MonthApril 2013

Serve the Customer, Not the Machine

The focus of the technical support industry is to keep focused on the machines breaking down and mechanical systems needing to be repaired. Technical Support is about far more than supporting technology. The biggest part of Technical Support is Customer Service.

The entire profession exists because people use technology as a tool to carry out work and when those tools break down they need to be repaired. The more important part of the job is not just repairing the tools but to serve the people who use those tools.

The term user gets thrown around a lot and it is often seen as a derogatory term. The people you serve are not just users of the technology you are there to support. Wrong.

These people are your customers. They are who you are there to serve and delight. These customers are who you work for and it is your job to keep them working smoothly. It can be easy to forget but they are not technicians. They may not be computer savvy. They are there to do another job. It is not their job to repair computers. They do other things which you may know nothing about.

Their skills are different from yours but by no means any less valuable.

In technical support you serve the customer, not the machine. This idea is so often overlooked when it comes to technical support and it gives those who work in the profession a bad reputation.

Service the customer has many parts and being a well-rounded technician means practicing them all.

Serving The Customer

As a support technician, you are there to serve the customer. Your job is to help the person having trouble get back to work. Sometimes this means installing or upgrading software. Other times it may be a quick question and answer session.

In the profession, there is a primary focus on repairing the computer problem, which is important because it’s keeping the person from working. In keeping the machine up and running there is so much more to the job than simply repairing and maintaining the tools.

Serving the customer is a lot more than simply maintaining and repairing the tools they need to do their job. Working in technical support also requires playing the role of Hero, Villain, Counselor, Sherpa Guide and Messenger. Working in the field will require playing all of these roles at one time.

Listen and Understand

When someone is having technical problems, they are frustrated. They need to get back to work and something is preventing them from working. They may be angry, frustrated, apathetic, frantic or all the above. Arriving at someone’s desk who is mid-meltdown can make you the target for some hostility. Don’t take it personally, they’re having a bad day and you’re either there to be the Hero or the Villain.

The first step is understanding. Many times the problem reported is either too vague to understand properly or is not the real problem. Your first job is to understand what problem needs to be solved.

Empathy

No matter what state you find your customer in, you’ve arrived to help and show some empathy. If they’re mad, listen to them vent. They may need to get it out of their system before they can calm down and work with you.

If they’re getting pressure from their manager because they’re not able to work, that may also come down on you. Be understanding. You’re the whipping boy here. You’re the messenger who gets shot not for anything you’ve done, only in that you’ve arrived to help.

Stay calm. Speak calmly and work to a place of understanding and apologize for the problems. Then do your best to resolve them.

Communication

Communication is just as vital as listening. Ask questions and express your sincere desire to help get them back to work as quickly as possible. You’re here to play the hero. This is where you start.

Ask questions and understand the problem. Often times, having the person show the issue can save you time. You may find yourself going in circles which may only serve to anger your customer more due to the lack of clear communication. The customer may not know how to tell you what the problem is. Demonstrating leaves far less room for misdiagnosis.

Once you know what the problem is and are can resolve it, get to it. Explain to them what the problem is and what you’re doing to fix it. Your customer wants to know you’re there to take care of them.

If you can’t fix their problem immediately, communicate clearly what the next step is going to be. Do you need to take the computer to work on? Will you offer a loaner machine? Do you need to get another team involved? Communicate that. Make sure they know what the next step being taken is and when it is going to take place. If you don’t have exact information, don’t lie or guess but give them the best estimate you have and promise to follow-up once you have more information. Then make sure you follow-up.

Remember, your customer is unable to work. They want to get back to work. They want the problems fixed. Make sure you are keeping your customer informed and in the loop on communications. In the absence of information, people tend to assume the worst. Don’t allow that to happen by providing updates.

Set Expectations

This is where setting expectations can mean the difference between an angry phone call and a satisfied customer. Make sure you explain what will need to be done and how long it will take. If you say you will need an hour and the repair takes 3 that’s not good if you don’t communicate that back to your customer.

Make sure you are setting the proper expectation. Give yourself extra time. Always estimate more time because your customer will be delighted if the hour-long repair only took you 15 minutes. They will be happy and marvel at your skill. If your one hour repair stretches into its second or third hour, you will not have a happy customer.

That being said, expectations are difficult to manage because sometimes things aren’t always as they seem and what looks like a simple fix may result in a far more complicated issue.

