Air IT: Navigating Growth in the IT Services Industry
In the fast-paced landscape of Managed IT Services, standing out and delivering exceptional service is a challenge that requires innovation, dedication, and a strong commitment to your core principles. Air IT, a managed service provider (MSP) that started its journey in 2005, has not only embraced this challenge but has thrived by redefining the standard for IT support and consultancy. With a focus on the SME sector, Air IT has experienced organic growth of 20-25% year on year and has successfully navigated the competitive MSP market by adhering to its unique vision. We caught up with founding member and COO James Healey to find out more.
Standing Out on Service
The Power of Continual Improvement
When Air IT started its journey, managed service providers were few and far between, often offering little more than reactive break-fix services. The company’s early success can be attributed to its distinct approach that combined proactive IT support with a consultative mindset, a combination that was relatively rare at the time. According to James, this consultative and forward-thinking approach set them apart, and they decided to stay focused on what they did best, resisting the urge to diversify their service portfolio too extensively.
“We've been very good in terms of sticking to what we do best and not really deviating from that."
This commitment to excellence drove Air IT to continuously improve its services, foster a culture of innovation, and maintain a strong rapport with its customers. That doesn’t mean that Air IT has a limited view of its offering, indeed its aim is to help clients transform their businesses with technology, focusing on delivering unrivalled levels of service which is what they believe matters most to clients.
"We've tried to make sure that we deliver on our word and fundamentally deliver a great service that’s best in class. There are lots of MSPs out there, but our commitment and the investment we make in exceptional service is what really sets us apart.”
Air IT's journey towards excellence has been marked by a dedication to continuous improvement. They have embraced a mindset that just because something is working well doesn't mean it can't be better. By adhering to a cycle of constant review and enhancement, Air IT has experienced organic growth, retained its existing customers, and continued to attract new ones.
“We consider ourselves to be an innovator, a market leader and forward looking. We believe it’s a continual improvement cycle, continually reviewing where we are good and maybe not so good. Focusing on elements of the service which can be improved."
"Ultimately, our goal is to delight our clients and build long-lasting relationships, which means keeping their trust and continuing to provide a service that’s second to none. In my experience, if you can achieve this then you’ll be more successful as clients will not only stay longer but they’ll buy more and recommend you to others. Customer satisfaction is a key measure if you want to achieve strong and consistent organic growth. "
Air IT realised that a significant aspect of their growth strategy lies in the ability to deliver on their promises consistently. To achieve this, they adopted the Service Desk Institute (SDI) framework, which not only defines service standards for the IT industry, but also focuses on the underlying culture and behaviors that drive excellent customer service.
Turning Data into Insights: The Role of Surveys and External Expertise
Focusing on customers is important, but it’s only possible to judge how effective your efforts have been if you use surveys to measure satisfaction and gather insight to fuel further improvement. Air IT started with an internally managed survey programme, which generated useful insights and led to initiatives that have been effective in improving things for customers.
An active programme of growth by acquisition presented new challenges in terms of bringing together companies whose customers had been used to things being done in different ways. With this level of complexity, Air IT felt that the time had come to look for a deeper level of insight than their own analysis could provide. This realisation led them to partner with TLF Research for their annual survey.
“Having external facilitation, that external experience, can help you. Asking the right questions and getting the right insights. Having the right experience to look at things as a whole has been extremely beneficial, and has enabled us to work out what we need to do to continue our cycle of improvement.”
James feels that the key is the ability to avoid “paralysis by analysis", focusing on a few key priorities for improvement and the actions that will drive the change that clients want.
“It's probably the best thing we ever did because TLF gave us more insights and cuts into the data than we'd have ever established ourselves. We just haven't got the tools, the expertise, or the experience to look at the things that you guys brought to life for us. There was a whole wealth of data, but as much as anything,
I think what was important is that you focused
us on where we could really make a difference.”
This is a crucial point. Customer surveys are always interesting, but they only have value if they’re able to identify what needs to be done differently, and provide people within the business with the insight they need to make improvements based on what customers have said.
Organisations often worry that their customers are going to become sick of being surveyed, but we firmly believe that there is no such thing as survey fatigue. What does exist is fatigue, and irritation, with surveys that don’t lead to any change. If you can show customers that you are listening to their feedback and acting upon it, then they are quite happy to be surveyed.
“There's a bit of a concern around over-surveying clients, but equally, I think it does show that we're committed to improvement and if we are asking the right questions, hopefully that's coming through. If you show genuine improvement and that you care about their feedback, whether it's good or bad, people will engage with that.”
That means that showing customers that you’re listening is nearly as important as the listening itself. If you value customer feedback, you have to show them that you value it. It can be effective to explicitly talk to customers about the key themes that came out of the survey, and what you’re doing about them.
