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  • Please Be Nice to Customer Support People

    August 13th, 2007

    In my younger years, I spent a few months working for a small software vendor, doing tech support. Indeed, it was a thankless job, as I had to figure out precisely what users on both the Mac and Windows platforms were doing to mess up the product and help get them up and rolling once again.

    This was before you had software that could take over a computer’s desktop and allow you to actually see what was going on, so I sometimes fervently wished for a functioning crystal ball to assist me in deciphering a customer’s imperfect technical and sometimes conversation abilities.

    Indeed, while I’m apt to complain about bad support as much as anyone, I developed a new-found respect for the people on the front lines as a result of that job. When you get a knowledgeable and friendly support person on the phone, it’s as good as gold in helping you solve your problems.

    So let me say this up front. Don’t call a company’s support line expecting inferior service, because you may just be creating the climate to fulfill your wishes.

    While I realize you might be under severe pressure if your Mac is constantly crashing, your printer insists on remaining offline, or you keep getting dropped calls on your cell phone, voicing too much of that frustration will not always help you get the assistance you need to set things right. It might be a good idea to try the proverbial count to ten, take a swig of water or your favorite lubricating beverage, and get yourself prepared for the encounter.

    Part of that preparation is not to get yourself falling down drunk, of course, but to assemble the information you need to properly convey your problem. If it’s your Mac, you’ll want to have the model, serial number, Mac OS version, memory configuration and similar information handy. You need to also be very specific in explaining the steps needed for someone to duplicate your problem, and this may require writing a few notes to prompt yourself should the need arise.

    Basically, you can’t have too much information, because it may not always be possible to predict what someone needs to get at the source of your troubles.

    If you find yourself repeating the same thing over and over again, and there’s a total lack of understanding on the other end of the line, you may want to insist on being connected to a supervisor or senior support person. I can’t say who might be at fault — and it could be the company for not delivering the support you deserve — but your goal here is to find a solution, and having an argument won’t get you past the starting gate.

    In the end, of course, having a pleasant attitude may not make a difference. You still may end up thoroughly disappointed with a company. The choice then is whether to stick it out, choose a third party support person, if one is available, or take your business elsewhere.

    Of course, support people also have their own horror stories to tell! Just the other day Denis, our friendly, neighborhood Web host, told me about spending five hours trying to help a new but unruly customer fix a mangled WordPress installation.

    Now in case you aren’t familiar with that application, WordPress is an open source blogging tool that powers this site and even the online commentaries from the likes of The New York Times. It’s powerful, but also fairly simple to install and configure. While the basic setup process involves manual copying of files to your site, this is a trivial process, and getting your blog up and running shouldn’t take a lot of work; that is, unless you want to reinvent the wheel. Yes, we’ve done some of that, but carefully, very carefully.

    As some people tell me, I know enough about such things to get into trouble, but also enough to stop short of that point.

    In any case, this particular customer apparently harangued Denis to a fare-thee-well. Denis, you see, is a proper Englishman, and thus it takes an awful lot of verbal abuse before he gets hot under the collar. In this case, he eventually realized that this was one client he’d never be able to please, and hence he suggested that person would be happier taking his business to another company.

    Indeed, it’s unfortunately true that there are both bad support people and bad customers. You definitely don’t want to be considered one of the latter. So be firm when you have to, but also try to be nice. You’ll be amazed how far a little sugar and spice can take you in this crazy world of ours.



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