Carl T. Holscher fights for the customers.

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Books are hard

Writing a book is hard. Putting words together and having another set of professional eyes fix them is painful.

My book is a collection of essays and it was covered in red once I got it back from the editor. And I’m thankful it was. I know I don’t write perfectly. I have no clue what to do with semi colons. Commas confound me. I spell well but my grammar is a mess.

My little book had gone from Markdown file to Word Document to Scrivener file. Now it’s a book. I can see it on my Kindle. I can send it to friends to get their reaction.

It’s Real.

I learned how to make a book. How to write it. How to get it edited. Made those edits. How to format it. Now it’s real.

Now I’m learning how to sell it. How to price it. How to tell people about it. How to let is loose into the world. It’s all a great experiment.

A terrifying experiment. It’s the first time in years I’ve made a thing that I’ve put out into the world. It’s not a blog post. The living beast that slowly gets bigger and longer with the passing of time.

A book is a thing. Even if it gets updated or expanded upon. It’s still a snapshot of time. When those words existed in that order in a finite way.

And it’s almost done. Beyond the Reboot will be out soon once I made the last changes based on feedback I got from my wonderful friends who were gracious enough to look at it and tell me what I had long gone blind to.

Beyond the Reboot is about being a better technician. It won’t tell you what tools to use or how to fix problems. Those are skills that are easy to learn and have already been covered to death elsewhere.

Beyond the Reboot is a book about the human side of technical support. It remembers the Customer in Customer Service. It’s a reminder that we’re all here to serve the people behind the machines. The machines are coming for our jobs. We don’t need to give them any help. We need to help people.

And I think this little book will. And I hope you do too.

It’s available today.

Beyond the Reboot #10: Build a Toolkit

Build a Toolkit

Everyone has a toolkit and I’m often asked what I use. I am quick to offer up tools that fill a specific use or tools that have saved me many hours over my career. But I never say that one tool is the absolute best. I offer what I use and that it’s worked for me. There are many tools that do the same thing. The tools are as varied as the technicians who use them. Everyone has a tool they like and it’s likely to be different for everyone.

When asked for recommendations, I recommend resources I use to find the tools I’ve added to my kit. A good technician should be comfortable with their tools. I am comfortable with all of my tools because I’ve tested and used them. When I find a new tool, I open it and play with it to see how it works and if it will work for me.

There is nothing worst than being at a customer’s desk working on their computer and fumbling through the tool I’m trying to run. I make sure I know the tools I use.

Build your own toolkit. You will know your tools and as a result you’ll get more use out of them and they’ll make you better. And don’t be afraid to revisit your kit. There is a fine line between constant swapping and tinkering, but when you hear about a new tool that solves a problem you’re having it’s worth looking into it.

Make a note of it, then go back to it later when you have time. I keep a file in Evernote called Apps To Remember where I save anything I come across that I think is neat. I may not have a need for it now, but I could see it being useful in the future, so I save it. Then I know it’s there and I can check that list when I’m trying to remember what it was called, or when someone asks me if I know of a tool that does something and I can refer to my list.

Beyond the Reboot #9: How To Search Effectively

No one can be expected to know everything. I sure don’t! I often turn to search to find what I need. When my customer’s see my searching they’re often surprised first that I have to look things up like they do. But they’re also surprised with the speed in which I find what I need. There is searching, then there is searching effectively.

Search for specifics.

When you have a problem, search for the most specific thing you can. When email stops working don’t look up email stopped working or email problem. Get more specific. Try Outlook 2007 won’t open or Thunderbird not sending mail. The more specific you get with your search the better information you’ll get back.

When I search, I imagine I am talking to another person. I try to ask the most specific question I can. Google is that person. Talk to Google like you’d talk to a person. Here is exactly what I need, please help me.

Search for error messages.

Do you have an error? Great! That means you probably have an error message. Search for it. “Outlook has a problem and needs to close” will get more helpful results than “Outlook won’t open”. Try adding in the version number to get even better results. Outlook 2011 has a problem and needs to close. Excel 2007 has too many different cell formats.

Error messages are known issues in a program. When the program displays an error message, it’s showing you the problem. All you must do is find the solution. Searching for the error usually returns the solution. Sometimes you may need to contact the program’s creator to get the answer if they don’t have it listed in their help documentation and if you can’t find it by searching. But the answer is out there. All that’s left is to find it.

Look for unique terms.

What if you don’t have an error message to look up and the program isn’t doing anything you can easily search. There are instances when a program just won’t load or fails silently. Use the information you do have. Search the program’s version on the operating system you’re running it on. Looking up Outlook 2011 won’t open on Mac OS 10.8 will get far better results than Outlook doesn’t open on Mac.

There isn’t always a good starting point so use what you can. Often times, I stumble across another person having similar problems. From there I can find a solution or at least some other things to try. Problem solving is trial and error just being persistent and you will eventually find what you need.

