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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.