I’m a freelance IT consultant. I So, get asked a lot of questions. Unfortunately, I wish people would ask me what the last article addressed more, but this is about how I handle calling tech support. Clients pay consultants for answers and output, but often the online knowledge bases for larger companies are labyrinths of outdated dead ends and no way to filter as fine grained as advanced/extendable schema database apps can be — I know, I’ve designed a DB that could reduce and search to one text entry and 2–4 clicks. It’s crazy only a few web apps have this — well, kind of.*
I’ve been a fairly successful consultant who gets most of my business by clients referring me to someone who needs my skill set. My years as a support tech taught me how to quickly sync with a mode of communication the client understands to quickly gather symptoms and explained things in concepts they can grasp. In short, I handle clients at various levels — from SoHo end users to local businesses of various sizes.One skill I have from working in many shops is calling tech support…
I can handle running through an automated maze of routing easily and being on hold for 15 minutes only to find the first level customer service technician is a level 1 often just reading a decision tree flow chart.” They are usually unable to help me (sometimes just telling them that “this is a tier 2 issue if I am calling”). I try to determine if they have any technical confidence first to see if they might understand the problem. Some of them immediate realize we can just check off many things and just run through it quickly, while other…
CSRs (whom are considered mostly “useless” by actual techs) at the fist tier at large corporations rarely understand the significance nor difference between “our router is connected & doesn’t get an IP even after we power cycled it. So, I pinged the endpoint at your ISP, and it’s unresponsive” and “we are connected, we can ping your network but the DNS isn’t routing.” They don’t know which parts of their script they can skip with these symptoms because they have no real technical training.
If I get a script reader, I try to jump to Tier 2: this is an example of how to do that. As soon as the script comes out and they ask me to “turn turning off your router for 15 seconds and turn it back on.” I ask them, did you hear me say “I power-cycled the modem?” If they say “yes,” I say, “do you know what the term power-cycling means?” At this point they either lie and say yes, for which they are immediately called on, or they say “no” and I respond, “then you cannot help me. So transfer me to someone who does know what that is because it is above your level.” This also works with terms like “RSSI,” “MAC address,” and “traceroute” — hell even “ping.” This and other psychological tech-talk “tricks” are but one of my many techniques to accomplish what I called for fast as possible. Sometimes, I say “if you are reading from a script or referring to your public knowledge base online, then you probably can’t help me.” When asked for a reason, I use a barrage of tech terms. If they still follow me after that, then maybe they can help. Maybe it’s a real tech?
Once I hurdle the CSR1 wall, or when I can get to a real tech in (hopefully) tier 2 — not Tier 3, we can talk as peers. He’ll know what I’ve tried and my symptoms and guesses as to the problem, and he will inform me of either the probable solution or have me try other information couldn’t have known about the system, because only the company who makes the product can access it. Usually, if I can’t get exactly what I want, I can get close. Unfortunately when the Tier CSR at the other end answers and can’t grok (they are closer to a marketing person than actual tech) or can’t bend or expedite policy (they are unable to fix the problem because their bosses do not trust their judgement and/or the system has no override).
Either way, I learn something about how to solve a problem without calling tech support, I know how to request an RMA, or find out how to better use the company. Sometimes I even get the customer a price break (credit for downtime, free-equipment, free service call, etc.) if they can’t address the issue.
Unfortunately, having a lot of CSR level dealings with many tech and communications companies. There are some that are solid, filled with a real live tech who answers the phone. The only one like this is I have found is Sonic.net. Whereas the tiered services with bad techs, make it like pulling teeth, some have better tier 1 or worse tier 2, and some even is completely dependent on who answers the phone (like Apple).
Know the companies could make their processes easier, but they actually make more money by discouraging calls. So, if they improved their phone support’s technical & communication gaps, they would make less money. Real techs cost twice as much as script readers, and customers actually getting the speed they paid for would increase network costs. So, when Sonic posts their support resources and has actual techs, you know they are not in it to make a ton of money, but to actually be a good ISP. This all boils down to 1 truth: The larger the company, the worse it treats its locked in customers. Without options, the supplier sets the rates, but with options, it is competition and unless there is a price fix — which duopolies have done before — prices drop and performance increases as each tried to one up the other. This is what is currently happening with both the OS companies & the telecom providers [consider all remote communication as telecom, not just phone, but internet and TV]. Currently there is a big struggle. While I might like some software better or one provider hasn’t yet screwed me, I like it when the platforms I haven’t chosen one up my current platform. Why? That means my platform will have to improve as a result of market & mindshare pressure. So, consumers win with actual fair competition.
In any case, this info about phone support is not so you will try to contact me, it is for you to use yourself. The more you know about your tools, the better you can use them and take care of problems. I’m happiest if I have done my job so well that the client doesn’t need to call me because they’ve learned how to tell the difference between one situation and another.
Sure, it’s less revenue for me if the client either doesn’t have any problems or if they know how to quickly fix their problem themselves? Sure, but there are plenty of people that could use this and would pay for more like it. Almost every day I go out to meet a client or go to a coffee house, I see people discussing problems — like auto mechanics, doctors, nurses—the world is probably never eliminate the need for technical support. So, sharing this info is just a way of helping myself by helping everyone understand tech and techniques just a little bit better or to see a different perspective from a communications person who has a different agenda than most of the current outlets.
*More on this next time.
Thanks for reading.