Enterprise Software

10 tenets that will help remote support techs succeed (and stay sane)

Working through customer problems takes a certain kind of perspective and some specialized people skills. Jack Wallen outlines several key principles that will help you survive -- and excel.

When I am at my day job, I do two things: Manage all client backups and handle remote support. Why do I do remote support (along with the already full-time job of client backups)? Because I get it. I understand that it takes far more than just the knowledge to repair what ails a client computer. If you think you might want to serve as a remote support specialist, I have 10 tenets that should help you understand exactly what it takes to have a nice long career as a remote support specialist.

1: Patience will carry you

If you've done ANY remote support, you know that clients can really tax your patience. I have actually had clients take the mouse from me, while I am trying to solve their problem, so they could compose an email. Many clients will feel like their problem is the only one you have to solve today and will not allow you to work as expediently as you would normally work. Some clients will struggle with the proper language or terminology to successfully communicate to you the problem they are having. It is crucial that your patience be at a high when dealing with these types of clients. Not only will this help them, it will keep your blood pressure down.

2: Compassion will help you understand

I have had clients cry on the phone, thanks to the problem they are having. It does no good to leave compassion at the door when dealing with clients. You must remember that in some instances, their problems are keeping them from getting their work done or doing business. When this happens, stress can be high and clients can be a bit edgy. Put yourself in their shoes and see how you would deal with it. Try to be understanding so you clients feel you are on their side and will do everything you can to make their issue go away.

3: Flexibility will keep you from getting stumped

On a daily basis, I come across something that requires thinking beyond the norm. Sometimes methods that would normally work simply don't. When this happens, I am thankful for having enough flexibility to avoid banging my head on my desk screaming, "This should work!" Instead, I look at the task from a different angle and attack it again. Usually this works.

4: Communication skills will allow you to work around frustration

Remote support is an incredibly frustrating job at times. This is especially true when you can't actually log into the client's machine remotely and do the job as if you were sitting at the machine. When this happens, you must be able to tell the end user what to do and how to do it. Without the ability to communicate this in a way the user can understand, your job becomes exponentially more difficult.

5: Saying "no" will keep you from being taken advantage of

Clients will take advantage of you. That is a given. They call to have you fix problem A and "while you're at it," they talk you into fixing problems B through Z. This is an unfortunate reality because, well, a gig is a gig right? Wrong. By not saying no, you are giving the client the power to ruin the rest of your day. And when you don't say "no," everything you do beyond the point of "yes" will be nothing but an exercise in frustration. Learn to say "no" -- but make sure you say it politely and professionally.

6: Understand there are real jerks out there, but they need your help as well

That's right. There are always clients you really don't want to help, talk to, be around, or even know exist. In some circumstances, you will have no choice but to help them. I have one (or two) clients whose names make me cringe when I see them on my calendar. But I know I have to suck it up and move forward. Even the jerks need help. The key is to go into the task knowing full well they have the power to be a completely and utterly insufferable. When you approach the task that way, and they're not, the surprise will be all the more rewarding.

7: Patting the end user on the back now and then will help establish good rapport

Every once in a while, it's a good thing to let clients know they did the right thing. Even if this pat on the back seems inconsequential to you, it could be huge to the end user. Do not ever hesitate to give the end user a pat on the back for doing something right. And, on the flip side, do not ever scold a user for doing something wrong. Those clients are not puppies piddling on the floor.

8: Swallowing your ego will keep it from getting in the way

We all have egos. Some support specialists have egos much larger than others. That ego can be your worst enemy at times. An inflated ego can prevent you from hearing what the client is really trying to tell you or prevent you from being able to communicate with a client. In the end, that overly inflated ego will probably prevent you from getting the job done. It's simple --check the ego at the door.

9: Reassuring end users that their problem can be fixed means more than you might think

One thing I always say to end users is that their problem can be fixed. That takes a huge load off their shoulders. Of course, the "fix" could always (in extreme cases) call for a reinstallation of their operating system. But one way or another, the problem will go away. If you tell your end users, "Oh this can't be repaired," you have just created a monster you probably don't have the time or inclination to deal with. Throw the client a bone in this situation.

10: Professionalism and propriety will place you far ahead of equally skilled support specialists

At all times, the remote support specialist must be professional and speak with propriety -- even when the client isn't. This may seem unfair, but they are paying you (not the other way around) and that payment should include the respect that is expected of your position. Although it may feel good to call the end user a blathering, raving lunatic not worthy of your time and effort, it will only end in lost clients or worse, the loss of your job.