Be Honest

Be honest with your customer. If you don’t know how long a repair will take, say so. Tell them you’ll need to get the machine back to your desk or shop and start looking into it. Then you will let them know once you have a realistic estimate for them. If you don’t know, don’t be afraid to say so. Dont’ sound clueless or say I don’t know and leave it at that. Explain you can’t give them an estimate because it could be one of many things and you will update them once you find out.

It’s always important to remember you are taking time out of the workdays of your customer. You didn’t ask to work on their computer but for some reason you are there, and you are standing between them and getting back to work.

Technical Skill

The second half of technical support is supporting the technology. I’ve focused on customer service because I feel it is so often overlooked. The profession could not exist without repairing the tools of the technical trade. Or in this day and age, the tools everyone needs to do their jobs.

Doctors of Technology

Working in Technical Support is similar to being a doctor making house calls. Each day, you never know what ailments the collection of machinery in your office or client base might throw at you. Waking up to the unknown and the challenge that awaits you is equal parts frustration and fun.

Working in IT, you’re a doctor of technology. Complex systems break down just like the human body does. When our stomachs hurt or head aches, we can’t think clearly or double over in pain. Computers have the same problems when they run out or memory or hard drive space.

Repairing the human body involves feeding it and keeping it well rested. The same goes for computers. To keep them running at top efficiency it involves some maintenance.

Knowledge

Use the technology you support. Learn where things are. I can navigate my way around Windows and Mac OS X in my sleep. Knowing where common settings are will keep you from having to lookup the basics, sometimes in front of your customer, and will speed your repairs.

Know what you’re doing. It may seems silly but I’ve worked in places where the knowledge of the other technicians was not much higher than the people we were meant to be supporting. Know your way around what you do. It will save you time and effort and make you a better technician.

Resources

That being said, technology moves very fast. Everything you know will once day be obsolete. Knowing where to find the answer to questions and problems is key. Knowing how to search is vital to doing the job. I don’t mean typing Google.com into a browser and keying in any old words. Anyone can do that.

Know how to form a good search query. Search for the error message. Start on vendor’s web sites or popular support forums or communities. Working smarter will replace working harder. There are still days when you’ll be 15 pages deep in the search results, digging through obscure forums until you eventually strike gold and after reading 100 “I’m having the problem too” posts, you’ll find your solution.

The answer to any problem is out there. With the Internet, every solution is within reach if you’re persistent enough to find it.

Documentation

Now that you have that solution, put it somewhere you can find it again later. I guarantee that weird one-in-a-lifetime issue you swear you’ll never see again, will occur again in 6 months. Have a system of documentation. Many larger organizations have a wiki setup for their technicians to contribute to and update.

If there’s something like that where you are, contribute to it, as it will pay off when you’re kicking yourself months later for not writing down how you fixed that killer bug.

If you don’t have anything in place, create something. Start a wiki. Keep a text file. Open Microsoft Word and start making a list. It doesn’t have to be a fancy system. It just had to be reliable and something easy enough you’ll want to use again and again.

Your documentation is your external brain. You can’t possibly remember everything you see and everything you fix. Put it somewhere.

Read

Read. Read often. I can’t stress how important reading and keeping up with the technology field is to the job. Did a large vulnerability just get discovered? Did a new Operating System just get released? Is there a big software patch coming you need to be aware of? Is there something new your clients will be interested in?

Don’t get caught off guard by big news. It will keep you up to date with what is going on and with better tools and better ways to help your customers. The industry is always changing and if you don’t change with it, you’ll be left behind.

Education and Certification

You don’t have to hold a technical degree to work in the field. I hold a degree in Creative Advertising. I have a B.S. in Communications (make of that what you will). I got into tech support because I was “good with computers” and I learned a lot quickly.

You don’t have to study computer science or be a programmer or have some fancy degree to work in IT. I have learned everything I know from experience on the job, tinkering with computers in my spare time and a general interest in how things work. I don’t have any formal training, just a natural curiosity and the patience to figure things out.

Certifications will advance your understanding and master in your chosen field. Obtaining general computer certifications like the Comptia A+ and Network+ exams not only prove you know what you’re doing to potential employers, but they help to hone your skills and set you on a path to obtaining more specialized certifications.

Once you’ve worked in IT long enough, you’ll find an area you like. Find your niche and learn all you can about it. Read and learn and get certified because it will open more doors for advancement.

