What Support Techs Really Think

Your computer won’t boot. Your brand new DSL service won’t connect to the Internet. The blue skies of Windows XP have been replaced with a blue screen of death. So you call tech support, wade through a variety of voicemail options, and eventually end up with a tech-support specialist on the other end of the line. Ever wonder what that support specialist is thinking as he or she waits patiently on the line while you reboot your computer for the third time in 20 minutes? We spoke with Nick St. John, a veteran support specialist with five years of experience working the lines at various high tech companies, to get the inside scoop. St. John offered some insight into how support techs are trained to communicate with customers. His advice about how to approach technically challenged callers has made us rethink how we handle our mothers when they ring for the tenth time about that digital picture frame. LAPTOP: What is your primary goal when you first receive a call? Nick St. John: My primary goal when I receive a call is to resolve the customer’s issue. Fix their problem, or if I cannot, point them in the direction to get their problem fixed. The first thing I assess is the problem. What is going on? When does the issue happen? What troubleshooting has already been done? In the back of my mind, as I ask these questions, and others, I am assessing the customer. Learning the language that they use for their computer, and assessing where their comfort level is. What are the most common types of problems you run into with users? The most common type of calls I normally receive are how-to calls. People calling in who either don’t know how to use their computer or are using it incorrectly. The second most common call type would be the computer not turning on. Either physically not turning on, or just not booting to the desktop. How have you been trained to deal with users who were particularly challenging because of their lack of tech savvy? A lot of my training that deals with the technically disinclined deals with explaining what you want the customer to do without using technical jargon. I normally direct the customer by use of landmarks. For instance, “In the top middle part of the screen, there is a yellowish square. Under that square it should say settings . . .” With those instructions, there are a couple of carefully thought-out points. The first part, “In the top middle part of the screen” I am directing the customer’s eye to the area of the screen that I want him/her to look at. This saves time. Then I say what landmark I am looking for, the “yellowish square.” Now the customer and I know that we are looking at the same spot. The next key part is the word “should.” Saying “should” instead of “will” is important in case the customer doesn’t see settings. A lot of customers will feel embarrassed when they don’t see what they are looking for. By saying should, you are giving the customer a “way out.” You are admitting that it might not be there, so they don’t have to contradict you and feel foolish.

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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