An open letter to everyone who calls tech support.

Friendly IT support staff member with computer message box guiding the customer - isolated

This isn’t me by the way…

Having worked in technical support in one capacity or another for nearly 30 years, I feel like I know something about the subject. In fact, during that time, I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of technical support. So I REALLY understand.

On behalf of my brothers and sisters in the field, I want to share some thoughts with those of you who from time to time find yourselves needing assistance, whether with a computer, a smartphone or a crockpot (yes believe it or not, we have crockpots on the Internet).

1. We REALLY do try to help.

Sure you’re going to find duds every once in awhile, someone who is doing tech support because they HAVE to, or who has maybe been doing for toooo long. But for the most part, we really do want to help you. It may not seem like it but…

2. No one sets out to give lousy customer service

Sometimes it happens… OK often it happens….you speak to someone you can’t understand, who doesn’t care about your problem, blah, blah, blah. I admit it does happen. But tech support is beginning to have a reputation like the dentist’s office. You know it’s going to be unpleasant, maybe even painful. But truthfully, sometimes the dreadful anticipation we feel going into a technical support call affects our attitude, which sometimes is reflected back to us. For example, how different an experience would it be if each time we called tech support, we anticipated speaking with a friendly, intelligent person who’s only goal in life is to solve our problem? While this may be a little on the Pollyanna-ish side, I know that my attitude when providing support is MUCH better when the person requesting help is pleasant.

There are several factors that affect poor customer service:

  1. Some companies do not provide proper customer service training.
  2. Some companies contract with other countries to provide support to save money.
  3. Technical support jobs are generally entry-level, lower paying jobs
  4. Everyone has a bad day from time to time.

As technical support representatives, we sometimes speak to dozens of people who are all having bad days. If we’re lucky we can separate what’s going on in our own personal lives from that of our callers, but sometimes it’s difficult. Remember when you call, you may be the 10th person to call in just a few minutes. The person you’re calling has their own set of problems just like you. They may have a sick child or be sick themselves. They may have money problems (see number 3 above). They may have been up all night studying for a test the night before.

I firmly believe that most technical support reps are not intentionally trying to give lousy service. So don’t assume they are.

3. Don’t shoot the messenger

The tech support rep that you are speaking to didn’t create, manufacture, program, or sell the product that you are having issues with. They didn’t force you to purchase it. They didn’t stop your system backup from occurring, or cause the error that you are experiencing. It is NOT their fault that you are having a problem. Take a deep breath and remember they are a person doing their job, and they are trying to help you. (Go back and read 1 & 2).

4. Remember the old adage about assuming – ASS U (and) ME

Don’t assume the support rep can read your mind. You will need to provide a clear description of the problem you are having, and we may need to ask alot of questions before we can get to the helping part. Save some time on the front end by having the following ready:

  • Your customer information (where & when you bought the product, your account number, email address, etc.)
  • The product information (model #, software version,  etc.),
  • A brief description of the problem (we don’t need to hear your life story – just the facts that pertain to this call)
  • Error messages (the exact message including any error codes).

Speaking of error messages, don’t assume that the support rep will immediately know the meaning for every error message. Sometimes messages are cryptic to us too. But given a few minutes, armed with the exact text of the message, we can begin to find out what it might mean.

Don’t assume that the support rep understands all the ins/outs of the product you are using. If it sounds like we are reading from a script, we probably are. The script allows us to walk through a series of steps that will eventually arrive at an answer to your problem, or tell us to refer you to someone with a higher level of knowledge about your product. The product you are using may not be available to us personally, or we may not have access to it.

5. It’s not necessary to apologize for calling

If I had a nickel for every time someone has called me for assistance and started the conversation with “Sorry to bother you” or “I know you’re busy”. While I appreciate the sentiment, it is misplaced. The nature of the job is that I AM HERE SO YOU CAN CONTACT ME. Yes I am busy, but I am busy because I am trying to help you and other users. Be appreciative and patient, but don’t apologize…it’s a waste of both of our time.

6. If leaving voicemail…

Speak clearly and slowly. Make sure when you say your name, your phone or email address – slow down – don’t speed up. I can’t count the number of calls I have not been able to return because the person leaving the message mysteriously decides to speed up when they get to their phone number. Give the facts – slowly, and understandably – and hang-up.

7. If contacting via email…

As mentioned before. Provide a clear, concise description of the problem. List any error messages displayed (screenshots or picture are helpful – in Windows search for “snipping tool”). Describe how long the problem has been happening, and if there was any particular occurrence just before (ex. just installed new software, had a power outage, etc.). Provide clear contact information for the method you want to be contacted, and if there is a particular time of day that you are available (or not available).

Conclusion

It is difficult to avoid the fact that the experience of calling technical support will probably always be somewhat unpleasant. By definition it can be an emotionally charged situation, involving flawed human beings with preconceived attitudes, prejudices and opinions. Hopefully, if you’ve read this, it can be a little easier – who knows it might even be a pleasant experience. At any rate…I feel better getting this off my chest. Thanks for reading.

Until next time…

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