Survival skills

Those are the tenets of remote support I always stress to anyone considering getting into this business. What about you? Is there a mantra you use to survive those tough clients and situations? If so, share them with your fellow TechRepublic readers.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

14 comments
techieindeed
techieindeed

Remote technology support sounds like a very time-saving idea. This will save the time of both the client and the IT support expert. Eventually, it will make the tech support companies more efficient and increase their business.

camillevrain
camillevrain

I work in IT company and we provide remote support. The main problem is the communication process. At the moment I use Techinline (http://www.techinline.com)to cooperate with clients. I've integrated it into my website and clients just click their and receive session ID. You can check my branded web page: http://www.ezsupport.biz/remote.html that really makes my communication process easier.

sbrickner59
sbrickner59

So true, and these are all things that even experienced remote support techs often forget to do. Not only do you need to think about what you're saying and how you say it (see Think Before You Speak; http://it.toolbox.com/blogs/think-before-you-speak/), you need to remember the kind of service you appreciate when you're a customer. There are some great customer service training courses available, both online and classroom (http://www.impactlearning.com/solutions/training-programs/customer-service/customer-service-training/) that focus on improving these skills especially for technical support personnel. One other tenet that helped me when I did remote support is: You're there to solve issues, not uphold justice. Sometimes I would escalate an issue to an account manager because I didn't have the authority to fulfill the customer's request. When the account manager came back and told me to go ahead and do it because this was a good account, I didn't take it personally and I didn't argue. To the contrary, I went into Support because I chose not to deal with sales/business issues, and I was happy to let someone else handle that aspect of the client relationship. Having been on both sides of this issue I know there is sometimes business potential that justifies special consideration, and I'm happy to defer to Sales in those instances. To the extent that you learn to deal with this, your life in Support will be a lot easier!

Bogdan Peste
Bogdan Peste

It's so easy to get into "tunnel vision mode" is you do a repetitive task and at times the regular steps you take just don't work. I have to admit I've been in these situations, and it's really frustrating...just because in other cases a particular solution worked, and now it just won't...taking a 2 minute breather and thinking just as if you encountered this problem for the first time does wonders.

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

If a client calls with the problem saying "I can't access the internet" or "My monitor won't go on", I have to be willing to actually go onsite to fix the problem. Sometimes, I may have a connection but the connection is so slow it would actually have been faster to just go there and fix it.

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

Paint a picture... I know, sounds goofy, but it works. I've found out that by starting in descriptive language helps cut down the call time a lot. Describe things like you would to a child, but in a way that doesn't sound like it. The client won't know the difference and will follow your direction easily... unless they're blind

ralphgrant
ralphgrant

You may sometimes have to "read between the lines" to get at what the real problem might be. Not all clients are well-versed in the correct terminology to express exactly what the problem is, and consequently you will have to ask more specific questions. The other thing that really helps me is to know what the user is trying to accomplish in the end, rather than the specific obstacle they are running into. Knowing their objective helps me try to find a different way of accomplishing it that bypasses the obstacle completely.

rstoebe
rstoebe

Good listening skill are a must. You may also have to ask what changed multiple times because what you get back initially may not be the complete answer.

n1dodds
n1dodds

I am currently paying my IT dues on a service desk and there are times when you have to let rip with frustration. Having understatinding ears (Prefferably with biscuits to hand!) goes a long way in getting through a bad day!!

lesam
lesam

Point 6: "clients whose names make me cringe when I see them on my calendar " That's the time to Choose to lose. Unless you really believe the angst is worth the money

inouyde
inouyde

Works well with non-techy end users. Instead of saying, "The blue antivirus icon" say "The thing that looks like a blue turtle riding a bicycle." Then they can find it easily.

bsitzes
bsitzes

I agree. If the clent's name makes you cringe, this is the time to "choose to lose". This sounds like a situation that is "no win". Even if the "angst is worth the money" at the moment, it could lead to more issues and problems down the road.

bsitzes
bsitzes

I find myself using the descriptive language often--like saying, "Look down to the right at the bottom of your monitor--see that red icon? Now, does it look like an open red umbrella or a closed red umbrella?" Makes a lot of difference! The client/end user will not get defensive as easily if they understand what you are asking of them--and that is half the battle!

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