Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Behaviors of Tech Support

Given the rather relentless problems with my computer lately, I have spent quite a bit of time on the phone with tech support people from various companies. This is nothing unusual for any of you out there, I'm sure, because negotiating tech support is an unavoidable part of life in cyberspace. It's a learning experience. As such, especially being a psychologist, I could not help but take note of the various ways they behaved. In fact, as "helpers," tech support people face challenges similar in many respects to the psychotherapist. Here are some of the challenges I noticed:

Dealing with emotional people: People who call tech support often are frustrated, confused, overwhelmed, and sometimes desperate and angry. They might even show transference reactions to the tech support person - emotional reactions that come from other relationships in their lives and really have nothing to do with the tech support person. Some tech supporters are patient in the face of these emotions. Others lose their composure, and respond with impatience and poorly suppressed anger. They might be struggling with their own transference reactions.

Assessing the client's knowledge: If you're going to help a person with a problem, it's a good idea to get a sense of how much the person knows about it. Some tech support people catch on quickly to the fact that the client is computer savvy. They are willing to "work together" in solving the problem. Others seem oblivious to the client's knowledge. They continue talking in a rather pedantic way, even when the client tries to prove that he/she is not a total newbie.

The tech talk ratio: Once the client's knowledge level is assessed, the tech supporter should, ideally, talk at a level of technical sophistication that matches the knowledge level of the client, or maybe slightly surpasses it, which gives the client an opportunity to learn something new. So a 1:1 or slightly higher ratio of expert-to-client technical discourse is good. A low ratio means talking down to the client, which no one likes. A high ratio means talking over the person's head, which may impress some people... but nobody really likes that either.

Avoiding rote responding: I'm sure tech support people deal with many of the same issues over and over again, so there's a tendency to fall into rote patterns of solving a problem. Their instructions and speech patterns become robotic. Unfortunately, there's a danger that they might be thinking in a mental set and not actually be hearing what the client is saying, Instead they hear and respond to what they expect the person to be saying. Sometimes doctors make the same mistake.

Showing optimism and enthusiasm: People with problems like to know that there's a light at the end of the tunnel. A good tech supporter shows some optimism. It doesn't happen often, but once in a while the tech support person gets excited talking about computers, usually in response to a question they find interesting, or in reaction to a client who seems to understand something about computers. People who are frustrated and disappointed with their machines usually want to regain that enthusiasm that they might have lost.

Speculation: One tech support person told me that "I'm not supposed to speculate." I guess they don't want to mislead people. And yet, they often seem to speculate about the cause of a problem. Seems to me that's a good thing, as long as the client doesn't get confused or makes bad decisions based on the speculation.

Recognizing one's limitations: We may want to idealize the tech support staff, hoping and praying that they have the solution to our problem. But let's face it: no one knows everything about computers. Perhaps in some cases the tech supporter needs to appear like the omniscience healer of the machine, but most of the time it's probably better to admit when they don't know something - that when they have to put you on hold it's because they're running to consult their supervisor or some documentation. When I asked one worker at Apple exactly what "file persmissions" were, he replied honestly, "You're asking something that goes over my head"... and then he proceeded to describe to me what he did know about the topic, which went over my head. I appreciated and respected him for that.


6 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

Your post on tech support behavior was excellent, so fair. My response to having needed tech support in the past is to do everything I can to avoid needing it again. That puts limitations on use, I realize, but . . .

I didn't even use the CDs that came with our cameras. I just plugged them in and let whatever programs are already there deal with them. Oh, yeah, the info I got from the last tech support person I spoke with was the most valuble: "Go to 'system restore.'" Always looking to simplify, I've ocassionally deleted a program or part of a program that then proves to be essential.

Basically, I limit use of my computer by not taking risks with it.

7:38 AM  
Blogger John Suler said...

That's the dilemma of computers.... there are all sorts of new and fascinating things you can do with it, but.... there are risks.

8:42 AM  
Blogger David Guarneri said...

Great article. I think you hit on all the important points. The whole section on transference is true. Having worked technical support, I have experienced a wide variety of responses on the same issue. After several years I learned to not take it personally, and that essentially the customer's disposition reflected their approach to problems and challenges in their life. Every one has their bad days, but I've had customers who get on the the tech team's "bad customer" list for consistently aggresive or rude behavior. There's not much willingness to help them, since it's usually at the cost of other customers and there's no chance of getting a good rating from them.

10:32 PM  
Blogger Aliya dixit said...

I’m really lucky and so glad that after surfing the web for a long time I have found out this information.
Us Technical Support

4:07 AM  
Blogger Feonacy Tyson said...

Your web sites on tech support behavior was amazing and great to explained challenges occur in behavior. SolveMyPC

3:04 AM  
Blogger moonar said...


Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further write.I like the post



123.hp.com/setup 4650

12:37 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home