There are generally two methods for handling initial support calls to a technical service department. The first method, and perhaps the most common, is the help desk. Each call is routed through a central location or phone. At this point, the call is evaluated, classified according to the nature and urgency of the problem, and then routed to the appropriate member of the support team for action.
In the second method, any member of the support team can respond to a call and attempt to solve the problem. If that fails to resolve the issue, the problem is handed on to a more knowledgeable team member for action.
It is at this stage that you have the opportunity to put your customer service skills in action. The person who calls you will be sensitive not only to how you resolve the technical problem, but to how you treat that individual personally. Chances are, if someone needs to call you, the day is already going badly. Your demeanor and expertise can improve it or make it worse. This is especially important if you are in business for yourself; it can mean the difference between building your business with repeat calls and referrals-or bankruptcy.
When you receive a call requesting you to provide technical support, going through the following four simple steps should lead to a successful conclusion of the encounter:
- The Greeting: During this stage, which should be as brief as possible, your purpose is to establish the identity of the caller and the nature of the problem. In some cases, it can also lead to initiating a work order or tracking code to follow and record the event. Following good telephone etiquette is critical, especially if it is your business and your caller is a potential customer who is shopping around for a computer-repair professional. This is likely to be your potential customer's first impression of your company.
- The Description: During the second stage, your task is to obtain a description of the problem. It is important to avoid any miscommunication. Try to pick up audible clues (note significant points, caller's level of expertise, and sense of urgency) and guide the conversation (keep it focused). However, appreciate that you, not the caller, are the expert. Don't become frustrated (or sound frustrated) by the caller's lack of understanding of the problem. After all, if the exact problem were known already, chances are you would not be needed to fix it.
- The Interview: Use this stage to ask questions. (See "Troubleshooting" in the previous lesson.) Keep your questions short, logical, and as simple as possible. This is not the time to try to impress a customer with your expertise. Keep your questions at a level that will not confuse or intimidate the caller.
- The Closure: By the fourth stage, the end of the conversation, you should be able to assess and evaluate the information. You will be able to provide the client with a plan of action, including what the next step will be, who will be handling the problem, and when they should expect action.
Take the time to create a form and/or a database for tracking calls. This will provide a source of information for future use. Basing the form on keywords chosen to describe the problem briefly, will allow easy creation of reports.
Reports and Logs
If you work independently, you should also keep a client profile log that includes a few paragraphs describing each of your clients and their business. Include notations of any relevant facts about clients that you can use in future conversations with them. Also, take note of any client plans for future expansion or equipment upgrades that might need your help. It is best to get in a habit of writing this down as soon as possible after your service call, when the important details and observations are still fresh in your mind.
Referrals are the lifeline of any small business. If you feel that your client is satisfied with your work, do not hesitate to ask for referrals and ask if you can use the client's name as a reference. Keep a written record of referrals you receive and contact the referred individual with a phone call or letter as quickly as possible. Also, leave a few business cards with your clients and encourage them to give the cards to anyone who might need your services. Call your clients within a few days after you have serviced their equipment, and confirm that their problems have been resolved. They will appreciate it. Even technicians who work in a corporate setting can find this procedure helpful as well.
Difficult Clients and Coworkers
You will inevitably encounter difficult clients or coworkers. Keep in mind that it is your job to identify, and to try to resolve these problems too, not just those that are mechanically based. Here are a few suggestions for handling difficult clients and coworkers:
- If the user needs training, ensure that information about appropriate courses is available. If the individual is one of your coworkers, speak to the user's manager and identify training needs. If it is a client, gently point out the benefits of obtaining specific training or offer some of your time and expertise for tutoring.
- If the client has difficulty remembering instructions, put them in writing. Give the client a memo or sheet with written instructions-and save the instructions for future use.
- Dealing with technophiles (those who think they are experts) can be a challenge. The best approach is to listen carefully and make them part of the solution, not part of the problem. Remember, they came to you for help. In a corporate or large organizational setting, start an advanced users group and make them responsible for developing solutions, or at least for being part of the solution.
- Require users who are coworkers and constantly complain about trivial problems to put them in writing. Include their notes as part of your records. If the complainants are your clients, charge them for your time.
Because new devices and software are introduced every day, it is not uncommon to encounter problems that are outside the scope of the support group or your current level of experience. In such cases, addressing the problem requires gaining the assistance of the hardware or software supplier. Whether you turn to a more-experienced team member or an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), be sure to track the progress of the problem and who retains responsibility.
Of course, if you are an independent service person, you will be responsible for doing the research to find a solution to the problem. Keep a record of your resources (phone numbers, individuals' and company names, Internet URLs, documentation sources) for future reference.
If the problem is resolved by making previously undocumented changes (such as a patch or upgrade by the OEM), be sure to pass along the information to other team members. Also, be sure to keep good documentation of the solution because you may need it for future reference.
After a service call is concluded (successful or not), there is one more action to take: document the closure. Make this report as detailed as possible. Include what was done to resolve the problem-or what steps were taken to try to resolve the problem-and the results of your efforts. If the problem was not resolved, explain to the user why it could not be fixed and provide some alternatives. This might include advising the user to return the computer to the dealer from which it was purchased, if it is a relatively new unit. If you are unable to resolve the problem, do not be afraid to pass it on to someone with more experience or who specializes in that type of problem.