I have been living online full time since 1992 or so and on and off many years before that using the old interactive text menu version of CompuServe.
I have provided online end user support for Toshiba and ClubIE and ClubWin.
I have done a lot of Tech Tutoring.
I provide volunteer support for my students, family, friends, and strangers and here are the truths I have learned when it comes to providing Technical Support in an Online setting.
These truths were learned in many places over many years.
They are not specific to any personality or company and I am speaking to the Tech Support person and not the end user:
- Be Nice: People are going to be rude because they are upset they are having technical problems. Don’t take it personally. It doesn’t help them if you are rude back to them. It is your role to accept those blows of anger because your job is, as my friend Steve Schone at Micro Solutions used to say, “To be a pillow.”
- Answer the First Time: Provide some sort of answer if you answer a question. Don’t answer a call for help with questions. Provide a frame of a solution first to assuage the fear and the anxiety of the user. Then prod for more information using additional questions if you must. If you are a tech support volunteer and you do not know the answer, DON’T ANSWER! There’s nothing more annoying than to hit an online support forum and find a slew of responses from people trying to help that solves nothing and provides no insight except to build up the ego of the one pretending to provide an answer when none is really offered.
- Live Boilerplate is Better than Dead FAQs: Boilerplate, by definition, has steps and solutions embedded in its contents. Good boilerplate that you can modify in situ to provide more specific help is preferable over the awful “Read the FAQ” mantra that has replaced the “RTFM” curse of a few years ago.
- Forget FAQs: FAQs are for support people, not for newbies or people desperately searching for information. To answer a question by pointing someone to a FAQ may save you time, but it does not help the end user to a successful resolution because many FAQs are unclear and poorly written and non-universal. A FAQ may make Tech Support feel better, but the end user is forced into self-help mode, and that experience is usually doomed to frustrate even more. Pointing someone to a FAQ is like standing in the street and someone asks you a question about a former president — and even though you know the answer — you point to the library across the street and say, “The answer you seek is right there in that building. Look under ‘politics’ in aisle three.” It takes just as much effort on your end to give them the answer.
- Don’t Use Discussion Threads: DO NOT point people to pre-existing online threads to find an esoteric answer. There’s nothing more annoying than having to peel through a 52 message thread to try and divine a single answer to a simple problem. If you know the answer is in that conversation, PROVIDE THE ANSWER! Pointing someone to a conversation instead of an answer is like if someone asks you for Mary’s phone number and — while you know the answer — you instead hand them your address book and say, “She’s in there somewhere.”
- Accept People Don’t Know: One way to push away the end user while looking like you are really helping them is the old chestnut of forcing a long laundry list of technical questions on them before you will begin to help. Making them answer questions about machine type and OS and RAM and everything else that you don’t have direct access to anyway only pushes them away in the false hope that they will actually go away so you won’t have to really help them. That kind of “support” is sneaky and disingenuous and rather cruel. Take what information people give you and work from there. Don’t make them fill out a long form first.
- No Live Chat: I’ve never seen Live Chat that is helpful in a tech support situation. Live Chat merely provides cover and the buying of time because inevitably the “Live Chat” person has to push your problem up the chain to an engineer who actually knows something. Live Chat is the human version of the “Fill Out My Laundry List First” method of keeping the end user waiting and at bay for an answer.
- 2 Hour Turnaround: Years ago, if we provided answers within 24 hours, end users were happy. That world no longer exists. Users now expect not only a response, but a solution to their problem, within 2 hours. Honor that need as you realize time and space are compressing every single day.
- Train Volunteers: If you plan to use an all-volunteer support system where end user supports end user, you must train those volunteers. Be Warned: People who have all day to sit around and answer tech support questions for free are not ordinary people. They crave attention and seek power they do not have in their real lives and so they seek that authority virtually and they use that authority-by-false-proxy on your users. Do not allow those people to answer every single question without answering anything. Cut them off! Anyone can point to discussion threads and paste FAQ URLs all day long — but few can just answer a simple question with a simple solution. If you don’t reign in the false helpers they will, in the end, always turn on the paid staff by using guilt and insolence to curry favor and to bully adoration: “I do and do and do for you kids and this is how you repay me?”
- Provide a Path to Private Paid Support: Some end users don’t want unknowledgeable end users not answering their vital questions. For those users who have the means and the need, provide a private path to expert support that you can charge them for in the end on your end. That makes you money. It makes those users happy because they are guaranteed to have an expert answer without wading through the chaff of ego that volunteer end user support creates.
That’s it for now! What do you want to add to the list? What truths have you learned in either providing online tech support or in receiving it as a frustrated user?