Dear colleagues

No doubt, you have all experienced IT and other forms of technical support. Often a highly frustrating experience punctuated by moments of sheer brilliance and genuine caring. A few tips are given below for both the guys providing support and those enduring (IT especially) support in an honest attempt to improve the experience. Computers are an integral part of our lives as engineering professionals and the support should be considerably better than what we tolerate today.

Good support is a quick, courteous and knowledgeable resolution of a problem from a professional. Bad support is a bad tempered ongoing litany of woe where you get fobbed off at every available point and treated like an absolute cretin. And IT support is not only about  some dedicated IT geek providing the service. It is all of us trying to provide support to our customers and colleagues. Most of the time, we relate tech support to our IT problems but it ranges from such disparate areas as instrumentation, process control, mechanical & electrical engineering, electronics to gas turbines and marine engineering.

The Ten Secrets of Outstanding Tech. support

1. Communicate simply and effectively with your  client. Don’t use jargon and gibberish but clear and easy to understand explanations. Obtain a clear and well documented description of the problem from your user that is agreed to by both parties. Try and simplify the problem.
2. Your client is always right. Software should  be ‘designed for an orang utan’ to use. If your user ends up with problems, it is not her or his fault but the design of the software or system.
3.Time is of the essence. Do not procrastinate. Giving your user the inevitable task of documenting the problem in the hope of delaying their return is unreasonable and simply makes the issue worse. Try and zone in on the problem and get it fixed then and there.
4. Let the user know that you are working on a solution and what you are doing. Not that you have been lost in some time warp and have given up. Which is probably what they are thinking if you don’t let them know.
5. Use proven modern technology to fix problems. Use the latest technology to pinpoint the problem. Whether it is using a proven virus checker or log in to the users machine in Antarctica; it can be done. Quickly and effectively.
6. Assume Nothing. The user operates in his or her world. The problem may be quite different to what he or she describes it as. It is your responsibility to check exactly what the problem is and to fix it.
7. Don't break your user's machine. Ensure you have everything backed up and know exactly how to restore the machine or equipment to its original state. You may find you have to back track as the fix requires another software package or hardware device which is not immediately obtainable; so being able to restore your user’s machine to its original state is essential.
8 . Educate and pass on the expertise and know-how. Once you have fixed the problem, guide your user on how to fix similar occurrences in future. This will deliver a quicker resolution for future issues and a more satisfied customer. And fewer phone calls for you. And document the problems and how you fixed them for everyone to review later.
9. Follow up afterwards. Most tech support guys are rather twitchy about following up on a problem. Because they fear the inevitable deluge of complaints and more problems. But this is the sign of outstanding service and support. And confidence in your ability to fix the problems.
10. Improve your world. We all know we are surrounded by  poorly written programs and software. Forward any fixes or bugs you have uncovered to the relevant forum and vendor so that the software or hardware is improved in the next version. Thus contributing to the common good.

In the context of providing outstanding technical support, as Albert Einstein remarked: The only source of knowledge is experience.

Thanks Edward J. Joyce of the IEEE for an inspirational article on  Tech  Support.

Yours in engineering learning