How an ambitious client relations executive entered the IT industry and created the top-rated IT provider in Palm Beach County
Theon Paulino is the Chief Operations Officer at Level5 Management. The Managed IT Service company is Boca Raton’s top-rated provider of cloud management, IT security, and network support for businesses.
Unlike the rest of the team at Level5 Management, I haven’t spent my whole life in the IT services realm. Before founding the company in 2008, I had a thriving career overseeing client relations from Palm Beach to New York. In fact, despite having grown up in Palm Beach County, I came into the South Florida IT world and the technology industry as a whole like Dorothy in Oz — an outsider trying to navigate a strange new landscape.
My philosophies were built on a background of customer service. I was used to holding up the client as the driving force of any company’s success. Naturally, I assumed that the IT service industry would not be much different.
I, of course, was not in Kansas anymore.
Crafting a Customer Service Philosophy
I became entrenched in the customer service industry in New York City when I was barely out of my teens. Manhattan has been called the Capitol of Ambition, and in my drive to craft a new standard of customer service, I was no exception. As I began my career, I challenged myself to find creative ways to keep clients coming back. In doing so, I quickly established my reputation and set myself apart. Working my way up through a handful of companies, I made a practice of noting the distinct differences in how they approached customer service. I was also interested in how those approaches related to their results and business success.
In my observations of these companies, another thing became clear to me. There was a direct correlation between where I wanted to work and my level of appreciation for the amount of care and effort a company gave to their clients. It was evident that for the companies who truly excelled at service, customer care had become more than a standard. It was a culture. That culture drove exceptional loyalty from its customers, sure, but it also created exceptionally dedicated employees. It occurred to me that these two elements are inextricably intertwined. An exceptionally successful company requires this positive feedback loop of truly happy clients AND truly happy employees.
Conversely, I noted an undeniable common thread among the less successful companies I worked for. Invariably, it seemed that mediocre companies showed a distinct lack of care for their employees. Often these issues started with the obvious. They offered few/no benefits and no real respect for their staff or the individual talents that made their companies possible. These were environments where it was almost impossible for teams to exude positivity to the clients they served. Over and over, I watched talented people flee these companies like flying monkeys. And despite my best efforts to stay engaged, I ultimately found myself uninspired, hitting the “yellow brick road” to escape them as well.
This first decade of my career was immensely valuable. It gave me a landscape across which to form abstract ideas about how to innovate customer service, parceled out into concrete laboratories in which to observe and test them in practice. But after more than 10 years in that role, it was time for a change.
The Wizard of IT
In the spring of 2007, I was offered the opportunity to co-found an IT Services company — specifically, a Managed Service Provider (or “MSP,” as the world of acronyms calls it).
My would-be partner was an absolute genius in the field of IT Security, Cloud Solutions, and Managed Services. Ben Filippelli was a life-long technology expert and a recognized thought leader in the IT industry. With Ben heading up the technology side of the business, I would be bringing my well-honed customer service philosophy to the helm of administration and client services.
Immediately, I was thrilled at the prospect of combining all I learned about client relations with my own feelings about exactly what an employee would imagine a perfect job to be — things I, as an employee, had hoped for myself. It would be as simple as applying all of this to a new industry, surely.
So I clicked my heels together and….
Actually, nope. That’s not what happened at all.
Customer Service Problems in the IT Industry
Right away, a trend emerged for me in the IT Services industry space. As I got to work conceptualizing our new business and my transition to IT, I fervently set out to network with other Managed Service Providers in Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, and across the country. And time after time, I heard a common refrain about persistent problems with retention, reputation, and operation, all of which could all be tied back to customer service. While each IT company operated within the same basic format as any other type of service company, IT providers — in general — were not heavily focused on the client.
The fact that poor customer service was such a dominant issue puzzled me.
While some Managed Service Providers seemed to be suffering from a lack of self-awareness of their problem, others I spoke with were clearly aware and making efforts to address these shortcomings. And yet the topic of customer relationship problems came up so often that some almost seemed resigned to embrace the stereotype of “the dreaded IT department” and what it stood for: awkward personalities, workday interruptions, neglectful response times, persistent IT issues.
