Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Toughest Job in Tech

Every profession has its difficulties. Technology is no different. But my experience is that the toughest job in technology is that of telephone tech support.

These are the men and women who are there for us when our gadgets and gizmos don't work the way we want. Usually, these people are sitting in a room full of cubicles with others like them answering the phone when people call in.

The challenges these people have to deal with fall into two categories: Technical and personal.

The technical ones usually amount to one of the following items: The device in question does what the caller wants, but the caller can't figure it out (or hasn't read the manual), the device doesn't do what the caller wants because the device is broken, the device doesn't do what the caller wants because it wasn't installed properly or the device doesn't want to do what the caller wants because of a conflict with something else.

On the personal side, the challenge is that people are calling tech support because they're not happy. Their gadget doesn't work. That's an unfortunate way to start a call. Depending on the personality of the caller and the training of the support tech, things can go very well or not.

One of the biggest challenges that a tech support person faces is not being able to know the history of the gadget. In particular, what led up to the user calling in? What has been tried before? Did the user do something (intentionally or unintentionally) wrong?

Over the past few years, remote connections to computers have become more commonplace for support staff and that has helped dramatically when it comes to troubleshooting, but that works well for laptop and desktop computers, but not mobile phones, DVRs and most other devices.

I've done my fair share of tech support. Not in a call center, but for either people in my companies or friends. I have a lot of respect for these people who can do it day in and day out.

For most tech support work, it's a thankless job. There are no greeting cards for telephone tech support people. If the tech support person can find a solution for you, people often are angry that they had to call in the first place. If the tech support person can't find a solution for you, the callers can become even more frustrated.

What I find out works well is to provide them with as much up front information as possible, including screen shots of what's happening or not happening whenever possible. I also try to provide them with the make, model and even serial number of whatever device I'm trying to troubleshoot.

Given our tech world, it's inevitable that you'll spend some time on the phone with a tech support person. When you do, give them as much help as you can and you'll have the best experience that is possible given the reason for your call.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 8 March 2011.

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