July 16, 2013
Every managed service provider sings the same blues song: “Can’t find enough good people to hire, oh yeah.” The hiring checklist usually includes proficiency with a remote monitoring and management tool, appropriate certifications, and the right experience. But the smart move may be to look more broadly for less conventional candidates, and elevate customer service experience to the top of your checklist.
Fellow MSPs recount how they found great employees from the worlds of software development, law enforcement, the military, and more.
Vince Tinnirello, for example, searches for candidates with a customer service background, since he learned the value of great service working for Marriott International for 10 years. “It’s amazing the lack of customer service skills we see,” says Tinnirello, CEO of Lone Tree, Colo.-based Anchor Network Solutions Inc. “All the nerds have certifications, but can’t talk to people. If we see low customer service skills, we don’t hire them.”
Tinnirello has two military veterans already on staff, and wants more. “We love hiring vets. They’re good with structure and details, logical, and I know they will show up.” His need to support existing business limited his recent searches to candidates who could hit the ground running, however. One came from VMware and the other worked on a help desk.
Jordi Tejero, president of CRS Technology Consultants in Cape Coral, Fla., wants applicants who have experience with remote management software, even if it’s not Managed Workplace from LPI Level Platforms, which is CRS’ tool of choice. “After that, I look for personality and customer service,” says Tejero.
“One of my best hires had been in construction for a local home builder, and his personality blew us away during interviews,” Tejero continues. “Another was a chef who was tired of working nights. He comes in early to get the backlog cleared so he’s ready to respond to whatever happens. He bills 115 percent of his time, because he does more than expected for a seven-hour shift on the help desk.”
Tejero, like many other MSPs, starts every new hire in the remote support department. “We want them to learn the right way to do things first.” Once the new hires in his 18-person company learn the processes, they may move to customer-facing positions such as consultant or field tech.
IT TAKES ALL KINDS
Stuart Selbst is also bullish on customer service. Selbst, a marketing and business growth specialist who heads Stuart Selbst Consulting in Tempe, Ariz., gets MSPs’ attention during speeches by declaring, “Any monkey can be trained to do the work. It takes someone special to do the customer service.” Among Selbst’s clients is a former New Jersey policeman who owns a $1 million-plus managed services firm. Another had been a paramedic. People who deal with the public “would be good hires, because they know how to speak to people without being condescending.”
Good communication skills top the checklist for Sikich LLP, headquartered in Naperville, Ill. Although job candidates should be well versed in a technology the company uses and understand the managed services business model, “we don’t want a bunch of nerds,” says Stan Logan, Sikich chief operations officer. “We want people who can communicate.” Sikich prides itself on having live people visit live clients, so it needs employees who are comfortable working with customers.
Sikich started as a CPA firm, but has diversified and grown with managed services, IT consulting, wealth management, investment banking, software reselling, and outsourced HR and custom programming. The company now has 465 employees (about 20 in managed services) spread across four states. Contrary to expectations, Sikich doesn’t put people with financial experience on its managed services or installation teams. “It doesn’t take a finance background to manage a financial services company network, but an understanding of transaction processing,” says Logan.
Case in point: One of the company’s leading managed services techs had been a Chicago policeman who learned the business working for his brother in a technology company. “People love him,” says Logan. “He has a great personality, relates well to people, and has good stories to tell.”
Deciding the family farm wasn’t his calling, Shane Swanson “got into computers quickly,” and is now chief operations officer of ARRC Technology, in Bakersfield, Calif. Several of the 43 employees on the MSP side of the business are veterans, who “usually have a good background and experience,” Swanson says.
In addition, says Swanson, “We look for a strong work ethic in job candidates. But early on we schedule a quick phone call to make sure they communicate well and have a good phone voice.” ARRC’s onboarding process includes some customer service training.
One way to help determine if a potential hire would be a good fit for the company is to administer the DiSC behavioral strengths assessment test, which rates individuals on Dominance (or drive), Influence (social and communication skills), Steadiness (patience, persistence), and Conscientiousness (adherence to structure and organization). Officially, market-leader Inscape Publishing, a Wiley brand, says these tests are not to be used for hiring. Unofficially, most DiSC test providers strongly suggest testing job candidates.
Tinnirello of Anchor Network Solutions uses the DiSC assessment to verify that job candidates “have a strong sense of urgency to help customers.” His two best techs have almost identical DiSC profiles, he adds.
But with or without testing, not all good field techs or network administrators succeed in the MSP environment. Tejero of CRS has worked for the past eight years to get away from break-fix into managed services, and he says some techs “don’t have the multiclient mentality,” and are unable to switch gears depending on which client they are working with.
Going one step further, many MSPs lament that large enterprise or major telecom carrier experience doesn’t always translate into managed services success either. Customer service skills, an outgoing personality, and a good work ethic trump Fortune 100 experience every time.