Click here and enter your password

Why will your local IT Department never ask for your username and password?

XKCD Comic

Username

Your local IT department setup your account. They know your username. They can look it up if they don’t. It’s often a combination of first and last names. Perhaps there’s a number thrown in. Or perhaps it’s a series of numbers.

No matter what it is, your IT department knows it.

Password

Never Give Anyone Your Password Over Email

Your IT department doesn’t know your password. They have no way to look up your password. But you know what they can do, reset your password.

IT will never ask you for your username and password. If they really need it, they can look up one and reset the other. And resetting a customer’s password without their permission or knowledge is a huge breach of security and trust and will lead to that person getting fired or possibly worse.

What is Phishing?

According to Dictionary.com, Phishing is…

to try to obtain financial or other confidential information from Internet users, typically by sending an e-mail that looks as if it is from a legitimate organization , usually a financial institution, but contains a link to a fake Web site that replicates the real one.

Basically, it is someone trying to gain information from you by pretending to be something else. The attackers will spoof your bank web site, your employer, local IT department or an email from a friend or loved one.

Examples of phishing emails

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a larger than usual amount of phishing emails. I have included a couple of samples below with the links removed. After each message, I’ll make a note of why this is a fake message and what to look out for.

From: “Hogan, Judith”
Date: February 11, 2013, 11:14:15 AM EST
Subject: Security Update
There has been an automatic security update on your [email address](LINK REMOVED). To complete update, you are to click here.
Please note that you have within 24 hours to complete this update because you might lose access to your Email Box

First, check who the sender is. Does this person work in your company. Do they have the same Company.com email address? Have you heard of them before or the company they work for?

In this case, poor Judith Hogan at Rochester.edu is our sender. She does not work for the same organization where this email was sent to. She has most likely had her account compromised and it being used by the attackers. Judith is not trying to get access to your account. She is another victim of phishing or another attack that has compromised her account. She is not after your information. She is merely the victim.

Second, the link for “email address” went to a page at hpage.com. Hpage.com is not your local IT department.

From: National Institute of Health <2254576378@qq.com>
Date: Sat, 2 Feb 2013 04:27:06 -0500
Subject: Important Notification

Dear Subscriber, All NIHMAIL users must upgrade their account on or
before 4th February 2013 . For easy upgrade, Click
http://[REMOVED].my3gb.com and fill out your correct account details.
Webmail Administrator

First, the From line actually has the correct organization on it. However, a quick check of the email address goes to qq.com. NIH is a government entity and uses a NIH.gov domain. They would never direct customers to qq.com for any reason.

Second, Dear Subscriber is a giveaway. If this really were your employer emailing you, they know who you are. They would address you by first or last name. It would not be something so generic as Subscriber.

Third, The IT department plans and executes upgrades. Your IT department would never ask you to click anything to upgrade your account. That is part of the job of your IT techs. To manage, upgrade and control the email servers and email accounts. If there is an upgrade happening, they will tell you about it.

Finally, IT will never, ever, ever ask for your credentials. The IT department setup your email account. They already know what your username is. And while they don’t know your password, they do have the power to reset it. If you’ve ever forgotten your password and call your Help Desk, they can reset your password so they’ll never need to ask you for it. Your IT Department will never ask for your username and password.

Often times, attackers will threaten a customer with their data or email being deleted to scare them into compliance.

From: “Warren, Frank”
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2012 07:19:27 -0500
Subject: Security Update

There has been an automatic security update on your email address. Click here to complete update
Please note that you have within 24 hours to complete this update because you might lose access to your Email Box.

First, Frank Warren @ BP.com doesn’t work for your company most likely.

Second, IT would never conduct an automatic update without first announcing it. And if there was an update performed, no one would need to click a link. They are the IT department. When they perform an upgrade, your account is upgraded. Done. There is no step 2.

Third, sporadic capitalization such as Email Box and missing periods in sentences are key indicators of phishing. Professional emails sent from your IT department will use proper grammar and punctuation.

From: NIH EMAIL WEB ACCESS
Subject: TERMINATION OF ACCOUNT

Dear NIH Account User,

Due to the congestion in all NIH users
accounts you needs toupdate your account with
our released F-Secure Internet Security 2013.
Newversion of a better resource spam and viruses.

If you have not upgraded your account, click reply
and fill in the columnsbelow to send it back so we can
update our database account immediately.
Failure to update will process your NIH
account beingtemporarily blocked or suspended
from our network and may not be able to
receive or send e-mail due to the update.

