Being in IT support, there is never a shortage of people calling me for assistance or advice. I enjoy helping these users solve their technical problems, and I can usually answer most questions with a 15-minute phone call. However, sometimes calls can stretch to over 60 minutes—without a resolution.

These marathon calls are usually caused by a variety of factors that can hinder the troubleshooting process. This article will discuss these telephone support impediments and examine how they should affect your decision to visit the site.

A problem printer
A client recently called me about a malfunctioning network printer. This client has a small Windows NT domain with about 10 workstations, running Windows 98, and several shared printers. My client was attempting to move a printer, a Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 1100, from one machine to another and was having a terrible time. Being fairly computer literate, she knew how to connect and configure the printer using the Windows Add Printer Wizard. However, each time she tried to print a test page, her computer would completely lock up. After several failed attempts, she called me.

I immediately talked her through removing and re-adding the printer, thinking that she might have made a mistake along the way. Yet even with my instruction, the printer still didn’t work, and the machine locked up again when we tried to print a test page. I then turned my attention to the printer’s driver. My client was using the installation CD provided with the printer and, although Windows was finding the correct driver, I feared it was out-of-date. It was time for a quick trip to HP’s Web site.

This is where I began to lose my client. Finding the correct driver on HP’s site, downloading it, unzipping it, and then reinstalling the printer with the new drivers was a bit too complicated for her. Talking her through this process would have taken an hour at the very least, and with the call already approaching 45 minutes, I decided a site visit would be a more practical solution.

Sometimes a site visit is quicker
Once at the client’s office, I was able to download the new drivers and install the printer in about 30 minutes. Had I done this in the first place, I would have saved both my client and myself a frustrating 45 minutes on the phone. While I know hindsight is always 20/20, there were warning signs during the call that could have alerted me to the need for a site visit.

Tips for avoiding excessive phone time
When deciding whether a call is best handled on the phone or with a site visit, several factors must be considered. These are:

  • The type of problem. This is the most important and the first factor to consider. You probably don’t want to talk someone through upgrading his or her BIOS, but changing the default printer, maybe. Very complex problems almost always require a site visit.
  • The problem’s seriousness. The problem’s importance should also play a significant role in determining whether to troubleshoot over the phone. A hard drive failure may require immediate attention whereas a malfunctioning printer might be able to wait a day or so. If a problem can wait, a site visit may be a more efficient solution, especially if you can make multiple service calls during a single visit.
  • The user’s knowledge and experience. If the client is a novice computer user, a site visit will probably be more efficient and less stressful on the user. If the client is an experienced power user, talking him or her through complicated instructions may not be a problem.
  • The user’s location. If you’re within 30 minutes of the client, then a site visit is often more efficient than a phone call. If the client works in Los Angeles and your support office is in New York, a site visit may only be possible for the most serious of problems. I’ve supported many remote clients by phone because a site visit would have taken several days, if not weeks. For these users, even if a phone conversation took two hours, it was better than the alternative.
  • The time available for troubleshooting. You must also take into account the time both you and the client can devote to troubleshooting. The client may not have 45 minutes to spend on the phone. Likewise, you may not have 45 minutes to use on one support call. Before beginning any lengthy support call, make sure the user is aware of and agrees to the time involved.

Remember that all these factors must be considered within the context of your individual situation. While they should serve as general rules, each user and problem is unique and must be treated as such. The end goal is always to solve the problem as efficiently as possible and to minimize the user’s inconvenience.
How do you determine whether a site visit is necessary? Does your support organization have set guidelines on when technicians should visit a user’s workstation? Post a comment or send us a note and share your knowledge.