What Not to Do to Tech Support

Over on TechRepublic, Jody Gilbert has a post 10 signs that you aren’t cut out to be a support tech. I’d like to affirm those ten things and suggest ten things that you should not do to your support tech. (Yep, two entries in a row inspired by TechRepublic. I’ve been enjoying their site.)

As background, since a major component of my business is managing networks for small businesses, I often provide phone support, on-site training, or on-site support to my customers. In areas that are not covered by my contract directly, I normally agree to act as a buffer with the tech support for the particular system, such as an ultrasound machine in a veterinary office. This is something that I cannot claim competence with myself, but I do find it much easier to work with the manufacturer’s tech support staff than the veterinarian himself does. Thus a couple of these points will be for someone technically skilled who is calling the poor, unsuspecting tech support person.

  1. Don’t lie
    Rarely do people intend to lie, but many times they do, I suspect because they are trying to tell me what I want to hear. “Is the green light labeled ‘Internet’ on?” “Yes.” Later, it turned out, not so much. My favorite, however, was the company that ended up paying me for a service call because their monitors had gone into power save mode. Now had I not thought of that, and thus failed to have them check for it, I would not have charged them, but they told me they had tried both keyboard and mouse. When I arrived I accidentally bumped a mouse on the counter, and lo and behold the computer came up. They denied having changed anything between the call and my arrival. The aforementioned “skilled person” may be tempted to claim to have done a test, even though he forgot it, because it sounds so stupid not to have done it. Resist the temptation.
  2. Don’t rush the tech
    This is a hard one for me. What I want to do is summarize everything I have done to date, declare the potential problems that I have eliminated, and get on from that point. The problem is that I may have missed some issue. That’s one reason I’m on the phone with the tech. Let the tech do their job. Relax. It will go faster. I say this from experience, having rushed someone with bad results.
  3. Be ready to duplicate your problem
    This means at your computer, preferably with the appropriate software running, always assuming that your problem was not with starting the software.
  4. Find a time when you can actually work with the tech
    You may be in the middle of your work day and you may hope the problem can be solved in three seconds, but if you’re on the phone with tech support, it’s not likely it’s going to go quite that fast. If you interrupt the process, it’s going to go even slower.
  5. Prioritize
    Most support personnel are willing and even anxious to serve you well. It’s quite unfair to declare a major emergency, have them rush to your place of work, and then decide you can live with the problem for a week and can’t work with them right then. I’ve had this happen. From the tech side, I’m usually quite patient with it, because I know there’s the instant panic when something quits working and then you may figure out how to deal with it later. At the same time it’s very frustrating.
  6. If you fix your own problem let the tech know
    I’ve taken a call to rush across town, and then by the time I get there, had the customer announce that the problem is fixed. Calling my cell phone would be nice.
  7. Accept some training time
    The computer is a major tool in almost every workplace these days. If you don’t know how to use it, you’ll end up paying for it later. A couple of hours of training can save many times that later. Overall you’re going to need many more hours than that, but those hours of training will pay.
  8. Listen to what your support personnel have to say about security
    Security is boring, it takes time, and it is often inconvenient. It’s easier for you not to have a password on your workstation, for example, or to paste your password on the wall next to the station. But one person getting in there and playing with your workstation can be much, much more inconvenient than using a secure password and not writing it near your workstation. Your support technician, even if he is not a security specialist, knows this. That’s why he urges you to be secure. I was called once to clean up a workstation that was infested with spyware and viruses. Since I had set up security on that computer, and the appropriate software that should have prevented such problems, I was surprised. When I got there I found the security disabled and the computer severely infected. The user assured me it was impossible for anyone to have gotten into her computer. But sticking to the side of the monitory was a sticky note with her password printed on it–with the label “password” included.
  9. Remain courteous
    This one points at me as much as anyone. About the time I think a tech is wasting my time, I’m apt to get over the top and say some unkind things. Now personally I believe that if a company doesn’t provide adequate support, they should be notified. I will suggest certain service providers and software vendors over others solely on the basis of my experience with their tech support. But there is nothing whatever that is accomplished by losing your temper on the phone.
  10. Learn from each session
    Often a customer support session will teach you something that you have been doing that causes the problem. If so, you need to learn some new behavior. Technology changes rapidly these days. You have to change as well.

Well, those are in no particular order, and I’ve probably missed some, but they round out to ten, so I’ll leave it at that. Happy computing!

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