Tech Support, Please Don’t Make Things Worse.

This year alone I have logged so many hours on the phone with tech support for my less-than-two-year-old lemon of a computer that at times I have lost full work days, my patience, and – quite nearly – my mind.

Sometimes, out of the boredom that comes with waiting for this diagnostic or that test to be run, a background in journalism, and a general curiosity about people, I have had conversations with technicians about family, the pluses and minuses of arranged marriages, what it’s like to work all night. One time I was on the phone so long that while the tech was working, I actually took a shower, dried my hair, got dressed and put on makeup. “Speaker phone is on. Yell if you need me,” I told the tech. “Do not leave me,” I warned, “because if I have to start over again with someone else, I will jump off a roof.”

Mostly every man and woman who worked on my computer has been nice and eager to be helpful. Sometimes, I get off the phone a happy woman. Too often, though, the hired techies have not been helpful. They have not found the fix. They have turned a small problem into big ones. I have been disconnected and disrespected, and scuttled from hardware support (“It’s a software problem”) to software support (“No, this is a hardware problem”). As anyone who has worked with tech support knows, the twain never meet.

How to get the best out of tech support. Lessons learned by a wounded veteran.

· If you are unable to understand the technician to whom you are assigned, it is OK to say, “I’m sorry. I wish I were able to understand you better, but I am having a problem. Can you please refer me to someone else?” You are paying for support. Communication is key.

· Always ask the technician if he/she has seen and resolved your particular issue before. If not, and if you get the feeling (e.g., from the number of times you are put on hold) that the technician is uncertain of the cure, it is asta la vista, baby. You need to speak to someone else.

· Feel free to ask how long your assigned fix-it-person has been at the job.

· If you’re up for it, call late into the night. You will not have to hear endless “hold” music or suggestions about how to get help online or that “your call is very important to us….”

· Remember that when your supplier has control of your mouse, you can get it back at any time just by moving it.

· If you have to call more than once on an issue, let it be known from the start that you insist on speaking to a top-level technician.

· Ask that you get called back in a few days to see if the problem is resolved so you don’t have to go through the whole menu and re-tell the story routine again. While you might get a call back from a different person, the notes about your case will have already been read.

· If you have a problem with a new computer that requires replacement, know that you will be sent a refurbished computer, not a new one. You can fight this policy, but it might require going up the ranks and a lot of crying. Here’s a case where hysteria can get the desired result. I did.

Suggestions for support providers

· Take these words out of the script: “Do not worry. We will fix this problem.” If you must leave them there as a calmer-downer, train your staff to say it once, not six times in the first minute. Better yet, have them say, “There, your problem is fixed,” after the fact, not before it.

· Do not make customers provide their codes, phone numbers, IDs, service tags or whatever, explain the problem – and then forward the call to someone else who is going to ask for the same information again.

· Instruct lower-level technicians that they are not ever to make statements like, “You have to reinstall your whole operating system,” without letting you speak to his or her manager yourself.

· Insure that when lower-level technicians cannot figure things out within two hours, they must turn the call over to a manager or more experienced person.

· Do not offer a paid software support contract and also allow technicians to say, “You have to call the software vendor. It is their software and we are not trained in that program in detail.” When a consumer buys a software support program, they expect your support. They do not expect to be told to call Microsoft or Symantec or Norton or anyone else.

· Break the code of silence. Too often I have had to say, “Hello? Are you there? Please talk to me!” because the technician is working in silence for so long I am uncertain.” Silence is fine when the support person has “taken control” of the computer and the customer can see the mouse moving, but when that is not the case, silence is not confidence-inducing.