10 Ways to Just FIX IT!!! (Or, How to Talk to a Tech Support Person)

Posted at July 26, 2011

Let’s start today with a pop quiz! Thinking about your most frustrating piece of technology (or web-based service), fill in the blanks:

  • The worst thing about calling tech support is waiting on ___________________.
  • Trying to send in a support ticket ___________ (always/usually/rarely/never) works.
  • Reading the user manual usually helps me ______% of the time.
  • When I actually talk to a live person in tech support, they make me feel _________________.
  • The amount of time it takes to fix my issues is _____________________ (too short/about right/too long/ridiculous).
  • Instead of dealing with technology troubleshooting, I’d rather __________________.

OK, pencils down! There, wasn’t that cathartic?

We all have horror stories about trying to get help on technology problems. It doesn’t matter if you are a complete geek or a technical neophyte, you’ve been burned by tech support somewhere along the way. It takes too long, they don’t understand my problem, they treat me like a 5-year-old, or they transfer me to so many different departments that I finally give up.  Why can’t they just FIX IT?

It’s true, there is no shortage of bad tech support out there. If only these companies would get a clue, train their people, speak English, and actually care, I would feel like a valued customer.

But could I be part of the solution? If I’m honest, I can get lazy sometimes when my stuff breaks. I just want to get it fixed, I don’t want to actually do any work. But the words of Luke 12:48b apply: “from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked”.

It’s all in the Ask

Here are 10 things to consider before creating a support ticket, picking up the phone, or calling your son-in-law who works on computers for a living. And for the record, these are steps that anyone can and should do. Technology is complex, and requires investment in time and money. But if you do your part, and get some “skin in the game”, you should find that the troubleshooting process becomes much easier.

1. Do your fair share of self-troubleshooting first.
Take simple steps to troubleshoot and document your problem.  Along the way, you may discover some simple things that you overlooked. Don’t worry, we all do it. Better that you find out that the cable was unplugged, than to feel… um… less than smart when the support person asks you to wiggle the cord after 35 minutes on hold!

2. Think about how to explain what is really happening.
Clearly explain what is going on. Imagine you are trying to explain to a blind person what you are seeing on your screen. Because that’s basically what you’re doing–the support person on the other end of the phone/email is “working blind” and relies on your description to understand the problem. If you say “it doesn’t work”, that’s much less helpful than “when I click the button, it shows me an error message.”

3. Did the computer give you an error message? Pay attention!
In helping customers and family members alike, I’ve heard this one quite a few times: “Right before it crashed there was an error message. But I just clicked the ‘X’ in the corner because those messages never mean anything to me.” This is the equivalent of telling your dentist, “I have a really bad pain in my tooth but I can’t tell you which one.” Error messages, like toothaches, are usually helpful clues to help the professionals find the true source of the problem. If you can, be sure to take down the exact text (or at least the gist) of the error. Your friendly geek will thank you.

4. Contact the right person.
When your car breaks down, you probably won’t call the garage door repair guy.  Or maybe there’s a better analogy: if your power goes out at home, your refrigerator stops. Would you call the power company, or the appliance hotline? The answer seems obvious, but sometimes gets cloudy when we’re talking about technology.  As best you can, isolate where the problem really lies. If your iPhone won’t turn on, it’s probably Apple’s problem. But if your Evernote app keeps crashing on that same iPhone, it’s likely not Apple’s fault. Talk to the right vendor/person who can really help you, and you’ll save lots of runaround!

5. Eliminate other variables.
We live in an interconnected world. Folks who make computers, networks, websites, apps, etc. create their products and then release them into a thousand different possible real-world scenarios.  When you have a problem and call a manufacturer for help, they may ask you to isolate their widget (from other widgets). This makes sense–they want to make sure that their widget is really broken. So if your Website is running really slowly, could it be that the problem is really your Internet connection? Try other Website first to see if they also run slowly. You get the idea.

6. Figure out the steps to reproduce the problem, if you can.
Is it possible to have weird stuff happen the first time you try something on your computer, but then it works fine the second time? Absolutely. This is what makes computers so frustrating awesome. But chances are, you can probably reproduce the problem again if you retrace your steps. What were you doing right before it broke? When you say you “clicked”, was that a single or double-click? When you say you “hit the search button,” was that with your mouse, or the Enter key? Small clues matter when you’re a detective.

7. Start with a clean slate. (Deep breaths!)
This might be your 5th call to report the same problem. Maybe there’s a good reason it isn’t solved yet. As much as possible, don’t blame the current person for other people’s past failures to help you. Here’s a little secret: tech companies really like to solve problems. They don’t like to pass you off to someone else. Yes, there are some lazy folks out there, but most call centers are measured on successful resolutions. The really advanced call centers like Zappos are measured on customer service scores after the support incident is resolved. In that type of culture, a service rep doesn’t hand you off until she really thinks it’s the best next step.

8. Be firm in your request.
You are the customer. You are paying for a product or service, so you have a right to get service. Without being rude or belligerent, you can emphasize to the customer support person that this problem is important to you. Ask them to take ownership of your issue, if and when appropriate.  Here are some phrases that may help:

- “When should I expect you to follow up with me on this?”
- “This issue is critical to our organization because ____________________” (communicate the impact to you, and be realistic, not dramatic!)
- the words “I’m not frustrated with you, just frustrated at the situation” can go a long way!

9. Be nice.
Imagine the poor person who works at the airport customer service desk. How do they respond differently to nice passengers, vs. rude ones? Be nice. You’re dealing with a human being who gets complained at all day, every day. When they actually help you, thank them.

As the saying goes, “you’ll catch more bees with honey.”

10. Consider your role as an ambassador.
This also goes for those famous offshore call centers. If you’re talking to someone with a thick accent, who probably is sitting in a cubicle halfway around the world, consider this: you are an ambassador for the United States and for Christ. When this person gets off work and talks to his friends, what will your behavior tell him about Americans, or about Christians?

We’d love to hear your success stories in the comments… can you talk about an experience where you received excellent service on a technical issue, and used any of these techniques to make the process go more smoothly?

As we say on our Care Team from time to time, “Help Me Help You!”

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