Ten Secrets of Successful Tech Support

The next time Uncle Waldo asks why his password is rejected when he types a string of asterisks, realize there’s a better way to provide tech help than abuse the asker – however tempting that may be.


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If you’ve had to deal with a computer for more than a few nanoseconds, you’ve probably experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of technical support.

Good support is that gem of technical trivia that hits the bull’s eye on the first shot—a precision-launched silver bullet that notches a perfect score and in slap-down style declares match over, what next?

Bad support is an infinite loop of phone calls, emails and web forms that leave you drifting aimlessly for weeks at a time far from your destination of problem resolution. This barrage of communications is of no value except to Maxtor, Seagate and Western Digital, who profit from the sale of hard disks where the unending discourse is archived due to corporate anal retention policies.

And ugly support, well that’s just bad support delivered with an attitude.

Those of us in the business of bits and bytes need to be acutely aware of how users perceive our support endeavors. You may say, “Why me? Support is someone else’s job. I’m in . . . [choose-you-own-non-support-discipline] product development, marketing, management, keyboard polishing and mouse alignment, etc.”

But if you’re reading Datamation, someone’s going to think you know computers even if it’s just Uncle Waldo asking over a holiday dinner why his password is rejected when he types a string of asterisks.

To ensure your ‘customer’ gets the best possible help, here are ten secrets of successful technical support:

1. Crisp, Clear, Concise Communication

Your college roommate may understand the admonishment:

Dude, bad juju about yr mouse not sync’g with Vista after a snooze. It happens! Yr drivers cool, right? Could be a Bluetooth thingy. Have you revived the AA’s in that rodent? MS has a hotfix that could save the day. Give it a whirl.

That advice will likely be meaningless to a broad audience, including someone from the other side of the globe whose primary language is something other than English. Or someone who is on day two of a new job that includes a Bluetooth mouse.

Dispense with text-message slang in favor of clear, concise prose:

The failure of the Bluetooth mouse to re-connect following hibernation under Windows Vista has been reported by other users. Ensure your drivers are up to date. If you have other Bluetooth devices, check to see if they reconnect after hibernation. Check the batteries in the mouse and replace them if they are weak. If the problem persists, try the Vista hotfix that Microsoft has posted at http://support.microsoft.com/kb/941997/en-us.

2. Waste No Time

We all have probably been on the receiving end of trivial, time-wasting, you-must-think-I’m-a-hockey-puck advice. In the medical profession, it’s the classic “Take two aspirins and call me in the morning.” In the computer industry, it’s “Restart the computer,” “Reinstall the application,” “Replace the power plug,” “Rewire the building,” or some other worthless admonishment.

In most cases this type of advice does nothing but get its giver a day closer to retirement while the recipient is left grappling with the original problem.

Strive to give users information that will advance the cause of solving the problem instead of some cliché response that merely wastes time and heightens frustration.

3. Feedback

If an immediate answer to the user's dilemma doesn't come flashing before your eyes like pop-up ads for Netflix, at least give the customer a sense of what's happening behind the scenes with regular updates. Perhaps you're searching a knowledgebase, trying to reproduce the problem, waiting for a response from the author of the code or convening a committee of Nobel-prize winning scientists. Whatever you're doing, post regular updates rather than leaving the user wondering if you've become untethered from the worldwide telecommunications network.

Next to prescription narcotics, periodic status updates go a long way to alleviating the frustration of a distressing situation.

4. Remote Session

In the distant past (a few years ago to be exact but in the computer business anything more than 30 minutes qualifies), the best options for diagnosing a remote user's problems were telephone calls, log files, and emails (with screen shots, if you were lucky).

Today if the problem computer is connected to the Internet, you can investigate the crime scene by examining the computer through remote session software.

Without a remote connection, you may be faced with an ad nausea exchange of telephone calls and emails to diagnose a problem as simple as the user attempting to run a Windows 2003 Server-only product on Windows XP, something that would likely have been apparent within seconds of establishing a remote connection.

Make a remote session the top gun in your arsenal of troubleshooting ammunition. Everything else is small arms fire.

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Tags: Windows, Microsoft, server, Vista, Tech Support

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