COVID-19 Crisis: Pandemic Causes VARs to Rethink, Reformulate “Personal Service”

By: Jim Roddy, VP of Sales & Marketing at the RSPA

Successful retail IT VARs are all about personal service, but that aspect of their business has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. The RSPA reached out to several reseller members requesting insights on this topic, asking: How are you handling service calls during the COVID-19 pandemic? What special precautions have you been taking?

Our community responded lightning-fast with nearly 20 executives offering guidance. For some of these responses, I’ve redacted company names to protect the anonymity of the writer, and I lightly edited comments for length and clarity. I also included the company headquarters in parentheses because of the various state-by-state restrictions currently placed on businesses.

Paul Leduc, Globe POS (Brampton, ON): We are handling service by trying to do all hardware upgrades, installs, and other service after close, other than emergencies. We have provided to all technicians latex gloves, hand sanitizer, and Lysol wipes. They clean and disinfect everything they touch (including their gloves), throw them out after they leave the site, and use hand sanitizer to clean their hands after they remove the gloves. Those are not removed in the car – they’re removed before they enter the car, and they also sanitize before they enter. Most locations have a garbage receptacle outside in the parking lot. If they do not, we have provided our techs with Ziploc bags to put everything in there and then throw away with the Ziploc. They never touch the gloves after they have removed them and do not throw them out at home – anywhere but there. We created these policies together as a team and wrote them down ahead of time so everyone stays safe.

Jim Gerow, POSitive Technologies (Portland, OR): Most of our staff is working from home. We have signed on with Comcast’s IP phone solution and it seems to work pretty well with everyone using their company-supplied mobile phone. Our service calls have fallen off for sure, both onsite and remote. Our service department team decided to rotate in two-day increments instead of laying one or two people off. That way they can still get unemployment based on reduced hours and the benefits awarded to full-time employees. I have ordered masks with our company logo to be made by a local seamstress based on our new company polo shirts.

Mark Love, RSS (Louisville, KY): Three weeks ago, I made an in-depth PowerPoint presentation to our entire company (including everyone from remote operations) to explain the situation, provide factual information about the virus, and why cleanliness and sanitizing is critical. We implemented a two-step sanitizing station for everything inbound. All contents arriving via UPS are immediately taken to the first step for cleaning and sanitizing before placed in a designated “clean area” that is constantly sanitized. From there, those items are directed on to repair, staging, stock, etc. Our help desk, staging, and field service team members continue to come to the office. Our work stations and work areas are (have always been) sufficiently separated. No customers/clients are allowed inside our facility. Our business provides a variety of technologies for restaurants and we believe the service/support we provide is “essential” to keeping those “essential” businesses functioning. Our on-site visits to customer locations are reduced to high-priority situations to reduce the exposure. We have found that often our employees are exercising greater precaution at the customer’s location than our customer’s employees are. We have demonstrated use of the basics such as gloves, distancing, frequent washing/sanitizing of hands, etc. to set an example for customers to follow while we are with them. We have provided instructions to our client base regarding proper sanitizing of the various technology products that we engage with.

Jeremy Julian, CBS NorthStar (Irvine, CA): We wrote a letter early about being an essential business, so the service techs felt comfortable that we are supporting them. The techs are instructed to take their cue from the client. We do wear gloves. Early in this pandemic, we had two techs who were not feeling well. We required two weeks of quarantine and a doctor’s note before they came back to work. One of those team members was at a few service calls prior to us knowing he wasn’t feeling well, so I personally called each of those clients to say that there was a possibility. He was unable to get a test to confirm if he had the virus, but I wanted to inform clients that the potential was there.

Anonymous VAR Executive: Because service calls are likely what will keep us afloat during this difficult time, we are continuing to send our techs out on service calls. We have requested they take their temperature before leaving their houses and send us a picture of the thermometer read out. The entire office is working remotely, and if a staff member needs to visit the office for any reason we ensure that nobody else is there at the same time. We also have hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes available. We have requested that if any staff visits the office they wipe down common surfaces upon leaving.

Anonymous VAR Executive: Because all of our people are remote, it’s business as usual when it comes to phone support. Onsite calls are only happening during off business hours when there is limited to no people at the facility. Our staff is wearing gloves and masks during these visits. If a customer has a depot need, they can schedule a time to meet at our office for a drop-off. We are currently not allowing visitors inside the office.

Tim Shein, King Business Services (Richmond, BC): We are prioritizing essential work vs. nice-to-have-done. Our staff is taking the necessary precautions as outlined by the federal government and provincial health offices: gloves and masks where needed, social distancing, and avoid crowded environments. Travel is restricted throughout the province, so for some installs we are trying to find alternate methods of installing lanes.

