MonthMay 2013

Piles of Digital Books

I love to read. I fell out of it for a long time in college when I was overwhelmed with underwhelming books and papers to get through. But now that I am past all that, I have found my love for reading again.

I have torn through books on the cheap. I love the Kindle Paperwhite. Despite it’s silly name, the backlit device is perfect for reading in bed, on a beach, at the pool, on a subway train, or anywhere at all. It is light enough to read for hours without even being any heavier than a paperback. The light makes it ideal for reading at night or in low light.

But the Kindle is not the whole story. I also read a lot on my phone. I use the Kindle app for the iPhone. First on my 4, and now on the 5 with a taller screen, the beautiful Kindle letters are crisp and I can take it with me anywhere.

It’s perfect for reading over lunch, or when I can steal a few minutes out of the day to catch up with the character’s lives I have become a part of as I follow their tale.

To feed my reading addiction on a small budget, I use a couple of resources.

Book Gorilla

The first is Book Gorilla. The site is deceptively simple. When you sign up, it asks you to select categories of books you enjoy reading. Then, every day you get a single email from them with a list of discounted or free books from the Kindle store that match the categories you’ve chosen.

It’s not perfect and many days I don’t buy anything, but there have also been days I’ve picked up a half-dozen books for less than $5.00. I look forward to seeing that Book Gorilla email everyday because I never know what to expect.

Lendle

I haven’t used Lendle as much as when I first wrote about it due to the lack of books that are lendable thanks to the publisher’s restrictions. However, it is still my go-to place to see if a book is lendable and to find someone to lend it to me.

The idea is simple. Kindle books can be lent once to anyone. All you need is an email address. Lendle puts those people with books to lend and those seeing to borrow together.

The Kindle Lending Library

The Kindle Lending Library is the only one of the bunch that requires having a physical Kindle. Both Book Gorilla and Lendle will work with the various Amazon Kindle apps, or the web-based reader.

The The Kindle Lending Library works just like a library with some restrictions. First, you must own a physical Kindle device and have an Amazon Prime account. Once you have both, the selection is still small but often many popular books such as the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series are on it.

The Lending Library allowed you to borrow one book at a time and only one book per month. I will often look to see if any of my Book Gorilla suggestions are included if I’m on the fence about purchasing them.

I love GoodReads not so much as a social network to talk about books and to share them with people. But I love it as an introvert’s network. I keep track of [what I have read](http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4729067-carl-holscher?shelf=read). I like to know how many books I have read. I keep a healthy to-read list there and I dutifully mark down each book I’ve gotten through so I can look back and feel proud at all the time I’ve spent reading.

What your customer wants from you

When people call customer service, what are they looking for? What forces them to pick up the phone, send an email, post a tweet or complain to Facebook? Before calling for support, people will usually try to fix the problem themselves. Barring the confidence to do so, they’ll find a workaround or at the very least cope with the problem.

When people finally make the choice to call for support, what are they’re looking for is happiness. They want to return to the happier state they were in before they had a problem. They want to continue working, continue playing, they want to continue doing what they want to do.

Calling for support means they’re unhappy and as a support person, your job is to make them happy. A return to happiness is your priority and mission when offering support whether it be technical or not.

No one likes calling support and needing service. In a perfect day, no one would have to call for support because nothing would break and everything would work perfectly. In nearly a decade of support, I have yet to see this day. Let me know if you find it.

Now that your customer has called for support, what are they looking for?

What your customer wants from you

When a person needs customer service or technical support, there are a couple of things the person is looking for. Some of them are obvious but others are implied. Being a well-rounded technician involves understanding and embodying each of these to a certain degree.

Confidence

Confidence is important because a person who needs help is having trouble. If the person who assists them doesn’t have the confidence they can solve the problem, the customer may lose faith in their abilities.

Projecting confidence, even fake confidence gives your customer the sense that you are there to take care of them and their needs. You are there to help them out and make everything OK again.

If you aren’t confident you can solve the problem, act like it. Even if you don’t have an answer, you know how to get the answer.

Expertise

Customers need your skills, knowledge and abilities to accomplish what they cannot. They seek expertise.

Acting in confidence will put the customer at ease, having the expertise to solve the problem seals the deal and solves the customer’s problem.

Every problem is different so the expertise needed to solve them is constantly changing. Sometimes it is a knowledge of a technical problem and it’s fix. Other times the expertise is knowing where to look to find the answer.

They wouldn’t be calling if they could do it themselves. Everyone has a job to do and your job is to help to solve your customer’s problems.

