Technical Support Sucks and You Are Partly to Blame!

March 26, 2013

Not too long ago I had a loyal reader complain about how a company’s technical support was absolutely awful. I agree, some companies don’t do it well. But even when a company has good technical support, you may never realize it because you aren’t providing them the information needed to solve the problem.

Last week I wrote Diagnosing Unstable Software Can Lead to Obscure Causes. My story had a quick and happy ending simply because I provided the company enough information to diagnose the problem. Today I’ll provide a list of things you need to do so you get better support.

Do you want better support? Do your part! Below are several very important things you need to do.

Read!

So many times the questions I’m asked have already been answered. In fact it is shocking how many times someone replies to an e-mail and they are quite upset that they need an answer when the answer is in their own e-mail. How did it get in their e-mail? When they replied, they included the previous message I had sent them.

Yes, we are all lazy and we try to skim over information. Yes, that includes me. Before you take the time to ask a question (it does take time to ask), take the time to read the information you already have. In many cases, you’ll have the answer in front of you!

State the Name of the Product and the Version Number

Is it really that difficult to look at the software or hardware and list the full name of the product? I’m convinced it must be impossible because I so rarely get anyone who includes the product name with their question. How in the world can you expect someone to answer your question if they don’t know what product you are using?

It isn’t enough to name the company that makes the product! Most companies make a large number of products. Nearly every single day I get someone asking me about “Corel 6”. Before I can even get to answering the question, I have to ask them if they really mean CorelDRAW. While you think that is the obvious answer, often it is another product. Really, you can’t type four more characters and give the full name? And do you really mean CorelDRAW 6? Remember, it was released in 1995. And before you say I should assume X6, there are people still using the ancient version. Again, is it that difficult to type X6 instead of 6?

While my example is about CorelDRAW, this same mistake happens constantly with other software. Let’s say you are having a problem with “Office.” Do you mean Microsoft Office? Do you mean Open Office? Or is there something going on in your physical office.

Please take the time to type out the full name of the product. That extra few seconds could get you an answer hours or days quicker. If there is a version number, get it right! Even better, go to the About screen of the software and include the full version number (it shows what patches are installed).

Give Details on the Error

Simply saying “It Doesn’t Work” is not going to help get your problem solved. I’ve written several posts on this topic before. Make sure to read It Doesn’t Work, It Still Doesn’t Work and Good Support Requires More Information Than “It Doesn’t Work”.

Start by listing the steps of whatever you were doing when the problem occurred. Depending on the problem, it might also help to describe the contents of the file. Is that really hard? I’m convinced it must be since so few users do it.

If there is an error message, include the entire message! Better yet, take a screenshot of it. Don’t even think of reaching for your digital camera and shooting a photo of the screen, your computer already has the ability to create screenshots. Not sure how to do it? I covered taking screenshots in E-Mail Newsletters and Good Screenshots. It really only takes a couple of keystrokes.

One way or another you need to provide these details to the person providing support. If you want a quick answer, provide them in advance!

Admit What You Don’t Know

If there is some detail you don’t know or simply don’t know how to get that information, provide that to the support person. This allows the support person to help you get the needed information. Often I will have someone tell me they aren’t computer savvy. Do you need to be computer savvy to read information provided? Do you need to be computer savvy to give the proper name of the product? Do you need to be computer savvy to describe what you were doing and provide the full error message? No, you don’t! There may be things that require computer skills that you don’t have, but none of what I’ve listed above is part of that.

An Example

Let’s go over an example that has nothing to do with a computer so you can see how these steps apply to getting an answer. Today I went to do a load of laundry in my washer and “it doesn’t work.” So I’m going to look at the front panel of controls and see if I’ve missed anything obvious. Somewhere on the front is the make and model number of the washing machine. I’ll make note of that so I can tell the support person.

As I was trying to do the laundry, I threw in the detergent and clothes, set the controls to the right setting and pushed the start button. I’ve written down all those steps and provided them. Instead of just saying it didn’t wash my clothes, I’ll describe if water went into it or not and anything else that would help the person diagnose it.

Of course I sure hope you check the water supply and the electrical outlet as they could be the reason it wouldn’t fill with water or wouldn’t do anything. Often when you go through the process of collecting all the information, the answer will hit you. Maybe you simply didn’t have the water turned on. Maybe the GFCI outlet had shorted. One time my freezer wasn’t working and it was because the GFCI outlet in the bathroom had shorted and needed to be reset. Do any of these steps require computer savvy? Heck, do they even require you to be appliance savvy? Of course not.

There will be times you’ll still get lousy support even if you follow the steps I’ve provided. You’ll probably require less support as you’ll discover some answers yourself and that in itself is a huge productivity boost. Most often you’ll find you feel you get better support simply because you’ve provided enough information for the support person to give you an answer.

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Foster D. Coburn III

Foster D. Coburn III is author of 13 best-selling books on CorelDRAW and has been a contributor to numerous technology and graphics-related magazines. Foster has taken many projects, including this Web site, from the early design stage through to a finished piece. He has been a featured speaker at many graphics conferences. His first Web site was built in 1995 and he has been working exclusively in WordPress since 2013.

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