Widgets Magazine

What to Expect When you are Expecting (Support)

Managing expectations and helping tech support help you
Everyone one of us has been there, with racks of gear installed and the shadows growing long on the rear lawn,  the final run through and  system QC is stuck –  a bugaboo is stopping all operation.  The homeowner is eagerly waiting to sign off and get you out of their home for the first time in three months. The other trades have begun pointing to you as the cause of the trouble and cost overages.  You can just hear the security installer gravely telling the homeowner:   ”..if you had let me put in my  dedicated keypads this would be working fine and done…”.   Your nerves are frazzled – you begin to see hallucinations as your fears manifest themselves.  Before your eyes the last payment (nearly all your profit) becomes a squawking Blue Jay flying from your grasp straight toward the nearest window. Finally, you put a call into the manufacturer’s tech support.
Now the real fun begins.  First one must make leaps and bounds through the automated call system like the Mario Brothers bounding over the rocks for coins.  At last you are connected to a human who after listening to your synopsis of the situation states  …”‘funny, I have never heard of that issue before!’ or proceeds to insist that you go through the same basic check lists you performed twenty times prior to calling.  As darkness falls the crick in your neck gets worse from keeping the phone against your ear and your stomach rumbles in protests as the smells and sounds of the clients dinner waft down to the cellar.  Now your patience worn thin the vitriolic bile begins to rise.
It did not have go this way.
Over the recent holiday I read a good many social posts from associates about how they were on hold or frustrated with the time it was taking to resolve ‘the’ issue.  I read through these with an equal amount of concern and chagrin.  I no longer work as a support person you but you can never quite take the support out of the person.
After spending more than ten years inside a technical support division I have found that it is all about expectations and honesty.  Put another way it is about what each side of the conversation expects from the other and the fear of appearing un-knowledgeable. These two items are at the root of more frustrations in support calls than any other – even when faulty gear is the issue.
While many manufactures can improve the type and quality of their support services, the honest truth is that the problem starts at both ends
Knowing what the other side of the conversation knows
What makes a great technical support person is not just an encyclopedic knowledge of the technology and devices involved but the ability to visualize the system as described over the phone and to then find the missing items. This is where you – the supportee – can make the process move along by describing the setup you are having issue with in detail.  I would rather hear you over explain then presume I ‘know what you mean’.
One of the best things a technical support  floor manager can hear is one of her techs saying something akin to ‘Okay, if I have heard you correctly – you just pushed  the top keypad button in the lower hall which is tied to the Push[20] in programming …  Rather than  “so you pushed the button”?
One of the best examples of how a technical support phone conversation can go amiss comes from a story on ‘tech support nightmares’ postings I first read on a BBS board.  The Story is from a phone support tech that was helping a person send a fax from their computer for the first time.  The tech duly had the caller change a setting or insure that the phone line was connected properly (and was live) he would ask the user “Is the document on screen?, okay hit send.  Despite insuring that everything was set up correctly several times over the tech exhausted of options began to issue a Return Authorization for the computer’s repair (remember that this was in the days when most computers had to be sent in as the boards were all one).  The situation was only solved when the tech asked caller to use the File| Info menu to read a serial number:
Caller: Sure, hold on a second I have to move the paper to see
Support: Sorry, what are you moving?  The menu should be just above the document
Caller:  Yes it is but I could not see the mouse because the document was over the screen….
(Evidently he thought it would work just like a regular fax machine and scan his physical copy then transmit) .
Here both sides of the conversation used the term ‘Document is on the screen’  to mean something slightly different – a simple linguistic misunderstanding which delayed  finding a solution.   I remember this story every time I work with a client to troubleshoot or explain a process.
Knowing what you know
The technology is getting simpler to use while simultaneously becoming exponentially more complex to troubleshoot.  All of this means that the technology, tools and even the interfaces are changing and new technologies are being integrated before the previous tech as begun to settle.  It is a daunting task to keep up with it all even when you live and breathe it on a daily basis.
As folks who are deeply tied to the AV integration industry, one which truly converges a great gob load of technical disciplines into seamless systems there is a pressure to be an expert on all of it or face the possibility of being leapfrogged by someone who does.  This a harder nut to crack as it requires us to face our paranoia and  accept that to not know something is only a temporary condition so long as we admit it.
Knowing what you actually know is a huge step to helping get your problems solved.  A support person is not going to riff on you for not knowing (if they do it should result in disciplinary action from the company) – but will for being caught proclaiming false expertise. Why?  Because it causes confusion and delay ( as Sir Topham hat would say) .
When the company I worked for first started to roll out wireless systems using  the 802.11 protocol, which  we all now simply call Wifi ,  (rather than then the proprietary lower UHF Transceiver systems previously offered) the  hold times with support tripled.   The cause of this flood of calls was not the product itself , per say, but the folks who called in first claiming they absolutely understood  not just how to setup a wireless connection but also how to connect a larger network of devices.   To be fair most knew a bit, often enough to get their computer connected using a wifi tool, but were missing the understanding of what actually made it all work. One of the most common misunderstandings we would encounter was how a computer connected with no issue by just entering a passkey in the wifi setup but the control devices would not.  Often it came down to a misunderstanding of how DHCP worked versus static addressing. Simple enough but we experienced an all too common aggressive stance from the caller that they “knew how to set up a network and had done several successfully’.  This puffing up of the chest only got in the way of an honest dialog.   In comparison callers who admittedly knew nothing about networking took less phone time as they let the support folks guide them through the process.
As I stated earlier there is much we can say to fix what companies provide in terms of support (This is another article altogether) yet, we as clients can go beyond demanding and find ways to work with our support to streamline and maximize the end point gain.  Namely, a solution.
Mine is just one set of tools, what have you noticed helps?  What would you change about the level of support you encounter on a daily basis?
*Update: The Folks over at Rental Fusion let me know about their post on what to do onsite when things go wrong.  Check out   “Event Troubleshooting: Quick Fixes to Common Show Problems” 

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