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Five remote support mistakes that make end-users hate IT

Avoiding these five pitfalls can keep remote workers and satellite-office users from taking IT support into their own hands.

Organizations with lots of remote locations, like large retail chains, usually have IT departments that specialize in supporting remote offices. On the other hand, companies that have recently eliminated all the IT staff at their satellite offices and centralized IT support at the main corporate office, often lack the institutional knowledge and IT structure necessary to adequately support these newly, IT-less locations.

If not properly supported, end users in these locations may feel like they've been left to the wolves and grow to resent central IT. Worse, productivity can suffer if problems aren't promptly and successfully resolved. Let me illustrate my point with a situation I recently witnessed.

A lose-lose situation

One morning, an end-user sat down to a desktop that wouldn't power up. The power light didn't come on. The power supply fan remained still. When she pressed the power button, nothing happened, except an occasional weak buzzing noise from the machine's built-in speaker. The computer was running fine when she left work the previous day, but it was now completely dead. She contacted a technician at the corporate help desk and described her problem.

After hearing the end user's tale, the technician determined that the computer's power supply was likely dead. Given the machine's age, the technician said the machine would be replaced rather than repaired. The end user was glad to get a new computer, but shocked to find out that it would take a week for the new machine to reach her. The user told the technician she couldn't work without a computer.

The technician suggested she find an empty workstation to use while waiting on the new machine. Unfortunately, there weren't any. At the corporate office, where the technician was located, empty workstations were common. This was not the case in the user's satellite office, where there weren't any extras.

At this point, there was nothing more the technician could do. She was thousands of miles away from the user, there was no reason to overnight a temporary replacement when a permanent replacement would be sent a day or two later, and as the machine was being replaced it wouldn't be cost effective to pay a local IT contractor to replace just the power supply. The technician's hands were tied and the user couldn't do her job--a lose-lose situation for everyone.

Common remote support mistakes

The above situation didn't have to end this way. With the right procedures, tools, and attitude, IT departments can provide remote workers support that's comparable to an in-person experience. If they avoid the following mistakes:

  1. Not having on-site replacement machines: As illustrated by our story, having a few backup machines in each satellite office will keep employees up and running when their main machine fails. You should match the number and configuration of each satellite office's reserve computers to the location's various employee types. For example, an office with both developers and sales staff should have at least one machine configured for each group. The only exception to this rule is locations with groups that rely a standard software build, or who access their tools through a Web browser or desktop virtualization.
  2. Lacking a plan for local repairs: If your in-house techs don't make house calls and you aren't going to replace every machine with a dead hard drive, you need a workable plan for hiring local, contract support staff. A plan is particularly important if a satellite office has a server room. You could use a local IT contractor, a global IT services company, or reply on your hardware vendors for on-site support. Whichever option you choose, pick one that balances both IT and end-user needs.
  3. No local go-to IT person: You should always have a few employees who can serve as surrogate support techs at each location. These individuals could be former IT pros who now work in other departments, or individuals with advanced technical skills. You don't have to make them domain admins, but you could give power user rights. They could also serve as a liaison between the local staff and central IT helping coworkers locate a temporary workstation, setting up a user's new computer, changing the toner drums on the office printers and copies, and so forth. If the satellite office has a server room, you'll also want someone at the office to have a key. A constantly beeping UPS or cooling system alarm can drive workers crazy. Just remember not to abuse your go-to IT contacts with too many requests for assistance. IT isn't their day job.
  4. Failing to use remote control software: Everyone wants their computer problems solved, but few want to spend hours on the phone being led through various troubleshooting procedures. This is where remote control software can make a huge difference. A decade ago, remote desktop technology was just starting to spread throughout IT. Today, it's a no-brainer. Systems like Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) and Apple Remote Desktop (ARD) are built right into the operating system. And, there are lots of third-party options, like LogMeIn, Bomgar, Crossloop, Citrix, TightVNC, and RealVNC. Why waste hours trying to walk users through a fix, when it would take you seconds to complete? Remote control software many not work in every situation, like when a user can't get a network connection. But, you should use it whenever possible. Just be sure to get the user's explicit permission before taking over their machine.
  5. Treating remote users like they aren't as important as people in the corporate office: Good customer service skills are just as important as technical knowledge when it comes to providing quality support. IT should treat all users with respect and courtesy regardless of their location. If personnel in your IT department, whether they're in support, project management, or network administration, ignore the concerns of remote users, you'll quickly find them ignoring you. And possibility, taking IT support into their own hands.

