The Principles of Tech Support

Oct 10, 2011Business & Life

“Tech Support” is a phrase I sometimes hear uttered with the vehemence of a curse word. Whether you’re struggling through the installation of a new printer on your home computer or wondering why your CRM software isn’t doing what you thought it would do, tech support personnel can be seen as either a necessary evil, or your light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel. Over the past four years I’ve come to learn that two key elements make the difference in good tech support vs. The Other Kind.

1) Attitude. Because I came from a more traditional customer service background, long before I ever got into the wild, untamed lands of Corporate Tech Support, I have a natural affinity for aiming to please. I realize that when a customer calls me and is visibly (or audibly) upset, that this is not an attack on me personally, or even necessarily an attack on the software they’re paying for; it is a natural reflex of frustration unleashed after hours, days or sometimes even weeks of attempting to “make something work”. Because you can’t really argue with a piece of software, the voice on the other end of the phone often makes an easy target for pressure that is approaching (or has already exceeded) the boiling point.

I don’t blame anyone for feeling this way. I am not a “natural born techie.” As I said, I came to tech support through the back door; a service industry-trained, liberal arts educated 30 something that fell into the world of technology out of occupational necessity, and then discovered a love for both the technology itself and the sharing of understanding that comes with the territory. Often I have been in front of my own monitor till the wee hours of the morning, cursing the invention of the personal computer, software in general, and my own lack of comprehension. Out of some sort of foolish pride I refused to make use of the most obvious solution…

Ask Someone Who Knows!

Eventually I got wise and started talking to experts, in person, online, over the phone, wherever I could find them. As my knowledge expanded, so did my confidence. It’s a humbling thing to ask for help.  We have trained ourselves to view it as accepting defeat, and out of this feeling of personal failing, we sometimes grow angry and frustrated, making it even more difficult to understand the technology in front of us. It takes a patient, understanding, and extremely disarming personality to break through this wall of anger and get to the meat and potatoes of the problem at hand. This is why I greet every call, every email, and every chat I encounter with a deference I would normally reserve for my own elderly grandmother. A good technical support specialist lets you know–without actually saying it–that they are NOT your enemy. We are here to help, and believe it or not, we actually enjoy it.

2) Knowledge. This is a tricky one because it includes not only knowledge of the product you’re supporting, but also more importantly, the knowledge of your own limitations. I am not a programmer. I did not write the code that built the software that you’re bosses’ bosses’ boss forced you to use. Having said that, I may not actually know WHY that particular error popped up on your screen in the middle of an otherwise normal, sunny day. But you know what?

I will find out!

I have seen colleagues at other jobs spend hours, literally HOURS, with the customer on the phone, or waiting for that promised email, trying to decipher something that they and I both know is beyond their ken. I don’t mean to suggest that you shouldn’t try to stretch the level of your own understanding; it’s a richly rewarding experience to dig deep into the trenches of a problem and come up with a previously unthought-of solution. However, this type of self-styled archeology is best done on one’s own time, not the customers. If I can’t decipher and diagnose your problem within 3 minutes, then chances are it’s not my problem. It belongs to the developers. At this point I must become a professional Agent of Harassment. I will call, email, IM, and otherwise pester any and all programmers who have touched that code until they can make the necessary adjustments that allow my customer to do their job. In short, although I pride myself on knowing my product, I also know my own limitations, and I am not afraid to go as far up the chain as I need to in order to get the answer required. Tech Support is about being an educator AND an advocate. Chances are the end user is doing things with the software that the original developer never even dreamed of; and he or she may balk at the concept of somehow adulterating their code. However, to paraphrase the great businessman and retail magnate Marshall Field, “The customer is ALWAYS right.”

If you have questions about this article, feel free to call and ask, remember: I’m here to help 🙂