Treat telecom providers' support staff with respect

IT consultants may need to sweet-talk DSL, cable Internet, and T1 providers' support staff in order to get a solution for their clients. Read these tips on communicating with telecom staff.

IT pros don't always have the most gracious personalities -- some of us are even socially challenged. But when you're dealing with telecommunications providers, you should swallow your pride, put aside your arrogance, and cooperate with their technical support staff.

You have no choice. The telecommunications companies hold the cards you require to complete your hand. If you want to successfully complete client projects, numerous and myriad telecommunications services details must be perfectly executed or the entire project will prove fruitless, and we're shooting for fruitful.

Here are my recommendations for what to do and what not to do when you're communicating with telecom staff. I have tested all of these methods in the tight confines of overheated offices.

  • Be pleasant and respectful. You should start the troubleshooting session in a non-confrontational and pleasant manner -- and do not treat telecommunications providers' staff with condescension or disrespect. On the other end of the line, the tech is likely working to close a trouble ticket just as you are. If you erupt and spew ugly facts (e.g., the telecom provider screwed up the install date, sent a DOA modem, and assigned the wrong IP), you might have "right" on your side, but that will be about it.
  • Be prepared. Don't call a provider for support until you have all of this information handy: the account number, the billing telephone number, the billing address, the PPPoE username and password (if applicable), the WAN IP, the modem firmware address, and an actual bill (if possible).
  • Do your homework. Try the obvious first -- reboot the modem, reboot the router, and try another router to test for proper operation -- before you begin escalating voice and data circuit issues. And know in advance that you will have to repeat each of these steps when you contact the telecommunications carrier.
  • Tell the truth. If you don't know the answer to a question, don't fake it. For example, if you can't remember the name of the account holder's favorite childhood pet, and that information is necessary to escalate an issue, you should explain that you're not the account holder but an authorized IT consultant. From there, you can find out what you need to do to help the telecom provider solve its service issue with your shared client.
  • Cooperate. Even if you've rebooted a failed modem or you can see it's been struck by lightning, reboot the unit again when the telecom provider requests you do so. There's nothing wrong with informing the technician on the other end that you've already completed that task, and gray smoke is seeping from the unit -- just do so politely.
  • Be reasonable. You should expect to jump through the provider's hoops. I once spent two hours convincing one of the world's largest telecommunications companies that a DSL failure must certainly be due to a physical cable issue existing between its DSLAM and the client's NID. I was right, and the experience was exasperating. But I was able to trigger the tracing of the line by field engineers at the provider's expense because I was willing to first reboot the modem seemingly 473 times, wait out countless line tests, attempt connection with another machine, and disconnect other phones, filters, and fax machines.
  • Offer assistance. The telecom provider won't know all of the details that you do about the problem, so share the information that you know, and ask if there's anything you can double check.

The nutshell version

If you treat vendors condescendingly or rudely, you're likely to receive the same in return, especially when working with the telecommunications provider's field employees or customer service representatives upon whom your success depends. You don't want to add to the problems when what you're ultimately trying to do is come up with a solution for your client.

By Erik Eckel

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...