“We're going to ask clients, ‘Have you noticed a difference in terms of the feedback that you gave us last time around service, around account management being more strategic?’ These are some of the core things that came out of our last survey.”
Balancing Growth and Service Quality
Delivery on The Core Enables Relationships
Air IT has acquired multiple businesses around the country, which presented the challenge of integrating different cultures and service approaches while maintaining their high service standards. The solution was to appoint regional heads of operations responsible for customer experience. This move allowed them to offer local relationships while benefiting from the resources and capabilities of being a larger company.
“We saw a great opportunity to scale the original Air IT model on a national basis whilst maintaining the local presence which many SMEs desire. In the UK, there's only a handful of MSPs even attempting this. Air IT are well ahead of the curve, but we have to continue to live our DNA, which fundamentally is delivering a great service and looking after our clients."
A wider geographic reach is not only good for business, but also makes it easier to serve customers with multiple sites of their own, and to address more strategic concerns such as cybersecurity, which can be difficult for SME clients and smaller local MSPs to deliver.
With so much acquisition in the recent past, there is a need to consolidate and focus on delivery for customers. The core of customer experience, what we call “doing best what matters most to customers”, is reliably getting the basics right.
“It's no good trying to help someone with their business growth strategy if you're not dealing with their day to day challenges, especially when they are impacting their business. Getting that foundation right is critical, but it's that more strategic piece where we really make a difference.”
Quarterly service reviews (QSRs) with customers enable Air IT to look beyond the immediate needs of a business to understand what future needs may be, building a more strategic and consultative relationship.
“The idea of QSRs is that they are strategic, they're helping clients with their business and technology requirements. We don’t talk about fixing tickets. We aim to create a strategic relationship that clients get genuine business value from.”
This approach to customer relationships is mirrored by a research programme that incorporates more strategic insights from surveying decision makers at a relationship level, on top of the end user surveys that give operational performance insights.
“With decision makers it’s more strategic. They'll deal with account management, they'll have a wider view of the relationship and their experience as a whole, and whether we're making a difference and delivering value to their business.”
Cultivating a Winning Culture
significant driving force behind Air IT's success has been its strong company culture. They understand that culture isn't just about values displayed on a website but something that’s reflected in everyday behavior.
“Culture's critical in terms of service. We're a service-led business which is best delivered by happy and engaged employees. Our people support people and it's as simple as that.”
Air IT have invested in building a positive work environment that aligns with their values of innovation, commitment, excellence, and community. Encouraging everyone to live the values depends on keeping them at the forefront, and making them fun through peer recognition, celebrating customer compliments from surveys, and a quarterly reward and recognition programme.
I often say that culture is something you feel rather than something you can easily articulate, and it’s something I usually have an instinctive sense of after just a few minutes waiting in reception. At Air IT there was a palpable sense of positivity and friendliness. This is something James agrees with, and he points out that even when values are consistent, the style with which they’re expressed can (and should) vary.
"Culture is one of the most important aspects of an organisation, and it’s one of the few things that your competitors can't replicate. At Air IT, our values are embedded in everything we do – from recruiting new team members to rewarding tickets that clients rate positively, which in turn supports us in encouraging the right behaviours to continue delivering great service. At the same time, there’s a slightly different dynamic in every one of our offices, but what’s really noticeable is that people feel they belong and enjoy the time they spend at work."
Culture is even an important factor in decisions about which businesses to acquire.
“We acquire businesses we feel have a similar culture. You're never going to get a culture that's identical, but you can get that general vibe that they're demonstrating the right values, the right behaviours, and there's going to be a cultural fit. We’ve chosen not to progress some opportunities that we've had because we felt the culture fit wasn’t there.”
Ultimately looking after your people, and creating a positive culture, is the only way to sustainably deliver for customers.
“We want to make sure that we retain our people, retain our talent, and ultimately attract new talent as well, because that's the only way that we're going to be successful as a business. Like we've done with our clients, we do regular employee engagement exercises. We take their feedback, we listen to what they've got to say, we do a ‘you said, we did’ feedback cycle and we make meaningful and positive change.”
Conclusion: Building Excellence Through Commitment
Air IT's journey highlights the power of commitment, simplicity, and a customer-centric approach. By delivering on their promises, fostering a culture of continuous improvement, and understanding the evolving needs of their clients, they've managed to stand out in a competitive industry. Their story is a great example of how focusing on the basics, staying true to your values, and embracing data-driven insights can lead to stronger customer relationships and sustained success in any sector.
Having been on board since Air IT was established in 2005, James has been instrumental in securing year-on-year growth and overall success. James has developed a strong culture within the business which is closely linked to the customer experience and ensuring Air IT deliver nothing short of exceptional service. Find out more about Air IT at www.airit.co.uk.