Remote support is a growing trend

As the number of satellite offices, telecommuters, and mobile workers rise, today's corporate workforce is often spread across a wide geographic area. Remote workers play an increasingly critical role in an organization's success, and should be given support that's comparable to employees located at the corporate hubs. Avoiding these five mistakes will go a long way to accomplishing that goal.

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

31 comments
roda235
roda235

One day a replacement hard drive arrived at a remote location in Ephrata WA. The clerk typist called our IT support group at HQ (Olympia WA) and told us it was there and that they really needed it to be installed to get there reports out on time. I assured them that the technician was on his way. An hour later (ETA) they said the technician hadn't shown up yet and that they really didn't think he would show as there was a blizzard going on out side. (dead of winter) What could they do? I asked them if they had a screw driver. They did and the rest was history. I sent the clerk typist a certificate of honorary membership to our IT support group. Creativity - 1 Fate - 0

turner41
turner41

I agree one hundred percent regarding usage of remmote support software. For us in India, it is a relatively new technology for people at home. The other day, I faced a similar problem trying to walk my cousin over phone for over half an hour before I got him to use Zoho Assist (http://assist.zoho.com) after which I solved his sound problem in 5 mins.

Graham@TheWhiteDragon.co.uk
Graham@TheWhiteDragon.co.uk

we use Logmein, as our remote tool of choice, we trialed both logmein and gotoassist but found that gotoassist had such high lag that we got bored with it, along with the stupidly long web address you had to email to the user... whereas logmein is simple, logmein123.com - and enter support code.. soo much easier... no i dont work for logmein i just find it very very useful..

keith_eves
keith_eves

What about mistakes that remote users make? We recently had a ticket raised for a site that no one in PC support knew about. It turned out that the users, a third party supplier for our customers had moved from another office about 50 miles away and hadn't told us. The confusion caused about 3 weeks delay in getting the problem fixed.

dwinsemius
dwinsemius

6. (or perhaps 4.b) Not determining what level of competence your client has. I do not appreciate having my machine taken over, and would prefer to be talked through fixes. Some of us want to do the fixes. It means we can learn new methods and principles. (And regarding your example, I was guessing that the power cord was loose at the back and it had been jostled during vacuuming. That's the most common source of that problem.)

Brenton Keegan
Brenton Keegan

I think this can come in multiple forms, depending on the environment. I suppose there could be an active thought that remote users are somehow not as important but I have notice that I tend to forget remote user's needs more readily than local users simply because I don't see them on a daily bases (or at all in most cases). I'm not actively think they aren't as important, but they just more readily slip my mind.

blarman
blarman

The issue here is about policy. Why not change your policy to always have a spare computer on hand and ready to go? Then if someone's computer dies, you overnight it and they are back up and running. My comments: 1) Users will use whatever equipment they can get their hands on, meaning that any spare equipment that is laying around will be commandeered for some other purpose. Also, unless each of your sites has a large user base, this may not be very cost-effective. 2) This is great for metropolitan areas, not so easy for the heartland and rural communities. 3) Same as #1 and #2. You have to have a "critical mass" of users to justify local support, and part-time help in IT is almost worse than no help. This one is a real challenge for businesses with lots of small remote offices to manage. 4) This one is a huge time/money saver. Most users can't fix their own problems and are only marginally good at following directions to fix a problem. Being able to quickly get on and fix the problem is key. 5) This is an easy trap to get into because you don't have to see that person every day. But how many help desk technicians really do this? IT support is all about consistency. It takes a conscious effort to be nice/helpful to some people and not to others on a given day.

