The Secret of Technical Support

Posted on: January 6th, 2007 by Craig Rairdin 2 Comments

One of the great favors we do for our customers is try to minimize the amount of time I spend responding to tech support emails. You’d think as a programmer and president of the company I’d be the ideal person to tackle your technical questions. You’d be wrong.

While I’m sympathetic to the challenges of technology, especially when it is in the hands of a person whose life doesn’t revolve around it, I have a tendency to stray toward sarcasm. To fight this problem, I try to be rather brief in my answers. Brief and to the point seldom gets me in trouble. It’s when I get wordy that I sometimes wander. Unfortunately, “brief” isn’t always what you want when asking for technical assistance.

The other problem with me replying to your tech support questions is that I don’t do it every day so I don’t know the little details of the reasons behind some of the problems you all run into. People here like Patty who listen day in and day out to stories about PDA idiosyncrasies quickly get to where they recognize the solution to a problem even before you’ve adequately described it. For example, if you start an email with “I’m having trouble downloading…” and you’re sending it from an AOL email address, Patty knows just what to tell you. Meanwhile I may never notice your return email address let alone come to the conclusion that it implies.

Regardless of the myriad reasons why I should never be allowed to reply to tech support questions, I’m sometimes put in that position by circumstances beyond my control (everybody has to take vacation sometime). It turns out that the secret I know about giving good tech support is one that will do you some good, too:

Read the Knowledgebase

That’s my secret. When you ask me a question, I open another browser window and start searching the Knowledgebase. If your question is a technical one, chances are extremely good — probably 9 times out of 10 — it’s already been answered in the Knowledgebase. Of course if you’re asking about a charge to your credit card or about the status of a CD-ROM order, I have to look elsewhere for that information. But for technical information, the Knowledgebase rules.

The irony, of course, is that this same information is available to everyone. It’s a shame to ask a question on a Friday night and wait until Monday morning for an answer when the answer is right there in the Knowledgebase the whole time.

I know everyone always says, “Read the FAQ”. In a lot of cases when you go to the trouble to read the FAQ (or the manual, as the case may be) you don’t find any answers. But in this case I’m telling you that even the person you’re talking to in Tech Support — if it is me — is depending on the FAQ for an answer. You can reduce your tech support stress by cutting out the middle-man and reading through the Knowledgebase articles that sound like they might be about your problem.

To get to the Knowledgebase: Go to our site and select your platform. Select Help Desk from the menu at the top. The Knowledgebase is one of the options on the Help Desk page. You can browse by topic or you can search for words and phrases.

2 Responses

  1. Mike Welch says:

    Well Craig, as a fellow software developer I think it is good that you at least occasionally have direct interaction with users. It’s too easy to make incorrect assumptions about the level of a user’s techical understanding and leave out the necessary detail they need. This applies not merely to technical support, but to design and delivery as well.

    Likewise, as you’re the big honcho CEO dude there at Laridian City, making all those executive decisions like we programmers did back in the days of User-Centered Design, I assert the importance of keeping the communication channel open to the public. In my experience, you have to keep your hand in if you want to be an effective player. Interaction begets understanding and harmony with its subject and helps us all make better decisions that affect that subject.

    Knowing where users struggle helps us develop a better software product. If the CEOs of software companies today knew such things, we’d all have a better experience.

    Now, knowledge base? What’s that? (^.~)

  2. I agree that it’s good to interact with our users. That’s why my email address is posted right on the Web site. If you send a comment through the BizRate survey on our site, it’s not unlikely you’ll get a response from me — I read them all.

    My main goal was not to tell you that I don’t like doing tech support, but rather to reveal my secret: I use all the same publicly available tools that our users have access to. I’m trying to save people some time, not avoid talking to them. Sorry that didn’t come across that clearly in my article.


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