Tech Support: I Don’t Understand You

I used to work tech support with my brother back in the days when the internet was just born. We supported a dial up internet service (this was before DSL came out) and I remember receiving a lot of calls where people would ask me how to type a capital letter or help them fix their ‘TV” (by which they meant their computer). One call, though, stood out more than any other. My brother took this call and even though this was over twelve years ago, I still remember how many heads were shaking after this call.

Did That Need to be Plugged In?

It started off innocently. A woman called and said she couldn’t connect to the internet. My brother asked a few basic questions and determined that the problem was that her computer wasn’t properly connected to a phone line. My brother asked her to make sure the phone was connected. She said it was connected. He asked: is it plugged into the wall? She confirmed, again, that it was hooked up. They spent forty-five minutes reinstalling everything short of the operating system, unplugging and reconnecting both ends of the phone line, and making sure the phone had a dial tone. Finally, out of sheer frustration, my brother asked her to physically follow the cord from the computer to the wall, thinking that maybe the phone cord was damaged somewhere. When she made it to the end, he asked her what she saw. Her reply: “I see my phone cord taped to the wall.”

While it is easy to quickly assume that the woman was not competent enough to own a computer or that my brother should have been more clear, the truth is that there’s a wide disconnect between how a regular computer user thinks and how an experienced computer user thinks. The gulf between a programmer and your grandmother can seem like an impossible language barrier, but it doesn’t have to be.

Tech Support

Tech Support Tips

Here are a few simple tips for helping you help technical support to fix your problems:

  1. Give information. The more information tech support has, the better off everyone is. If you see something that doesn’t work the way you think it should, play with it see how you can make it happen again. If you can’t make it happen again, write down what you were doing when you saw it happen and any words you remember being on the page. Screen shots are a huge help if you know how to do it. The web address of the page with the problem is gold.
  2. Read the errors. Technical words can seem like a jumble of gibberish more often than not. IE6 JS console anyone? But even if those errors seem to be completely random letters strung together, they can be a solid compass in the right hands. The more words of the error you can relate to tech support, the faster they can fix it, in most cases.
  3. Be clear. A lot of people want to hear an apology up front for something being broken, but computers don’t care about feelings. So, if your interest is to get something fixed, leave feelings out of it at first and stick to the facts and the numbers. Once you’ve given tech support the data and answered any other questions that they might ask, give them a chance to pass it off to a person who will work on it. Then, you can let them know how you feel. Just remember, tech support agents are people, too.
  4. Be patient. Personally, I hate it when I can’t get something fixed quickly because I know problems with a web site can mean a lot of lost money for clients. Most tech support agents try hard to fix issues as soon as possible because it reflects directly on their company, especially in this customer service-based world, so please believe us when we say that we really do want to fix your problems for you.

Most of these tips are pretty straight forward but in the heat of the moment, they can be hard to remember. But try these things they next time and see how it effects the process. Clear communication can cut hours off the time spent finding problems before anyone can start fixing it.

What About You?

What do you think? Have you had any terrible tech support experiences, from either end? What are some other tips that you’ve found useful for communicating with tech support agents?