Hardware

10 ways to make desktop visits more effective

Make your client desktop visits more effective with these tips and techniques from a seasoned IT field engineer.

Make your client desktop visits more effective with these tips and techniques from a seasoned IT field engineer.


Visiting a customer's workplace represents a considerable investment in time and resources. As field engineers, we must take great care to derive the maximum value from each visit and make certain our time and the customer's time isn't spent in vain. I have compiled the following list of techniques and routine tasks I perform whenever a support call takes me to an external location. It isn't always possible to avoid a return visit, but these methods will help keep them to a minimum.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in our User Support blog. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: Verify that the visit is necessary

Make sure you fully understand the reported problem and the customer's request. You could be wasting your time if you take off before assessing the customer's situation. If you didn't originally take the complaint, contact the customer before you leave. More than once, I have been dispatched on a less-than-accurate problem description. Call ahead, and you might save yourself the trip.

2: Take the right spare parts

Before you leave your office, determine all the replacement parts you'll need and double-check their location. Whether the parts are delivered directly to the client or you carry them with you, arriving at a customer site without the necessary equipment will make for a wasted trip and is a poor reflection on the help desk. Besides the job-specific equipment, you should always carry spares for commonly replaced parts -- keyboard, mouse, case screws, modem, network card, CD-ROM or DVD drive, and the like.

3: Think safety first

Quickly check the safety of the customer's environment. Evaluate the condition of cables, trip hazards, wobbly shelves, and so forth. It takes a minute and could save you from serious injury or even death! Don't be afraid to make your safety concerns known. I would sooner have a customer tell me I am making too much fuss than fail to point out a hazard that later claimed a life. You may also be able to make recommendations about possible future concerns, such as a failing screen or worn power cable.

4: Ask the customer to demonstrate the problem

Don't jump in with both feet and start pulling the covers off the customer's equipment. Before you touch anything, ask the customer to demonstrate the problem. It may be the user and not the machine. Too many times, I've checked a PC, found nothing wrong, and left the customer's location, only to be called back again. During the subsequent visit, I've often discovered that the caller was trying to achieve the impossible.

5: Install necessary software updates

Ensure that the operating system, antivirus software, anti-spyware applications, and the like, have all necessary updates. Although many IT organizations automatically deploy updates, it is not unusual to find unpatched machines -- particularly in remote offices or businesses without in-house IT staff.

6: Do a little house cleaning

Give the PC, keyboard, and mouse a quick cleaning. This will make the equipment look better, last longer, and possibly run better. You may even keep yourself healthier, as you avoid any germs hiding on the keyboard and mouse. Once you've taken care of the outside, go to work on the PC's inside -- defragment the hard drive, delete temporary files, clear out the browser cache, and so forth.

Carry basic spares with you or have them nearby. A cheap replacement keyboard can make all the difference. It's not unusual for there to be more than one problem, and being prepared for any eventuality is always good practice. You'll be amazed how much goodwill a wipe-over can generate. Remember the last time a petrol station filled your tank and wiped the flies off the windscreen? It's a rare thing, especially in the United Kingdom.

7: Double-check the asset register

If your organization manages equipment through an asset register, be sure that it's correct when you leave the client's location and if possible, before you leave your office. All too often, people log a call on a particular piece of kit and only after you reach the customer's location do you realize that the computer you thought was in Southampton is actually in Plymouth - more than three hours' drive away. By the same token, I have often been called to a job on an asset number that is not the device that is giving problems -- yet another reason to speak with the customer before leaving your office.

8: Explain your repairs

Before you leave the client's location, ensure that the customer understands the problem's cause and your repairs. Users often believe they caused a failure, even when they didn't. Reassuring them of their innocence puts them at ease and makes them feel more comfortable the next time they call IT support. If the user's actions did cause the problem, politely educating them could save future visits. Effective communication is critical for building a positive customer relationship.

9: Pick up after yourself

Don't walk away from the area before checking that you have all your tools. Your client may discover a forgotten tool and try to use it. From personal experience, I can tell you that it's extremely frustrating to know that a previous client is propping up a wilted plant with your favorite screwdriver. Worst of all, you always discover that a tool is missing when you need it most.

10: Leave the customer with a smile

You may have to visit a client more than once, and an angry client with a grudge can make future calls a real headache. As a field engineer with no fixed base, you need as many allies on the ground as possible. You never know when you'll need to drop in and use the bathroom, run some photocopies, or charge your laptop battery while enjoying a chat and a cup of tea. Without these "courtesy calls," the field engineer's day can be a lonely, frustrating one.