Kevin McGrath, Value Systems (Myrtle Beach, SC): The pandemic hasn’t changed our service procedures much because we normally handle most things remotely anyway. However, when we do go on-site, the restaurants have very limited staff, so we are not exposed to many people. As you can imagine, service calls are significantly down. We did have to pick up some equipment from a customer (small handheld units) and we wiped them down thoroughly with alcohol.

Dale Seefeldt, Anthem Business Solutions (Tulsa, OK): We have sourced gloves, masks, and disinfectant for service, but we are only providing remote service at this time. This risk is not worth sending our team out. Stay safe, stay home.

Arthur Rosenbaum, NHCR (New Haven, CT): We just went to a reduced rotating shift (60%) to keep everyone employed until funds arrive. They are working from their homes and occasionally coming into the office when necessary. We have disposable gloves and face masks we handed out, and staff only goes to a site in extreme circumstances (system down). Since most restaurants are closed to traffic, working on their site is mostly OK since no one else is there. Our rules are do not work in an environment where there is anyone near you. Otherwise, we ship product as needed and do remote support.

Bob Foster, Infinity POS (Traverse City, MI): We are still doing 24/7 support as before. If we cannot resolve remotely, we will dispatch whoever is on-call. We have setup a round-robin system by office as to who is tasked each day to be the onsite person.

Travis Hare, DCR Systems (Nashville, TN): We are able to have one person in the building at a time, so we coordinate that with our chat platform (WebEx), and the inside technician is capable of handling our outbound service calls. We wear gloves, practice social distancing, scrub-in, scrub-out. We’ve also not been delivering rental terminals in the way that we had been just to attempt to slow the spread. Most of our restaurant clients are not needing a high number of machines to handle their to-go and carryout business anyway, so that is fortunate.

Andrew Faulkner, Staley Technologies (Little Rock, AK): We’re offering our same help desk/onsite service as before. Our onsite techs are wearing masks.

Danny Hernandez, Global Business Technologies (Mission, TX): All of our techs are working remotely. They have access to our PSA (professional services automation software), phone, and other necessary utilities. Since call volume has decreased by 90%, we have one tech taking all calls while the rest of the techs are training. The tech taking calls rotates daily so all techs get the same amount of training time.

Rick Feuling, RITE Enterprises (Sartell, MN): All optional on-site service work has been put on hold. A lot of our work is and always has been remote, and we’ve worked through third party tech people to do the onsite work. So far that’s continuing to work fine. We’re playing it by ear.

Scott McClannahan, Simple POS Solutions (Erie, CO): Our service desk was already based on a national WFH (work from home) model so we haven’t had to make any real changes. Our biggest focus is keeping customers at this moment as some are electing to shut their doors either temporarily or permanently.

Gord Doerksen, Ideal POS (Winnipeg, MB): Our office is closed, however we take special precautions when having to go onsite by wearing protective gear, using hand sanitizer, doing calls before any staff arrive at the store, and requesting the customer swap out parts on their own of which we take the broken device and clean it in our service department.

Brad Lucas, Lucas Systems (Greenville, SC): Decisions around travel to customer locations are being handled on a case-by-case basis. If we determine the travel is essential, we are doing some additional checking and assuring that both parties are comfortable before scheduling the work. We continue to follow precautionary recommendations and have masks and gloves available for our staff. Remote support and advance exchange on equipment are essential operating levers right now.

Andrea Medina, Business Cents (San Anselmo, CA): We are fortunate in that everything we offer to our clients can be achieved via remote exchange. We have been proactively communicating once a week, focusing each communication on a specific area of interest related to the COVID relief programs.

Cory Sosnovske, Star Business Machines (Stevens Point, WI): We are limiting service calls to essential and trying to do as much remotely as possible. I also started offering demos remotely through remote screen share. Our techs are wearing facemasks and gloves and using disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer consistently before during and after calls.

Ben Williams, TouchMate (Austin, TX): We are operating with a minimal staff but key to that is our technical support and service operation. Our number of service calls is very low, but we are responding with our best service delivery possible. Actually, our response times are better than average because there are so few calls. We have parts available and overnight delivery has been possible in almost all cases. Our technicians that go to the customer’s site have been instructed about social distancing and avoiding any personal contact. We routinely clean equipment as part of a service call. That takes on new importance now. We have not required our people that are in direct contact with customers to wear a mask, but we suggest it as a good idea. The only exception to all of this is service in high danger areas such as New York. We have customers there but have decided that we cannot provide service until the pandemic has significantly subsided. It isn’t an issue right now because all of our customers there are closed. However, we may have to rethink our decision as things evolve to lower risk.

For additional VAR/ISV insights and best practices related to the coronavirus pandemic, visit the RSPA COVID-19 Resource Center here.

Jim Roddy is the Vice President of Marketing for the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the POS channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences and he is author of Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer. For more information, contact