Understanding

Many times, a customer is frustrated or angry. Showing immediate understanding will calm them and turn their frustration into appreciation. They know they’re in good hands and you are there to help them. Put your customer at ease.

Talk to them, sometimes they’ll need to vent and get out all of the ill will and frustration they’ve built up dealing with this problem. Let them. Sometimes you need to be the whipping boy to get to the root of the problem you’re there to solve.

Your customer already has a problem, then have to navigate the gauntlet of the modern day phone tree or help desk routing maze. They have a problem and it’s been compounded by frustration so they’re ready to scream and you’re the first face they see.

Working IT support is like wearing a target on your chest. You’re the object of aggression and the free-floating hostility will be directed at you.

Understanding is more than just consoling the customer. Understand is also the knowledge you’re more than just a technician. You’re also a counselor, whipping boy and messenger.

Communication

Communication is what makes or breaks nearly all customer interactions. Customers need to be kept up to date with the progress of their problem. And technicians need to get feedback from the customer.

Communication is always two-way and when it breaks down, it delays solving the problem. Many times waiting for information in order to continue will hold up the work from being completed.

Customers are rarely aware of the progress and processes which go on behind the scenes. Keeping them up to date will remind them you are working on their problem and if there is a delay, communicating to them the reason behind it will make it easier to handle.

Communicating with your customer is key to keeping a good working relationship with them.

Creativity

Creativity is a valuable asset in problem solving. Sometimes the problem isn’t as easy as you think. Other times the obvious solution isn’t the correct one. Even if you’ve seen an identical problem and solved it, the next time could be a different solution. Problems can be as complex as the systems they occur in.

Creativity is not just thinking outside the established procedures but looking for alternate solutions. Many times a problem arises that has many possible solutions. Looking at all the possible solutions and not discounting any outright will increase your flexibility in being able to solve whatever problems may arise.

Problem solving can mean seeing the big picture and the tiny details all at once. In complex systems, sometimes a solution for one problem may cause another. It’s a balancing act to find the best solution to all of the problems.

Empathy

It is one thing to understand you’re customer’s needs and to be understanding of their pain. It’s another level to be empathetic.

Empathy is being aware of the customer’s feelings and feeling those same feelings. Put yourself in the place of your customer. How are they feeling? Understand why they’re upset or frustrated or stressed. When you understand where they are coming from, it will alter how you work with them and will lead to a more peaceful solution.

Everyone wants to be understood and wants to know their problems are important. Even when they may seem like a small annoyance to you, your customer may view this as the end of the world. Instead of clicking a setting in a preferences menu, the customer views this as having to translate one foreign language to another, in Braille.

You never know what your customer’s stress level, their past experiences with IT, or how their day is going. But when you imagine yourself in their place, you can project that deeper understand and empathy to them.

They’ll know you’re there to help and you truly understand where they are coming from and the help they need.

Honesty

Customers are looking for honesty. Don’t lie to your customers. It will break the bond of trust you’re worked so hard to establish with them. Breaking that trust destroys their confidence in you.

Even if you can’t be completely honest with a customer, be as honest as you can be. The biggest thing to remember is the world is very small and things have a way of making it back to the customer.

Don’t tell them one thing, then turn around and tell their co-worker or manager something completely different. They’ll compare notes and will know you’ve told them different things. Then they’ll ask why you did so.

Don’t put yourself in that position. Don’t undermine the trust you’ve built with your customers. It’s the most valuable trait of all.

Solutions

All of the previous traits are all leading to one final need. Your customer needs solutions. They need a fixes to problems. They need you to help them.

If you’re unable to help, all the empathy and confidence in the world won’t make you a successful technician. Fixing problems is what the profession is all about. If you’re unable to fix problems, then find another line of work because you won’t last long.

Without a solution, you’ve failed your customer. Even if the solution is one the customer doesn’t want to hear. There are times due to policy, licensing or deadlines that a satisfactory solution cannot be reached.

These are the times when you’ll need to use all your skills to make the customer understand why you can’t do what they want you to do. There are a variety of reasons you can’t get what they want done and very often it has to do with time. The customer’s perception of your time is very different than where your time goes.

It often seems as if customers assume their support people are sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting for their call. When in reality, the support staff is always busy. There is always something breaking somewhere. And even on the rare times when there are no fires to be put out, there are projects.

There are also maintenance and administrative tasks which mostly happen out of view of the customers. This is how it should be, but it contributes to the assumption of how the support person’s time is spent.

Wrap up

Striving to embody and practice all of these traits will make you a more well-rounded technician and a great customer service agent. When your customer calls for help, they’re looking for a solution to their problem and many people can provide that.