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18 comments
Andy4961
Andy4961

I would rather teach the customer the proper care of his own computer. I can't see me going all the way out to clean someone computer. This is a job of any one that operates Electronic Equipment of any kind. Now if the customer has unlimted money and does not want to do this then I would have no problem cleaning his equipment. Time is money if the customer wants to pay me my hourly rate then thats cool. but for me it is easier to train the customer on basic troubleshooting proceedures before having me come to the site for him. I think i would rather connect remotley and what what the customer is doing and correct it when i see the mistake or show him what steps would be next.

drbayer
drbayer

somehow this ended up under the wrong topic

phil4cox
phil4cox

I love the way you Anglicise the geography, pity about the spelling!

jim
jim

I have found the #1 way to avoid return visits is a slight variation on your 'explain' option - I wait until the client is free to test the 'fix' for themselves. While I am there it's billable; once I leave and have to go back it's not!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You'd be surprised how excited people will get when you clean their monitor. I always carry a couple of alcohol wipes; it's amazing how much good will they'll bring.

burntfinger1
burntfinger1

A copy of this needs to get hung by the coffee pot and water cooler for discussion. I've been doing tech support since 1989 but most of my techs are either still in school or new to the field.

rasilon
rasilon

Who is the target audiendce for this? Anyone who has provided tech support for any lengthof time will know to do these fairly obvious things.... Hank Arnold (MVP)

LeonaOJ
LeonaOJ

Pretty effacious and smart preventitive maintenance.

Nodisalsi
Nodisalsi

#10 Customer Service Principles should apply to technical support services and all technicians should be trained in this respect. I've seen the damage that poor customer service by support staff (indirectly) cause to the equipment: a user who finds a problem is afraid to call for help and attempt to fix a problem themselves risking a cascade of further faults - and more irritation for the technician. And reporting such clients in Computer Stupidities (even anonymously) does nothing to help the situation or enlighten any readers - if the technician themselves are part of the problem. A site supported by technical support people who are on first name basis and *welcomed* by their clients will have a degree of transparency between their IT and their business function. And a good relationship between client and technician is a business asset - worth the extra time it takes to develop.

Boston
Boston

Well thought out, precise document for all Help Desk techs. Great Job@

nick
nick

I agreee whole heartedly. As a manager the 2 things that seperate a competent Service technician from a great one is 1. Preparedness. 2. Customer Rapport I could probably add another 10 things to the list but the core is there. Nick

RipVan
RipVan

I don't do much desktop support anymore, but I did find one thing that came in handy. In addition to the cleaning you mention, clean and do maintenance on the hard drive. It goes more along with your other point of doing updates, I guess, but I saw far too many slow workstations. Fellow techs didn't care about that, they did whatever it took to close the ticket and went on to the next one. I found that necessary reboots just took far too long, and I would spend too much time on each call. To start out by "tuning up" things seemed like wasting far too much time, since there were so many workstations in my jurisdiction, but the way we were all working just didn't make sense. So the first thing I would do is "clean up" the hard drive. The funny thing was, far too often, when I finished and then asked the customer to demonstrate their problem for me, the problem was no longer there. The workstation ran better and faster, their problem was gone and most of all, the people started experiencing fewer problems, which brought down the volume of trouble tickets. The thing I thought would be too time consuming ended up saving time. And the place I worked at started assigning us areas. I was not only able to keep up, but I got ahead. The old techs continued to do what they had always done. New techs, however, after a few weeks on the job, would ask me for my "cleanup list." I started out just sending them general instructions in an email, but I got asked often enough so I eventually ended up making a detailed list to send as an attachment. Seemed to work for them, too...

jdallaire
jdallaire

I've worked with techs who don't have the common sense listed in that Top 10, and although you would think those tips are obvious, they're not. Many techs I've worked with have little to no social skills, let alone being able to have foresight to call ahead.

lk_bellsouth.net
lk_bellsouth.net

Rip Van, Sounds like you endorse the "work smart, not hard" theory. Congratulations! Would you mind sharing your list with us. I'd love to see it. Thanks.....

roda235
roda235

Let's not perpetuate the myth that techs have no social skills. Our industry has matured and the troglodytes are being weeded out and being replaced by more civilized techs with these skills. It's very good to remind us that these are the customer skills that sell our services.

lk_bellsouth.net
lk_bellsouth.net

Thanks, RipVan, for posting your list. I appreciate it. Although I'm not a newbie at this by any means, you have some items on this list that are great ideas. I know that my clients will benefit from them. Again, thanks!

RipVan
RipVan

I got out of Desktop Support a couple of years ago and went into programming. I lost track of my list a while back. I think only new techs need a long version. Condensed, it went like this: Do a Windows cleanup on your drives (don't compress files) Include "Remove all but the last good restore point" (unless you need it for this job) Completely delete all non-relevant profiles. Go into EVERY user's profile, Local Settings/Temporary Files. You should be able to delete everything there, and this was one of the worst places at my workplace. Clean up internet settings (files) with the "Internet Options." Check C:\Temp and C:\Windows\Temp. Clean if necessary. Once again, today's files probably won't delete. If you have a file with an old date that says "Can't delete, file in use" then that needs investigation, and 10% of the time, I found that to be part of the current problem, especially if found in the Windows\Temp folder. I got rid of all old Windows\$Uninstall folders, especially any that were there prior to the last Service Pack installation, and it never made a difference but YMMV. Last thing I would do is empty EVERY log file (unless you need it for current troubleshooting) and reboot into safe mode, then defrag from there. Some people don't like the next part, but I would then delete the page file, reboot without one, and reset a min/max of the same size because it usually grabbed one complete block and stayed that way. May not work for everyone, and people might not like some of it, but it seemed to work for the folks here pretty well. And I may have forgotten some things. Sure doesn't look like all that much now...

gsullivan
gsullivan

A little reminder to keep your eyes open and your charm going is always a good thing. As for those that this list never occured to, well-- they need help too. It's only "all good" if we ALL strive to DO good.