I was initially going to call this article, “How Best To Work With Your Techie”, but after speaking with a number of small business owners, I’ve decided that calling it “Getting the best support possible” was more appropriate.

As a service provider, we are often challenged in providing top notch support because we simply can’t get the information we need to be able to investigate and resolve issues, or provide appropriate advice.  We really want to do a good job, provide excellent service and we can only imagine how frustrated our clients get when we have to keep asking for information, so I thought this guide would be in order.

Good Service Provision

I’ve written this article with a view of helping you, as the client, get support quicker and more effectively.  There are several things that can be done to help your service provider, help you better.

Further, I’ve taken the view that rather than wanting to do a lot of  the troubleshooting yourself, you want to work with a service provider in a true outsourced arrangement.  This means that when you experience a problem, you want “someone” to work through the diagnosis process and get the problem fixed.  These tips doesn’t focus on things like making sure plugins are updated or software is at the right levels before reporting an issue.

In my experience, the troubleshooting and resolution process can be extremely stressful and unfulfilling for both parties; or it can be relatively painless.  Most of the time, it depends on how both parties interact.

As a customer (or client), there are things that we can all do that make this process easie, here are my top tips to help with that.

Tip 1: Provide Details

I get that you are frustrated that things just aren’t working the way you want and that it might be difficult to articulate the exact problem, but reporting something a “not working” isn’t helpful.

Your service provider won’t have the same intimate experience of your systems that you do.  Most times, your service provider will have a passing understanding of what you’re doing and how you do it.  Have pity on them and give details on the exact issue you’re experiencing.

Here’s an example of a support request that we received that took way too long to resolve:

Why does the transcript  code you gave us not work?  It works on some posts but not all

This request tells us two things:

  • We gave them the code to begin with, so we can be 95% certain that it worked when we provided it
  • That the code does actually work in some cases, but not all

When this issue was reported, there was an assumption that we would know exactly which code the person was referring to and be able to work out when the code worked and when it didn’t.

What a request like this means doesn’t allow us to do quickly is:

  • Determine exactly which code the person was referring to
  • Determine how they were using it
  • Find out which posts the code didn’t work on  and which posts it did work on

This part of the process generally means additional time to get this information; frustration for the person who has logged the request because their problem isn’t fixed; and frustration for the support staff as they try to help.

A better way of logging this request would be:

 We’ve been using the code you provided to add the following function (the code is pasted below or in an attached document).  We’ve noticed that it isn’t working on all posts, but it does work on some just not all.  An example of the posts it works on are:

* link to post

but it’s not working on:

* link to post

To add the code, I do the following:

Providing this amount of information in the initial request takes more time however, it speeds up the troubleshooting and resolution process.  If a support agent has to request the information, the task will end up in the “queue” again and addressed when it pops to the top.

Other pieces of information that you should consider providing when reporting website issues includes:

  • Operating System
  • Type of computer (MAC / PC / Android / iDevice)
  • Browser (i.e Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari etc)
  • Browser Version (this is really important).

Give as much information as you can upfront, so your support person can try and replicate the issue and resolve it.

Tip 2: Layout matters

Email is a great tool – but it can also be a nuisance.  Many email programs let us format a message so it looks great and displays well on our computers.  However, when that message is received at the other end that formatting can be really messed up. One of my pet hates is the use of inline images with text that relates to them.  I love that people go to the effort to document the issue in detail (and provide screenshots!) – however, when the emails are sent it gets so jumbled up that it becomes so frustrating.  When you need to document things to this degree, use MS Word (or similar) and create a pdf to send…. that way you are guaranteed the formatting won’t be messed up.

The other thing to consider with layout is the use of paragraphs, dot points, spacing etc. Write your request like you would write a letter or report – use proper formatting; techie types like simple lists so use dot points; Keep It Simple!

Tip 3: Be Concise

This is a tough one to judge and we all have problems with achieving this one.  There is a fine balance between providing enough detail so that assistance can be given and providing so much the support person mentally shuts down.

I think of some requests as a stream of consciousness that needs to be interpreted.  Here’s an example of the type of request I’ve seen:

I want to offer a payment plan to new purchasers.  Right now we only offer one off payments and we aren’t getting the conversions we thought we would.  Would you have any insights on this? The payment plan will be $xxx up front and then 3 payments of $xxx every 30 days – do you think this sounds reasonable?  Oh, while I’m thinking about it, what would happen if the payments aren’t made and I also want to add another service that uses one off payments … There will also a follow up email series (I’ll need your advice on what works best here) that needs to be added, I’ll write those up soon.

So, when do you think you can have this done?

This type of request becomes problematic because it asks a lot of questions, leaves things “hanging” and isn’t specific as to the request.  Yes, the person wants to offer a payment plan – but on which product and are they asking us to do it, or asking for advice on the pricing?

Typically, this type of request develops because the person making it starts to realise what they don’t know as they write up the request.  This is ok however, once that realisation occurs the request needs to be redone…

My preference for this type of request is for it to be written as a briefing document, provide the background; the desired outcomes and then the questions.  If necessary, request for a consult with your support manager to discuss the questions you have, then determine the best way to move forward.

Remember, techies tend to think in black and white … typcially we’ll give you a “yes” or “no” answer and look to find the one question we can answer.

Tip 3: Use The Systems

Have some thought for your service provider.  As much as you might like to think you are your providers only customer it’s important you acknowledge that the reason you aren’t paying them full time is because they amortise their fees over a wide customer base.

One of the ways your provider manages to provide support to multiple clients, in a cost effective manner is systemisation.  Using systems to record requests, billing etc are designed to reduce costs and simplify processes.  Request tracking systems are also designed to allow the client to see the status of their work, provider updates and give more information thus reducing the delay to get updates.

You might not like the system your provider uses – in fact, you will probably grate at the fact that you have to use a system at all.  Just have some compassion for your provider who has to deal with multiple requests every day and help them help you better.

You’ll find that using the providers systems will most likely help your organisation too.

If your provider uses a request tracking system avoid the temptation to contact “your personal connection” directly to get requests lodged.  This includes Emailing; Facebook Messenger; Google Hangouts; SMS or any other form of connections.  I know that sounds tough and sounds like it’s removing a level of “personal connection” – but the idea is to help your business run smoothly as well.  “Personal Connections” should be used for escalation of issues and socialising.

Tip 4: Use Screen Captures and Screen Casts To Demonstrate The Issue

Screen Shots and Screen CastsIt is often really difficult for a support agent to ‘see’ the issue that is reported.  It is generally a mix of perspective and terminology that causes any number of misunderstandings.  You can help your support agent by actually showing them what the issue is.

Screen Captures of how the screen looks when the problem occurs or a Screen Casts that demonstrate how you replicate the problem are invaluable tools.

Some helpdesk systems provide the ability to add a screen cast when submitting the issue however, there are some great tools you can use to create Screen Casts.  Jing and Screencast are my preferred tools however, I recently heard about Screenr.  However, if you do videos / screencasts, please don’t send the video through email, use a sharing service!

Help Your Provider Help You

Whilst it is in the Service Providers best interest to provide exceptional service, you can make your own experience better and get better support by providing clear, concise information that is easy to read.

What tips do you have for other business owners who outsource their support?

About the Author Charly Dwyer

Charly has more than 30 years experience in the IT industry ranging from hands-on technical, to high-level business management, Charly has installed and configured computing equipment and has managed business contracts in excess of $25 million dollars.

As a result, Charly identifies the best way to integrate solutions and technologies for the most cost effective way to achieve a businesses outcome.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}