It takes more than just rote memorization to be successful. It takes projecting the confidence to do the job. It takes expertise to get the work done. Understanding what the customer needs and empathetic towards them will build trust.

Communication will make or break any support call. Creativity and flexibility will keep all options open and make finding new solutions more possible.

And of course, finding solutions is what the profession is all about. Your job is to fix problems. You’re a chief problem fixer. Without the solutions to problems, nothing else matters.

Offer One Choice

When customers ask for advice or recommendations they are looking for one answer. Often times, I know of a couple of options and will try to narrow them down to get a better idea what my customer is really looking for.

I often struggle to make a single recommendation. Customers want one answer to their question. One single recommendation to act on.

Offering a buffet of choices can be very overwhelming to someone who doesn’t know what they’re looking for. Even if they do, there are a many options for everything. Offering up 5 good options is overkill and will lead to feeling overwhelmed and not choosing anything.

Just looking at anti-malware and anti-virus options is absolutely confounding. They all offer the same thing. They have different prices and different perks. But in the end, most people want a simple option. And if it’s free, that’s even better.

If I know of a good free option, I will recommend it and only offer paid options if they ask if there is anything better or anything else I would recommend. Most people who are asking for basic recommendations aren’t going to spend the money on a solution even if they should.

For the people who are looking for more sophisticated recommendations, I will choose an option or two and will do my best to tell them what I know about the products and which I would go with in their situation.

Recommending the unknown

My biggest rule in recommendations is I try not to recommend anything I’ve never used. If I don’t have any direct experience in something, I will draw from my knowledge to make an educated recommendation but clearly say I have not used it and don’t have any direct experience with it.

I don’t want to lead people astray. I don’t want to recommend a product that might now work well for them. Every time a customer asks, I try to find the very best product to fit their needs based on my experience.

General or Specific

There is a balance that needs to be struck between making a general recommendation and asking enough questions to tailor the best solution to the customer.

People often ask about “what computer should I buy?” and that is the hardest question I have to answer. There are so many needs people have and everyone has different needs and requirements of a computer. What the customer really wants to know can be determined in a few follow-up questions.

“Should I buy a Mac or a PC?”

I love this question because it means the person is open to the idea of buying a Mac or at least has heard enough about them they’re interested in buying one.

This is when I try to ask what they’re looking for in a computer. On one hand, I know a Mac will give them less trouble down the road. And on the other, I don’t want them to spend a lot of money on a machine they don’t really need.

There are some fields where the industry standard software is Windows-only such as scientific research and technical drawing. I would never recommend a Mac to people who I know will be better served by Windows.

Buying a computer is a huge cost and a big decision. I don’t want to say Buy A Mac, when all they need is a simple netbook for email and web browsing.

Making a good recommendation is all about what the customer is going to use it for. Finding the right tool for the job is the real question the customer is coming to you to find out.

“Should I buy a Dell or HP?”

This is a harder question. These people are squarely in the Windows world for one reason or another. They want to buy a PC. But who do they buy it from? I hate this question in a way because I often feel there is no right answer.

The Windows market is a commodity market. Buying on price is the only real decision to make. How much the customer wants to spend and what they’re looking to do with the computer.

Do they need a lot of RAM of a fast graphics card? Do they need a huge hard drive for storage or are they looking for small, light and portable because they travel all the time? The ideal computer for a graphic designer and a writer are very different.

When people are looking for a computer, they generally know whether they want a laptop or a desktop. From there, price is the only decision. How much do they want to spend and how much computer do they need? Then look for what manufacturer offers the best sales and support.

“What about tablets?”

iPads are popular and many people have one or know someone who has one. They want to know if they should buy one or not. Similarly, many times they may not want to spend the money on an iPad but they ask about Android or Windows tablets.

The first question is should they buy one. The biggest question to ask if what would they use it for and would they use it. Tablets are fun and sexy and look cool. But they do no good if they’re sitting around in a closet or a shelf. E-book readers like the Kindle or Nook also fall into this class.

For tablets, I always recommend iPads because I have a lot of experience with them and I feel they offer the best experience in terms of applications and manufacturer support. I’ve used a number of Android tablets and while they are much more affordable, they have their own issues.

There is also the ongoing issue of what version of Android the tablet is running since Android devices rarely, if ever, see operating system updates. The owner of a shiny new Android tablet may find there are very few applications that support the particular screen size and version of Android they’re running.

My biggest problem in recommending Android products is the fragmentation in the market. What this means is there are so many different versions of the operating system out, and they look and behave different it’s hard to get a consistent experience. I don’t want to tell a customer to buy an underpowered tablet that will be a constant source of irritation to use.

