Compassionate IT

Company focuses on busting through customer service problems in its industry

The information technology sector is not exactly known for its people skills, but Vancouver-based Outsource Technologies Inc., is based on it, say its leaders.

The 10-year-old company provides IT consulting services that range from one-time system tune-ups to long-term holistic network maintenance care. Its main areas of focus are assessment and planning, design and integration and education and management of an IT system.

The 10-employee company, started by Erik Peters, hand-picks its support team.

"All of us have been in the sweatshops, the trenches," said account manager Susan Aldridge. "We not only come with the credentials but with experience. We’ve been in the situations where the blood, sweat and tears are, and when you add up all the variables, we are more compassionate and sympathetic to the customer because we have an understanding of where (customers are) coming from."

Customer service is the company’s mantra.

"Starting Outsource Technologies in 1996 was largely based on a single premise – take a vested interest in our clients’ success," said company president Peters via e-mail, unreachable by phone at press time. The team works to create an outsourced IT support system that augments or provides complete IT support, said Operations Manager Kendra Heckeroth.

The company has evolved in the last 10 years, not in terms of its focus – which she said has not changed since day one – but in how it delivers its service.

From the beginning, Outsource pushed preventative maintenance programs. Businesses paid for the service and received an allotted number of hours Outsource technicians spent working on the business’ system each week.

Any overtime equaled extra charges, which made budgeting for IT service difficult for clients, Heckeroth said.

As a result, the company introduced its Managed Services Program, which is a flat-fee preventative maintenance system. The solution, introduced two years ago, has proven popular because it allows clients to budget for IT costs and it has made Outsource technicians more efficient.

"It’s our responsibility," Heckeroth said. "It gives our technicians more ability to be creative because it’s about fixing the problem now, not worrying about the hours."

She wasn’t able to disclose if there has been a financial impact on the company, which now can’t rely on overtime income, but said any financial impact is outweighed by customer satisfaction.

Instead of putting the burden of monitoring the time technicians spend with the client on the clients, the Monitored Services Program puts the burden on Outsource, where it belongs, Heckeroth said.

The company’s business model is purely about IT consulting, she said. Outsource doesn’t focus on any particular industry, although its niche market has turned out to be the legal industry because when Peters started the business, he was a certified Novell engineer. The certification designates that he is able to administer and troubleshoot the Novell NetWare operating system, which was widely used by the legal field in the mid-1990s.

The 40 Outsource clients in the Vancouver-Portland metro area that are on contracts and the 20 that use the company for troubleshooting only range from retail and manufacturing to nonprofit organizations.

Outsource’s revenues have steadily grown in the last several years. It is currently experiencing about a 20 percent growth rate for this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Previous years have seen an 8 percent to 10 percent growth rate, except for a period from late 2000 to early 2002 when the company experienced a 20 percent drop due to the now infamous IT downturn, she said.

Outsource attributes the steady growth to its "one-stop shopping" approach.

"Customers want to pick up the phone, call one person and know they can move forward," Heckeroth said. "It’s not ‘Who do I call about this system, who do I call about that system?’ It’s one person, and efficiency is huge in this day and age."

Half of the clients – which range in size from one server with 10 users to "server farms" of more than 100 PCs – have been with Outsource since it was founded. Services cost $55 to $145 an hour depending on a slew of variables. Contracts are available for up to three years.

Going forward, the company is looking to increase the number of educational seminars about common IT issues it offers to the business community. An account manager will start this month to coordinate the effort.

It also aims to keep developing services that cater to its focus on customer service. For instance, some small employers can’t afford servers, but have enough employees to justify them. Outsource is beginning programs that allow those customers to lease a server and attach it to a maintenance contract.

The customer-service oriented mindset is partly in response to the negative interactions some people have with IT support staff. In fact, there is a name for those who have bad experiences with IT support – rape victims. They are vulnerable, have been sold a product they didn’t need, feel abused and as a result, don’t trust IT providers, Heckeroth said.

Outsource often works with companies that have existing IT departments.

"We want to empower them to empower their network and add to their environment," Aldridge said. "If that means bringing a tech up to where he or she should be, that touches a business overall."