First, your company knows who you are and would address you by name.
Second, the missing spaces between words and poor grammar such as better resource spam and viruses means phishing. That last line doesn’t even make sense when you read it.
Third, the IT department upgrades your email. It doesn’t access you to click a link *or else.** IT doesn’t threaten customers.

From: NIH User
Subject: Blank

Due to recent suspicious activities in your web-mail account and high amount of Spam mails we receive daily. you account have been blocked and made inactive to protect you, so to activate and unblock your account before routine deletion by our servers, To upgradeyour webmail please click (link withheld)

please fill all details to unblock your account instantly Thank you.

First, the subject line would not be blank.
Second, if your account has been blocked, you would not be receiving this email because your account has been blocked.
Third, poor grammar, lack of capitalization and asking to click a link is a sure sign of phishing.
Fourth, filling information into a web site will not unblock your account. A call to your help desk will.

I hope these examples and explanations have been helpful to better understand phishing and the ways attackers try to gain access to your email. Often times, customers will say, “I have nothing in my email that is important or sensitive.”

However, when a customer’s email account is compromised so is access to anything else they have. Any network drives are also vulnerable. VPN access or remote access are now vulnerable.

If the customer works with sensitive data such as HR or Financial information, access to those accounts are now vulnerable too. Think of all the things that use a password reset sent to an email address to change a password.

If an attacker has access to your email account, they potentially have access to anything that email address connects to. Do you use it for Facebook, Twitter, your own web site, Amazon, Paypal, or your bank?

All of those things could be compromised because the attacker is able to reset those emails with your email address. For a worst case scenario, the story of Mat Honan getting his computer and phone deleted because an attacker was able to gain access to his account.

This is a worst case scenario. However, the same security threats exist if an attacker gains access to your email account. Attackers aren’t just after your work email accounts either.

Take a look through your Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo email account. What social media sites do you use that email for? Does your bank send email there? How about credit cards? If an attacker gains access to that account, they have anything you use that email address for. In addition to being able to email your friends, family and colleagues from your account in an attempt to gain access to their accounts too.

The best weapon against phishing and other attacks is to use common sense. If you have a question about something you’ve received email the sender back and ask them about it. If you receive a suspicious email at work. Call your help desk and ask about it.

The best defense is to use common sense and think about what you’ve received and if it makes sense. How can you easily detect a phishing attack?

  1. Check the sender. Do they work for your company? Is the email address the same as the sender name?
  2. Are there weird misspellings, poor grammar and a lack of basic punctuation? Does your local IT department send you emails like this? Does your brother, mother or colleague?
  3. Is there a link in the email? Don’t click it. If you move your mouse over it and wait a couple of seconds, it will show the link where it’s going to take you. If it’s a weird-looking link. Don’t click it.
  4. If your suspicious, delete the email. If it was something important, the sender will contact you again or in another way.
  5. Remember, the IT department manages your email account. They will never ask for your credentials or to click a link for any reason. They have the power to do whatever they need to do to upgrade, manage or migrate your email. That’s their job.

The Promise of Health

Why are there so many fad diets?
Why are there so many exercise machines?
Why do people do Juice Cleanses?
Why do people make terrible green-looking shakes and smoothies?

Because they’re all looking for a quick fix.

There is no quick fix for a lifetime of treating your body poorly. There is nothing that’s going to make you look like those people in the ads unless you spend the time and effort for months, if not years, to make your body look that good.

It’s not a machine they bought.
It’s not a supplement they took.
It’s not a food they ate or vitamin they took.
It’s nothing as simple as that.

They worked.
They worked hard.
They worked hard for a long time.

That’s how they got their abs.
That’s why they look like they do now.

It’s nothing simple you can buy from them.

They’ll tell you and sell you anything.
They’ll promise overnight results.
They’ll promise 10 pounds in 10 days.
They’ll promise you the moon.

And when it doesn’t work, it’s not because of them.
It’s because they promised you a lie.
It’s because you made a temporary change and expected permanent results.

Diet and exercise lead to better health.
Making good choices leads to to better health.

Making a lifetime of good, healthy decisions and actions leads to better health.
It won’t come from an advertisement.

Google Mail teaches bad habits.

Google Mail, Gmail for short, offered its users an increasing amount of disk space. The idea being you could keep anything and everything in your Gmail. Just search for it!

