5 tips for the new tech support pro

Here's how to solve tech problems without breaking a sweat or hurting feelings.

There are two types of tech support professionals. There's the one who, responding to a call for help, brusquely shoves the individual aside, fixes the issue, then leaves without saying a word. Or there's the type who takes time and understands that computers are something the client simply doesn't get.

If you're new to tech support work -- even just for friends and family -- you'll probably start out as the latter but turn into the former after just a few weeks. However, here are some tips for avoiding conflict and perhaps being a little more human when dealing with problems.

1. Suggest the Client Get a Cup of Coffee

The best way of avoiding clashing with clients while fixing their computer is to get rid of them -- not in a Dexter-like way, but by suggesting they do something else and therefore don't watch what you're doing. It's doubtful that a garage mechanic could work efficiently if you stood over his shoulder and asked him what he was doing, and it's no different for tech support staff.

Few people need an excuse to take a break so it's doubtful you'll meet with any resistance. When they come back, be sure to tell them what the issue was. If you have to leave a note because they disappear for a long time, be sure to add your phone number and/or email address so they can get in contact should they have any questions. It's unlikely they'll need to but that personal touch can make all the difference.

2. Understand That Even Trivial Issues Have a Massive Impact

I once worked in tech support and drove 100 miles to a client who claimed the sound system on his computer had blown up. He edited videos professionally so couldn't work until I'd fixed it. When I got there, I found he had somehow muted his volume control. The red X covered the speaker icon in his system tray and was as obvious as daylight, yet he hadn't spotted it.

What did I do: Hit him over the head for being so stupid? Suggest he plant some trees to make up for the carbon footprint I'd run up rushing to his premises?

Of course not. Without admitting responsibility (of course), I consoled him on the fact his computer had effectively been broken for a few days. Then I took five minutes to explain the audio control panel. I'm not sure he understood, but it certainly made me feel it was less of a wasted journey.

Meatier computer problems provide more of a challenge to tech support staff, but every problem has the same impact for the client.

3. Accept That Clients Don't Think Like You

Tech support people not only know a lot about computers, but also tend to be highly intelligent people. These are qualities not commonly found in the general population. Therefore, when fixing a computer with somebody who wants to know what you're doing, it can be easy to leave him or her behind in the rush to get the problem sorted out. They will undoubtedly feel frustration as you race through the explanation of the technical settings you're adjusting.

The solution is to slow down. It might feel as if the job is taking longer than it should but in reality it'll only be a few minutes. Should something complicated arise that's too difficult to explain, say that you're about to do something that only needs to be done once and they need not pay attention.

4. Understand That a Computer Is a Personal Object

The average office worker spends maybe six or seven hours a day caressing their computer. It's one of the hugely personal objects in their lives. They don't care about it as much as they care about their pet dog, but there's still a bond. Home PCs are even more personally regarded.

When you leap in and rough up their workspace in order to quickly fix login or printing issues, your client might just get annoyed. The solution is to be polite. Ask if it's OK if you sit down in front of their computer and have a stab at fixing the issue. Once you've figured out the solution, reassure them that everything will be back to normal in just a few moments.

5. Don't Fix Things That Don't Need Fixing

The desktop chaotically packed full of files might rub you the wrong way, but that's how some people use their computer. Suggesting they organize things using their My Documents folder is like suggesting they learn a new way to walk or write; the effort is far more than the perceived benefits.

Similarly, the people who print out every single e-mail they receive drives me a little crazy (the waste of paper is the main issue), but that's the best way they've found of being productive with a computer. Unless your organization has very strict environmental policies, it's probably best to leave them be.

In short, leave things like this to the training folks. You're there to fix things that don't work.

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Keir Thomas

PC World (US online)
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