Once you have found the solution, write it down. I guarantee you will see this same problem 6 months or a year from now and you’ll have no idea how to fix it, only that you fixed it before. Or worse, someone on your team will ask you since they know you fixed it before. I love being able to go back to my own notes and send a link to my teammates saving them the time I put in to find it initially.

Document your findings

It is absolutely vital to document your fixes. In my experience, if you see an issue once, you’ll see it again. At the time I tell myself that I’ll remember what I did to fix it. But six months and hundreds of support calls later, I never do. I have taken the words of my 7th grade math teacher to heart, Show Your Work.

There is a wiki we use at work and I add new information and updated outdated articles. It’s important to not only document fixes and bugs but to update those notes and fixes. Your future self will thank you, instead of cursing your past self for not making any notes on how you fixed a problem.

Beyond the Reboot #8: Basic Computer Skills

Learn the systems you’re supporting. Understand how they work and it will save hours looking up information if you have it in your head. You should have a good understanding of Windows or Mac operating systems, or both. You should have no problem accomplishing simple tasks such as adding a printer, changing the display resolution and locating the status of network connections.

I am not saying you need to know everything, but if you need to ping an IP address, find a MAC address, or change the monitor’s resolution, this should not leave you clueless. As a bonus, these are often questions asked in interviews for IT Support jobs.

Touch-typing is not a much have. I know plenty of techs who hunt and peck for keys. Even I do not touch type properly. I don’t rest my fingers on the home row and click merrily along. But I do type very quickly and with a high degree of accuracy and can map out the QWERTY keyboard in my head so I know where my fingers are landing.

I still look at the keyboard sometimes and I still make mistakes. But I know the keyboard in my head and my fingers can fly across it. Typing speed doesn’t hold slow me down. Especially when documenting the work I have done. The quicker I can enter it, the fresher it is in my head and I can get back to helping other customers.

While this isn’t an essential skill for working in Desktop Support or other areas of IT Support, this is absolutely vital if you’re working in a Help Desk or Call Center environment. There, the emphasis is one speed and response time and the faster you type, the more call you can take and the happier your manager will be with you.

Beyond the Reboot #7: Stress Management

Customer service is thankless work. You never get noticed when things go right, only when they go wrong. Everyday is a pile of new problems with more customers needing your help. The work is stressful and finding ways to manage that stress is a problem in itself.

Find ways to blow off steam constructively. While at work, consider taking a walk, listening to music or reading through your Yay Me! File.

I recommend keeping a Yay Me! File to read over when I need a morale boost. A Yay Me! File is simply a collection of all the nice emails, notes and Thank Yous I’ve received for work I’ve done. I keep a folder in email where I save all the nice emails I receive. I archive those messages into Evernote so I can keep them outside of Outlook.

I also keep a text file in Evernote where I copy down nice things people have said to me when I’ve done work for them. It can lift my spirits when I’ve had a rough day or when I get overly stressed out.

One of my biggest problems is leaving work at work. Even when I leave work, my mind will often be on the difficult customer I had or a problem I can’t seem to solve that’s eating at me. Try to leave it all behind when you get home. It does no good to worry about the day behind you.

Think of the evening ahead and do something fun. Turn on the TV or play a video game and turn off your brain. Once you’ve stopped worrying about the problem, your unconscious mind will get to work an answer may come to you later that night or when you least expect it.

Managing stress can be one of the hardest parts of a customer service job. All day long you’re helping other people with their problems. It’s important to remember you need help with your own problems and you need to relax and unwind too.

When I get home I ask my wife how her day was and we talk about it. And I get some stories from her about the craziness of managing activities for a group of senior living homes for people with dementia. And then I get to share my day, I talk about the frustrations of the day. I talk about the best parts. I talk about anything that’ been bugging me about the day.

It’s the perfect time to get anything out of my head I need to in a constructive way. I’m not yelling at her. Nor am I blaming anyone for things that went wrong or the troubles I’ve had. But I get the pent-up feelings out so I don’t take those same feelings to work with me.

When I lived alone, I would come home, throw on my headphones and turn some music up. Good thrashy death metal or maybe some super fast techno and just dance around my room. Or sing along and throw myself on to my bed at the end.

It was a great cathartic release.

There is no perfect advice for beating stress since different things work for different people. But find what works for you. I’ve been known to put in a video game and mow down aliens or zombies for a few hours to burn off stress. Or get in the car, roll the windows down, turn the music up and just drive down a beautiful stretch of road.

When I feel the most out of it and just needing to get away, I go to the movies. I love losing myself in some other world for a couple of hours. My problems disappear when the world is at stake or when there’s a killer on the loose who needs to be caught.

Sometimes escapism is the best way.

In the end, I feel better. And because I do, I can be better at what I do. A clearer head leads to better problem solving and making my customers happy.

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