you.

So how do we reach such an understanding?

The “E” Word
We start with expectations. If you’re married or in a serious relationship, you know how important expectations are. If, on Valentine’s Day, you’re expecting a surprise vacation to Bora Bora and your partner is perfectly content with holding hands and streaming Netflix, conflict, and frustration will arise.

It’s the same in technology. Unreasonable expectations (eg Bora Bora) or vague expectations (eg “I thought we could just hang out together”) can, at worst, destroy a relationship and, at best, drive you crazy. Internally at TekTegrity, we are working on developing and clearly defining expectations between our technicians and clients using a system we call “Who? What? When? Where? How?” These five simple questions provide metrics by which we can set expectations for any service challenge we encounter.

For instance, let’s say you have an IT issue. We, as your IT provider, ask the following questions to gauge the issue:

  1. WHO is this affecting? Is it just one person? A lot of people? Everyone?
  2. WHAT is it impacting? What does it cost? Is it stopping your work intermittently or completely?
  3. WHEN do you need the problem resolved? Is there a specific timeline, date or deadline that must be met? For example, is payroll due tomorrow?
  4. WHERE is the problem happening? Your home office? A branch office? Do we need to go on-site? Or work on it remotely?
  5. HOW will you have considered this issue resolved? How will we have met your expectations?

The Golden Rule is still Golden
Whether it’s with our loved ones, vendors, partners, or clients, determining expectations can propel our work forward and help us avoid pitfalls and disappointment. One of the greatest strains on any relationship is a “fire drill” or last-minute emergency. You’ve probably experienced this: when someone waits until the last minute to drop needs on you unexpectedly. It’s tempting to say “This isn’t my emergency – it’s your emergency!” Like in any relationship, people are always more receptive to what you do and/or say if you gradually warm them up to it, rather than dropping it like a bomb at the last minute.

Sudden emergencies aren’t intentional or entirely avoidable, but the more advance notice you can provide when an issue arises, the better. For example, once you’ve decided to hire someone, let your IT provider know right away so they have plenty of time to get a workstation ready for your new employee’s first day. That way, neither our productivity nor yours is hampered during the transition. Similarly, on our side of the equation, we should apprise you of our work with proactive updates rather than working on your project for several hours or even days in a vacuum.

It’s like the Golden Rule: we believe in doing for you what we would like done for us.

Russ Levanway, CEO
// Russ is a sought-after public speaker, technology expert, and community leader. As the CEO of an ever-growing managed services provider with offices in both San Luis Obispo and Fresno, Russ’s goal is to sustain and grow an IT company that provides incredible value for clients, and a great workplace for his team. When not charting out the future for TekTegrity, Russ serves on several non-profit boards, volunteers at the People’s Kitchen and travels the world with his wife and two daughters. More on Russ>>