If I am going to recommend a product for someone to buy, I want to try to steer them in the right direction and I always tell people go and try out the device they want to buy if possible.

Wirecutter

I have found Wirecutter as the premier source of news and reviews about a whole range of technology products. Their reviews are second to none. They are extremely in-depth in their coverage and will cover the good, bad and the ugly about the products they cover in each category.

They’ll offer more than once option in many categories along with prices and places to buy them. It’s become indispensable for recommending products I don’t know as much about. They constantly update their picks for their various categories so their information isn’t stale. They’ll post a warning if the product is about to see an update or if the information is old and being researched.

Buy Nothing?

Sometimes the right decision is not to buy anything, or wait until a new version is available with a particular feature the customer needs. In some cases, buying an older model or refurbished model can save the customer money and still offer them exactly what they need.

For example, if the customer lives in an area without 4G cellular service, a more expensive device offering 4G may not be the best solution. Similarly, if a customer has a large library of Android applications, an Android tablet may make the best sense since they’re committed to the platform.

Each customer is different and there is no solution that fits everyone.

Why I care about what I do

I have a deep technical background and the soul of a tinkerer. I need to understand not just that things work but how and why they work. I want to know even more why they aren’t working and what I can do to make them work again.

Just as I am dedicated to technical excellence, I remember to put people first. I am here to serve the people, my customers. The machines are my tools. The people are my customers. I care about the customers. I am here to support them.

Caring

I work in the technical support industry. The problem with the name is it sounds like we’re here to support the computers and other technology. Instead, we should be focused on supporting the people using that technology. I care about the people using that the technology and their experiences and relationship with that technology.

Why do I care?

I care because I love technology. I have seen how it can be a magnificent tool to accomplish things that simply weren’t possible when I was a kid. I see the impact of technology and the marvels it can bring into our lives.

I care because I want everyone else to have access to, and understand how technology can help them. I want those same tools to be available to everyone and the knowledge to use those tools.

I want to share what I know and I want to help. I want to share the joy I feel in harnessing the awesome power of the Digital Age. I remember a time before computers, before the Internet and cellular telephones.

I bridge the divide between those who knew a world without these marvels and those who will never live without them. I want to be an ally in the fight to use technology, not be victimized by it.

Resources

There are plenty of resources out there focused on how to fix technical problems. How-To Geek and Technibble are two excellent starting points.

However, there are far fewer resources for customer service and talking about how we interact with people and how we are meant to serve the people and not the machines.

Technical Support is Customer Service.

Read that again and think about it. Technical Support Is Customer Service.

I am here to serve my customers. I am here to make their lives with computers and technology easier. I am here to keep them working and to get them back to work when something stands in their way.

My Role

It is my job to serve them. I am here to make their work as smooth and painless as possible. I get their computer up and running as quickly as possible.

It is my job to bring the same joy I find in technology as an enabler to them. It is my job to get them working again and get the technology out of their way.

I have spent a large part of my life learning, understanding and sharing what I know about technology. Not everyone has that luxury. Everyone has a different job to do and it’s important to remember people who are not technically savvy have other skills those of us with technical prowess lack.

Throughout my career, I have worked with amazing writers, thinkers and designers. I have worked alongside scientists fighting to cure cancer. I have served blue-collar workers in a manufacturing plant. I worked briefly in the financial industry and supported a high volume call center.

I have worked in city, state and national government environments. I have worked in multi-national companies employing hundreds of thousand of people and I have worked where I was one of eight employees.

I have worked with amazing people in all facets of industry and life. Their technical skills ran the gamut from writing software on punch cards in the 1960s to interns fresh out of high school and knew nearly nothing about computers.

It didn’t matter how technical they were, everyone has their own skills. Every single one of them brought something special to the table. Everyone has their own expertise, interests and skills.

In this wealth of diversity, I’ve started to get an understanding of how people use technology and how I can help them use it better.

Role of Technology

Technology is a tool. Computers, tablets, phones, copiers, printers, scanners and every other box of plastic and metal is a tool. Technology is a tool. It is there to enable people to create great things.

They are not meant to be in the way. They’re not meant to be a hindrance. They’re not meant to stand in the way of fulfilling dreams and desires.

Computers are there to do as we ask them to do.

But just as people get sick, computers break.

Computer and the human body have a lot in common. They are both complex systems which require everything to work in harmony for the system to work as well as it possibly can.

Having a headache, upset stomach or a sore back hinders your work, storage space, memory and heat can hamper a computer from running at optimal efficiency.

This where I come in and why I do what I do.