A thought about attitudes towards support requests

April 19, 2007

I would feel a lot more positive about vendor support if I didn't wind up wanting to grind my teeth most times I had to interact with it. And one of the most teeth-grinding aspects of it is the almost invariable feeling that the vendor support people are interacting with me not to solve the problem but to pawn me off with some (formulaic) answer.

One of the most glaring ways that this shows up is the general assumption by front line support people that I don't actually have a problem. It is difficult to write any specific indicator of this down, but to me it shines through in any number of ways.

(One of the ones that really irritates me is when support people don't read the existing information in the problem report, and either ask me for it again or jump to conclusions that are clearly contradicted by the available evidence.)

Now, I dare say that this happens because often the support people are right: the typical person talking to them really doesn't actually have a problem, they have a misunderstanding or pilot error or the like. But the result of treating everyone this way is that you alienate the people with actual problems (who would praise you to high heaven if you solved them without the customer having to club you into doing so).

An alternative is to start every support interaction with the assumption that the customer is seeing a real problem and you're working with them to narrow it down and solve it, and proceed from there. This will cost you some extra time when dealing with the people who don't actually have a problem, but I suspect that people will feel much better about your support because they will feel that you are respecting them right from the start.

(I think that a lot of this is as simple as phrasing your words the right way: you can still ask for all of the same information, but wrap it in phrases like 'to narrow down the source of the problem' and so on.)

Writing this has had the useful effect of making me think about how I deal with users reporting potential system problems, because this is just like my vendor support situation but with the shoe on the other foot. I think I need to take my own advice about approaching problem reports with the assumption that there's a real problem to be solved.

Written on 19 April 2007.
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Last modified: Thu Apr 19 23:35:13 2007
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