I have a vivid recollection of one remark in particular that I heard at a networking coffee hour for Managed Service Providers in those early months. It was an epiphany moment — one that presented me with several opportunities at once to imagine what not to do. Overhearing my discussion with another owner of an IT company who was having difficulty getting new business referrals, one MSP owner in Palm Beach County told me, “The problem is that we don’t speak the same language as our clients; they don’t understand what they need, they don’t take our advice and then they complain to the service technicians when they have an issue. The technicians have to move on to the next ticket, and when they get to the next client they’re frustrated.” A few others around the table had nodded in agreement. And like a house falling from the sky — it hit me.
A Different Kind of Managed IT Service Provider
From its earliest concept, my partner and I had a mission for Level5 Management: not only were we going to provide the most innovative solutions in IT Security and Managed Services, we were going to offer a different way for businesses to do IT. We did not want to be just another “good enough” IT company in a crowded field. In two sentences, this virtual stranger had given me enormous insight into how to address a plateful of industry issues.
“We don’t speak the same language as our clients.” Well, then, we would translate the jargon. When I go to a law office, they don’t expect me to speak legalese. Why should we expect an attorney seeking IT services to understand technospeak?
“They don’t understand what they need, and they don’t take our advice.” We would make sure our clients always understood the difference between the “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves,” with a clear explanation of pros and cons, alternative options, and potential implications. We would make efforts to offer different options to fit different business budgets, and ensure that budgeting is easy and predictable and transparent.
“They complain to the service technicians when they have an issue.” We would come up with new ways to give all of our clients immediate access to a team of experts, and have a cooperative team that is kept up-to-date across the board on clients’ IT needs and IT issues.
“The technicians have to move on to the next ticket.” As a Managed Service Provider, a lack of constraint on the time we can spend with individual clients would be written right into our business model. Unlike break/fix or “pay-by-the-hour” IT providers, we would train our IT experts to take as much time needed with a client to ensure their issue is solved without the pressure to “move on” to the next job.
Client Satisfaction Begins with Job Satisfaction
There was one more part of the statement made at the IT providers’ event that struck me. It would become the basis for the kind of company my new venture would become.
“When the techs get to the next client, they’re frustrated…”
To me, the directional shift for creating a better kind of IT service company needed to start with that last statement.
Most of the IT service companies I got to know were giving their employees very few benefits while still requiring them to work long hours. It appeared to be a common refrain in the IT industry as a whole. Perhaps this was the root of the characteristic customer service issues that ran rampant through the IT management companies in Palm Beach County.
Naturally, overworked and underappreciated employees have no motivation to stay loyal. The tech teams are disenchanted. The burnout shows in their interactions, and this is why local IT technicians had a reputation for being condescending when dealing with their clients. I strongly felt that this dynamic is why most of these companies had an unusually high turnover of clients and staff.
People tend to see IT professionals as robotic, stiff, and socially awkward — proverbial “tin men.” It’s an assumption based on the fact that IT experts spend the bulk of their time in the digital world with their heads in “the cloud.” Yes, network engineers and IT technicians are deep-thinking problem solvers that necessarily spend their workdays in their own heads. But like all humans, they need to be happy and enjoy what they do.
As I saw it, the secret to being exceptional wasn’t a secret at all — it just hadn’t been adequately embraced. Level5 IT experts would be highly curated for both their unmatched technical prowess and their personable, upbeat personalities. And they would also be well appreciated and well compensated, and through a carefully-crafted culture they would feel invested in Level5’s success and the success of our clients. Our firm would be a fresh departure from the old, tired way of doing things. So it was.
Nearly 15 years later, I couldn’t be more proud of how I’ve applied this philosophy. And I couldn’t be more proud of our team, our business, and our reputation as a client-centric IT firm.
The results are in: the only way to run a successful IT service company is to put the heart back into the tin men and women.
Need help with your IT? Want to talk about your business’s technology? Call us at (561) 509-2077 or LiveChat us and connect with a tech expert — not a salesman. It’s time to get happy. Focus on your business. Leave the IT to us.