This was Google’s ideal view of email since they run a search engine and advertising service. What better way to get you to view ads and use their search than if they had all your email on their servers? And we did.

Despite it’s launch being on April 1, 2004 1, it was no joke. It touted Search, Storage and Speed and delivered on all three promises.

In the early days, Gmail would constantly increase the amount of storage space for each user. Today, Gmail sits at around 10GB per user with the option to buy more storage to be used across Google’s empire of services.

Google is great at what it does, but it teaches bad habits when they enter the corporate world. Today, many small companies and organizations use Gmail directly of their business offering with customizable domains to serve their email. However, many larger companies as well as government agencies must host their own mail servers for a variety of legal and security reasons.

In most cases, this means Microsoft Exchange servers. The endless space and ability to use email as a personal filing cabinet is not possible on Exchange-hosted email systems due to the organization running it not having Google’s capacity to offer storage space for all the messages and attachments.

Exchange-based email also enables the organization to comply with government regulations concerning security, message retention and other measures not imposed upon small companies or people. There is also an issue with a company using an email system of another company to discuss everything from Human Resources to Legal to Financial communications.

The disconnect comes from not understanding not all email is the same as gmail and there is a level of responsibility that must be used for corporate email. While there is no reason the everyday person need to understand what an Exchange server is and what it does. But they do need to understand what it means to them.

Gmail teaches it is OK to have unending amounts of email and to never think about how much mail is there or if it will ever be needed again. They assume the mail will be safe and secure forever and free.

Unfortunately, this is not the case on corporate exchange servers where there are very real, hard limits to the amount of mail they can store. On top of that, if they have the misfortune to be Entourage users, their mail can be held hostage by Entourage’s One Database To Rule Them All style of email storage. Even if they use Outlook, there are hard 2GB limits to the amount of data that can be stored in a PST 2 file.

The world of corporate email is not the same as personal email and governments and companies do not have the same resources as Google. Gmail has taught bad habits managing email as people assume the same rules apply across all email systems.

As the gap between personal and work life closes, expectations are changing and corporate IT cannot keep up with the offerings of Google.


  1. April Fool’s Day in the United States 

  2. Personal Folder Storage 

Being Prepared – From tires to dollars

>I wrote this story last April and never published it. So here it is.

Today’s events happened were serendipitous since we had talked about it for a few weeks. My wife wanted me to show her how to change a tire on her car since she never had. She wanted to make sure she would know how and be able to do so if the time ever arose that she would need to do so if she had to on her own.

I thought it was a good idea but as many good intentions stay just that, we put it off. Weeks later, she had a blow out on her way home from work. She knew her rear tired were getting near the end of their lives and would need to be changed soon.

She rounded a corner and something in the road popped the wall of one of the rear tires. She called me and asked for help so I met her as soon as I could. When I got there, she already had the owner’s manual out and had nearly figured all of it out but wanted some help (tires are heavy!) and wanted to make sure she did it right since she didn’t have to do it alone.

So we located her spare tire, jack, and various other tools we’d need for the job. We reviewed the manual and removed the lug nut covers and located the tire key (her car is a newer model with one lug nut that locks in place and requires a special “key” to unscrew it).

We loosened the nuts, I showed her where to place the jack on the frame and we jacked the car up, then removed the tire (including a good kick to loosen it) and we had it off in no time. Then we put the new one on, I helped her position it and held it in place as she screwed in the lug nuts and we made sure they were good and tight. Then headed to a local tire shop to get the blown one replaced as well as the other rear tire.

So today was a good learning experience and we both feel better knowing if this were to happen somewhere more remote or where I wasn’t able to help she would be comfortable (and strong enough) to get the tire changed and on her way.

Financial Readiness

The second part of this story is the financial victory we won at the tire place this evening. We brought the car in and knew it would be a couple of hundred dollars for two new tires and an alignment. We moved some money from our savings, since we had money specifically put aside for car repairs, and that nearly covered it. We paid the rest out of our checking account.

We had an unexpected, multi-hundred dollar expense arise today and didn’t put a single cent on of it on credit.

You have no idea how good that feels. As someone who had lived for years pay check to pay check and never had adequate savings, or in many cases, any savings at all, to be able to pay for this because we had planned for it was a huge win.

It felt great to be ready. It felt great to know our hard work had paid off. We are not in debt because of this repair. We planned for it and because of that it didn’t catch us off guard. It was a great feeling.