As an IT vendor, you’re in the service business. Often, it’s not just what you do, but also how you do something that matters most to your customers. When you first start your business, you don’t need much documentation because it’s likely you’ll be the only person providing the service. But if you start growing and get more employees, you’ll want to have a lot of what you do documented—and it’s helpful to do this before you bring someone on.
This blog will look at the role standard operating procedures (SOPs) play in a successful IT service business, from the benefits they bring to the types of tasks MSPs should to try to create SOPs for.
Why Do SOPs Matter?
Before getting too far, we should at least define what we mean by standard operating procedures. For SOPs, we’re not talking about anything in an official compliance capacity. For the moment, SOPs that refer specifically to compliance will be out of scope for this article. Instead, the SOPs we’re covering are a set of written instructions aimed at giving technicians a uniform playbook for accomplishing tasks. Some SOPs break down to a granular task level, while others remain high-level at a policy or procedural level. We’ll talk a little more on that in a minute.
First, why would you go through the trouble of developing SOPs? If you or your team is busy, you probably don’t want to sit down and document processes. But here are a few reasons for doing so:
Consistent service: When you look at major corporations like McDonalds or Pepsi, customers trust these brands because their food remains consistent in most places (with some regional differences). This consistency allows customers to trust their products. SOPs allow you to offer some level of consistency for your customers, allowing them to know and trust that when a technician attempts to solve a problem, they’ll do so in a similar, professional manner to anyone else in your company. This also helps with quality control. You can expect employees to offer strong service by following the rules—and you can point out where they deviate if you need to coach an employee after a customer interaction.
Faster resolution times: SOPs do two things to speed up service. First, if an employee wants to accomplish a task that’s unfamiliar, they can look up the SOP for the task and accomplish it without reinventing the wheel. Secondly, employees won’t get blindsided when working on a new environment because things remain consistent. For example, if one employee is on vacation and someone needs to service an account, knowing that the network and its devices are set up consistently as a matter of course means the other technician can troubleshoot more and resolve the issue faster.
Service continuity: By enforcing SOPs, you limit some of your business risk in the event an employee either leaves or needs to take an extended vacation. SOPs allow you to onboard new employees much faster by giving them clear instructions on accomplishing tasks.
What should you document?
Of course, the next question should be, “What should you document?” This is a bit of a judgment call. Some people think you should document nearly everything. And ideally, it would be great if we could have a playbook for nearly every single issue that could arise.
However, this probably isn’t truly practical. So while the SOPs you choose to document will be up to you, we recommend setting certain priority items. Some options include:
Common, repeatable processes: Anything you’ll have to do on a semi-regular basis should be documented in an SOP. For example, you may want to have a checklist of tasks to accomplish when onboarding a new customer. And for common technologies, you may want to set up SOPs on how to properly configure the technologies so they’re put together in a consistent (and secure) manner. At some point, you may be able to automate portions of this work, but if you’re not ready, SOPs are your best bet.
Urgent events: Beyond that, it’s very important to document a playbook for any high priority events. For starters, we highly recommend developing SOPs as part of an overall business continuity plan in the event of system downtime. This is particularly important for MSPs, as many have to maintain multiple backup systems. The last thing you want is someone to go to restore a customer only to forget or mix up the restore steps for one of three backup vendors they support. Additionally, it’s worth having SOPs around security incidents if possible. When a security incident occurs, your team should know what their roles are and who will handle what. A full incident response plan is beyond the scope of this post, but try to at least assign roles and tasks in the event of common attacks like ransomware or a DDoS attack. In both cases here, the goal of the SOP is to get people under pressure to think calmly, methodically, and rationally, so your customer gets up and running again quickly.
Internal company policies: Finally, document any internal policies. For starters, have a clear and consistent way of handling tickets, including giving guidance to technicians on how best to document tickets when they’re done. Some people will overdocument and some will offer terse notes that are hard to follow; try to get some consistency here to make everyone’s life easier. Additionally, make sure to clearly spell out rules around time tracking, ticket escalation policies, and anything else that would help your helpdesk run more smoothly. Also, have SOPs in place for when employees leave such as a checklist that includes recovering company equipment, reclaiming any office badges or keys, turning on email forwarding to the employee’s manager, and shutting off critical employee accounts.
You don’t have to document everything at once. You can always document as you go if you don’t have much to start with. Anything is better than nothing. We also recommend updating as you go, if possible, to save time in the long run as things get out of date. Once you do get your first set of SOPs created, we recommend revisiting them on a regular basis to decide if you need to add, edit, or remove any SOPs.
The benefits of SOPs
At the end of the day, your customers expect a certain level of customer service. As your team grows, it’s important to get everyone on the same page with how to accomplish tasks so customers receive a consistent, high-quality experience from your team. Plus, SOPs can help apply order to your business and boost efficiency internally for your MSP. So don’t neglect your SOPs—they’re absolutely integral to any well-run IT business.
Once you’ve decided to document your SOPs, it helps to have an easy-to-access place to store them. SolarWinds® Passportal + Documentation Manager allows employees to access important documentation from the same place they manage passwords and account access. In other words, they have most of the customer knowledge they need right at their fingertips. Learn more today by visiting passportalmsp.com.
Guest blog courtesy of N-able (formerly SolarWinds MSP). Read more guest blogs from N-able here.