parristheharp
parristheharp

Great topic. I've done service desk technical support for about two years now and I can't tell you how many times it has saved time for myself and the end user. I think if a orgainization wants to be successful and provide adequate support for their remote employees, It would be wise to invest in a remote support solution

rdevereux
rdevereux

Some of thse points are valid but the remote control option certainly wouldnt have worked in the scenario mentioned. However much it is useful for It Depts to be proactive we also live in an 'I demand instant fixes now' world and pandering to that doesnt always solve It problems, it just creates more. Having good policies in place to advice users of their rights is as important as putting all the emphasis on the IT Dept. to fix insurmountable issues

mike_johns
mike_johns

Part of the problem in this situation is that the tech had fixed the issue, but not the problem. The real problem was that the user could not do her job. If the tech was not able to address this, he should have felt duty bound to escalate the ticket to a higher level where the real problem could be addressed. Poor customer service is almost impossible to recover from and a technition being technically correct does nothing to keep the customer happy. Also, when a user cannot do their job for up to a week,the cost to the company is one hell of a lot more than the cost of an overnight shipment. Mike J

B3_Nick
B3_Nick

If you're going to have someone at a remote site doing quasi-IT work, then they should be paid a premium salary and, if they need to come in on a day or time off to reset an alarm, they should be paid overtime and mileage. If a company isn't able (or willing) to do this, then they should contract with a local provider.

Scott Littlehales
Scott Littlehales

Hi Bill, I totally agree with your comments. Here at Netshield Ltd, IT Support is our Primary Service. We are based in the UK and are geared up to specifically offer less than 1hr response in all of the areas you mentioned above. It would be interesting to hear from any of your contacts or anyone that would approach you in the UK for Support - I am sure we can help. Thanks Scott Littlehales

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

In the above TR Dojo post, I share five pitfalls the can drive remote workers and satellite-office users to hate IT and possibly take IT support into their own hands. I'd like to know if remote workers in your organization get the same level of support as those in the corporate hubs. Take the poll, and let me know. Original article: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/itdojo/?p=1667

Zenith545
Zenith545

Some people who do not want a remote assistance session on their computer have control issues. Or are paranoid the helper will mess up the machine. It is possible to enlighten the end user and complete the fixes in a reasonable amount of time. Where remote techs are pressured to handle more than one call at a time will the phone stay silent while waiting for a ten - minute install to complete. :) I would rather control the computer, I can move slowly enough so the user can keep up and it is better than waiting 30-60 seconds for the end user to move the mouse from the bottom of the screen to the desired target. Which believe it or not, I have seen support staff do also. Since most OS's are visual interfaces, it makes common sense for the tech to at least be able to see the remote machine's interface.

pcteky2
pcteky2

You may not prefer having your machine controlled, but most companies cannot afford to spend the time to "teach" you how to do your own fixes. Most call center environments strive for low call times, which translates into getting your machine fixed in 5 minutes if we drive as opposed to 15 or more minutes if we teach you. You may not like that, but it is todays reality. I don't always agree with it either, but its how I am rated against my peers. You can always ask questions as a tech is fixing your machine too.

dave
dave

But, I do agree with you. Where I work, I use VNC and let the user do the steering while I am in contact over the phone. If they need something more, then I am in a position to do more.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Most want it fixed; a few care about what's required to fix it; one or two care about what caused it in the first place.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

1) The spare doesn't have to be a current model box. Use one of the ones that came off line after the last hardware refresh. In many cases it doesn't need more than the basic software load. If it needs more than that, install it remotely after it's on line.

mike
mike

In this example, what costs more, the user not performing her job as a result of the down equipment, or the cost to repair. I'm sure that in some cases it would be very cost effective to get a local tech out with a new PS and get that machine running versus the loss of sales etc that this person generates for the company. If that's not the case then send her home paid. I bet she would like that.

