By Michael Pobega, Site Reliability Engineer
The value of tech support is not only helping fix computers, but also the manner in which support agents can portray exactly what went wrong. Sometimes, problems are simple to fix (“Sir, can you double check that your ethernet cable is plugged in?”), but other situations are more complicated. In these cases, while the solution may be more challenging to find, it's up to customer support to provide a seamless and positive experience, immaterial of the specific issue.
At Neverware, I do both Level One phone support as well as IT, simultaneously fielding and fixing issues as they arise. I support our first product, called PCReady, which is a thin client virtualization solution for schools with aging hardware. The software can run 45+ simultaneous Windows 7 Virtual Machines on a single server. And of course, because we leverage virtualization, any problems that occur aren’t always easy to explain simply — and most of the time our customers just want their computers to work, rather than hear the specific core issue. It doesn’t matter to them if the database is out of sync or the libvirt pools are corrupt; as far as they’re concerned their computers aren’t working, and I’m the one thing between them and a working computer.
As someone with a background in computer science (as opposed to customer interactions) my previous jobs all involved supporting technical users — up until this point I had been used to over-explaining for the sake of clarity since I was working with programmers who are interested in knowing more about the technical hurdles that sometimes hinder stability. I thought explaining exactly what was going on, at a somewhat technical level, was the best way to handle support calls. I quickly found myself proven wrong.
I realized that some customers aren't interested in every verbose detail -- they want their software to work, and the behind the scenes work is less important than understanding a timeline for solution and whether they can do any troubleshooting on their own. Simplifying explanations is the best approach.
So to sum up my ramblings, I would like to point out the most important things I’ve learned transitioning from a nerd supporting nerds role to a nerd supporting customers position:
Acknowledge the issue. You’re on a phone call right now because obviously something isn’t working as expected. Your customer is experiencing issues using your software, and it’s your job to fix it. Be empathetic, be understanding, and acknowledge that whatever issue they’re having is frustrating and that you’re here to support them.
Never deflect blame. I’m not saying other things don’t cause problems. Of course if the network is down a lot of things won’t work. But if a customer calls you it’s better to help them figure out how to get in contact with the right people to fix it rather than writing it off as someone else’s problem and dismissing them.
Over-explain the simple, and under-explain the complicated. I know I said earlier not to over-explain, but sometimes it’s worthwhile. Example: a customer calls and says nothing shows up on the screen when he/she turns on their computer. Walk them through how to locate and plug in their display cable; as IT people we take some of our more basic knowledge for granted, but sometimes you just have to explain “It’s the wide blue rectangle cable with a spinny screw on each end.”
Don’t act like your customer’s issues are expected/normal. Keep in mind that although dealing with issues is the norm for you, experiencing an issue isn’t the norm for your users. To you this is a routine call/email, but as far as they are concerned their computers aren’t working and it’s stopping them from doing what they need to do. Be empathetic towards this as it ties into #1 acknowledging the issue.
Be Confident. This one should be a no brainer, but the worst thing you can convey as a user’s line of support is that you are unable to fix their issue. If you have to, take down their number or e-mail and tell them you’ll look into the issue and follow up later. This also gives you time to poke around and figure out the issue without having someone on the phone waiting.
In the end, it’s all about the experience we’re providing. Our product is one part of that experience, but how we explain, troubleshoot, and support is arguably more important. As Neverware shifts focus to CloudReady, we are moving from 99% of our customers being within NYC to our customer base being scattered all over the world. We can no longer be at a customer’s site to view their problem, and remote support becomes an even more impactful and important piece on the Neverware totem.
To close, here’s a final MS Paint drawing. It’s a blurry camera-phone photo of a cat playing Dance Dance Revolution.