Although there are a lot of similarities, supporting those in an office environment is vastly different than supporting home users. Here are some things to consider when providing support for home users.
I’ve offered very limited support to home users over the years (or decades), but the past few months has found me providing more and more support help to people in their homes. In fact, I’m beginning to think that there’s a huge opportunity in providing support to home users, and it could actually result in a win-win scenario for both parties. What follows are my thoughts on getting the best results – for both the user and the person providing such support.
Be somewhat selective: Without going into a lot of detail (let your imagination run wild), there might be certain types of users who should be avoided. While it might be less practical for a walk-in store or an outfit like Geek Squad to turn down support requests, for someone doing it on his own, it’s not only possible, but often times preferable to be selective. You don’t want to end up beating your head against the wall, so to speak, dealing with issues that cause nothing but pain, or put yourself in a position to get blamed for every user misstep, or be hounded after a support call, and so on.
Getting compensated (a subset of being selective): And then there’s the matter of getting fairly compensated. Two things that would be best to avoid: dealing with those who want to negotiate with your fee, and avoiding those who are a higher risk of failing to pay anything at all.
How can you tactfully evaluate where a person might fall on the selective scale? The answer might be found in the next point.
Start with an initial evaluation: Always start with a predefined initial evaluation, which may or may not include any particular issue or problem the user is having. For a set fee and a specific time commitment (perhaps one-half to one hour), go through a predefined evaluation check list of the user’s computer, peripherals, applications, networking devices and speed, and so on, and document (and evaluate) everything as completely and thoroughly as possible. This step alone might possibly identify any problems the user is having anyway. If they’re not willing to do this, then it’s easy to turn down the support request. If they are willing to do this, then you have the benefit of establishing the basis for providing good future support. The worst case scenario is that you discover a circumstance that you’d rather not take any further, in which case you can spend minimal time and simply walk away and cut your losses. Best case scenario is that you’ve established a basis and set the stage for providing good support in the future – which is what both parties really want.
Insist on having a backup system in place: One item on my initial evaluation check list is to determine the backup procedures the user has in place. The last thing you want is to lose data – whether it’s your fault or not. In most cases for home users, this is probably nothing at all, although some people might have subscribed to an on-line backup service, while others might have a separate backup device, usually an internal or external hard drive or perhaps a few flash drives or floppy disks in a desk drawer. The key is to make sure the user is responsible, in some form, for backing up the data. This is also an opportunity to sell an additional hour, or so, of your time to implement data backup procedures – something that will definitely benefit both parties.
Be prepared to offer an updated computer system: If your initial evaluation discovers that newer application demands are being expected from an older and out-of-date hardware platform, be prepared to sell and install a new system. In the business environment, I always updated my minimum computer requirements every six months, or so, and I had a system specification designed for current demands. This could be somewhat flexible, depending on the home user’s specific needs, but to have a basic alternative system to upgrade an outdated one would also be something that could benefit both parties.
Be patient and listen – really listen: Listening to what a person says is one thing, but determining what a person really means, or what that person intends to say, is another. Repeat back what was said, but perhaps in another way. It should go without saying, but being friendly, respectful, polite, and non-judgmental is vital. Establishing a rapport of mutual respect and understanding will go miles and miles towards establishing and maintaining a successful support relationship.
Emphasize that you’re not available 24-7-365: This might be a judgment call, but for most home users, I wouldn’t want to be at their every beck and call. Responding to e-mail or voice mail support requests (at my convenience) is better than answering my cell phone (at their convenience) any time of day or night.
In short, I believe that there is a huge opportunity in supporting home users. But for one providing the support, being selective and focused is the key to being successful.
Those are a few (but not necessarily all) of my thoughts on supporting the home computer user. Please share your comments, suggestions, and additions.