NickHurley
NickHurley

If fires are raging all around but their only so many firetrucks, some place is going to burn down. Politely telling someone they're screwed is a job for salesmen, we as support staff fall into the space where words aren't good enough, action is expected!

ih8computers.911
ih8computers.911

The situation you described is probably more common than not. My response would have been to send a empty workstation from the corporate office as her permanent replacement rather than a temporary. I agree that backup systems are a must however leaving them at remote sites is risky. I have found equipment and supplies moved or missing one too many times from someone "cleaning" and not knowing what to keep. Even if it's locked up keys can go missing or end up in someone else's hands.

mafergus
mafergus

We had a program in place where the larger remote sites would have designated IT specialists in place who acted as liasons with centralized IT. We would have a yearly week long meeting whith presentations on the support structure with IT representatives from differing disciplines. we also provided ala-carte training on specific subjects. This process not only helped develop talent, but the romote support individuals actually formed their own support group as many of their issues were similar. For hardware support, we leveraged our size and negotiated deals with the major vendors to deliver next day onsite to all of our remote faciities.

N4AOF
N4AOF

IT treats everyone except their boss and his boss as a descending hierarchy with only a favored few achieving even "second class" status. Subtract one status class for each organizational layer below Division Chief, subtract one more status class for each floor of physical separation from the IT office and subtract two status classes for being in the building next door -- if you are farther away than next door, your status is too low to calculate.

V.H. Scarpacci
V.H. Scarpacci

within my company we have 23 remote sites in 19 towns within the state. Of these only 7 sites have more than 5 employees. There are only 3 techs in the I.T. Department, therefore some of the most remote sites(as much as 3 hour drive) may have to wait for days to get support if a problem cannot be talked though or accomplished over VPN and remote assistance. At least I.T has 1 person that can be depended on to get to a site if necessary and 2 great helpdesk people that respect everyone as a 'first class user' In the last 5 years the infrastructure and support tools have improved vastly and support has improved very much since then.

NickHurley
NickHurley

There are remote uses who want someone to visit them for a loose cable, and they find it easier to complain to management before following the instructions. They are users who genuinely can't function without a machine, then they are those that simply do not want to use the low tech alternatives till the machine is replaced. Corporate bean counters frown upon "stand-by" or "back-up" units, because it's seen as wasted money, if something never happens. (trust me, that's the kind of crud I deal with) With companies trying to commit less staff to more tasks, I have a feeling the remote user is going to feel a little lonelier

Zenith545
Zenith545

Most companies, have terrible Level 1 support. As PCTEKY2 stated, he is limited to 5 minutes. One company limits Level 1 calls to 2 mins. when volume is heavy. Many Level 1 issues get pushed up to Level 2 or 3 because Level 1 does not have the experience to correctly diagnose the issue, even though it is a very simple and very common fix.. Many companies do not have company-wide databases for their IT support staff. As far as "teaching" the users, it is always a good policy if the end user has permissions on the machine for that issue. That is how two desktop support people can support an office of ~500 users.

OurITLady
OurITLady

Each area office has at least one "shelf spare" - usually a machine that's just out of warranty (we have a 3 year refresh policy). Each site we support is usually within an hour or two of an area office, when a machine goes down they can courier the spare out or drive to the office to pick it up. Our build has all the base software at least - email client, MSOffice, etc so all we have to do is configure their mail and they can do something while they ship the dead system back for data recovery and analysis.

blarman
blarman

Our problem is that due to the environment we operate in (lots of dust, etc.) the PC's that are getting replaced are usually dead. We usually don't have any spares that still function :( We also face the challenge in that almost all our users are remote, working an entire office off a DSL line. Trying to install software that way can literally take all day (or more) for something like MS Office. In our case, it just isn't effective at all to try to install major packages across the WAN, which is why we rely heavily on ready-to-go backup units.

blarman
blarman

You're exactly right: the repair in and of itself is a value proposition. Is the value of that person's work worth the cost to repair it?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

While an on-site spare can be the best solution, I don't know why a permanent replacement couldn't have been overnighted instead of a temp. Were there no suitable permanent replacements available? If not, then a dead system would have been a problem at the primary site too. Image a permanent replacement and ship it. At the same time, have the user ship her unit back to HQ. Mount the HD in another system and transfer the data back to her.

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