Friday, January 23, 2009

Drive-Thru and The Tech Support Call

I had a pretty busy Saturday running errands, and as anyone who knows me, I love to have a coffee with me while I am driving. Well, on this particular Saturday, I had visited two different coffee shop drive-thru’s and a fast food drive-thru. At all three of them, the service was atrocious! I was rushed to place my order at the speaker, the person at the window didn’t talk to me and when I did get my order, in all three cases, the cups were wet!

I couldn’t help but think of how the level of service today has deteriorated…and then it dawned on me. As an IT Professional, how many times have I provided poor service below the level I know I am capable of giving. So, once I got home, I sat and thought about it. Well, much to my disappointment, I was able to think of not just one…but a couple of them, ouch!

One of the first things that jumped out at me was the time I met one of my co-workers in the hall one day. Bob, not his real name, was slightly frantic. The exchange went something like this.

“Hey Peter, I was just coming to see you. I can’t print.”

“OK Bob, I have a meeting in a few minutes. I have to go…I’ll see you after my meeting.”

“But, but…”

Well, I made my meeting, unfortunately, Bob was late and was chastised by the boss, and when asked for an explanation it turned out that Bob had a report that was to be presented during the meeting. Well, when the boss asked for an explanation, Bob informed everyone in the meeting, which included the entire executive team, that he was unable to print his report and I hadn’t solved the problem yet. Well, as you can imagine, I sunk into my chair as everyone looked in my direction. After the meeting, I rushed to Bob’s office to fix his problem. Bob’s problem was not that he couldn’t print, but somehow his default printer was changed to a different printer.

This exchange between me and Bob taught me a couple of things. Firstly, Bob was coming to my office to report a problem. We should avoid being “HALLJACKED” at all costs. Had I trained people to email their problems to me, I would have started a paper trail for the problem. An email allows me to properly schedule tech support issues, and when a situation comes up where I was being blamed, rightly or wrongly, I will have some documentation to help my boss understand my side. In Bob’s case, due to the nature of his problem, he likely would have still rushed to my office to find me. This would have provided an excellent opportunity to explain the process of submitting tech support problems. Having this process would have taken the responsibility of Bob not being able to print off my shoulders and placed it on his…after all, he did wait until the last minute to print his report. An email from Bob at 10:55 saying he couldn’t print when he had an 11 o’clock meeting would allow me the luxury of explaining why Bob couldn’t print out his reports. The second thing that I should have done, after explaining to Bob what the process is to request tech support, was to spend a few seconds getting to the bottom of the problem. A couple of simple questions to clarify the problem would have clearly shown that it was likely a small problem with a simple fix. One or two minutes and instead of being a goat, I could have been seen as a life saver. So, now, lets look at this whole situation if I had followed these two principles.

“Hey Peter, I was just coming to see you. I can’t print.”

“OK Bob, I have a meeting in a few minutes. I have to go…remember, all requests for tech support should be done via email.”

“But, but…I  have this report and I need to print it for the same meeting you have”

“Well, I shouldn’t do this, but, tell me more about your problem. Are you getting any error messages?”

“No, I just can’t print.”

“Hmmmm, well, I will take a look at it, but if it is more than a few minutes, I will have to fix it after the meeting.”

After fixing Bob’s problem, I head to the meeting. Bob still arrives late and is chastised.

“I couldn’t print, Peter had to look at my computer”

“Bob, you shouldn’t leave these things to the last minute”, says the boss.


The second thing that jumped out at me was the time I made a small problem much bigger than it needed to be. I was working on my bosses laptop, which, much to my chagrin, he lets his wife use so she can do her MBA homework. The story goes like this, one Monday, Chuck, not his real name, sends me an email quickly followed up by a phone call to ensure I got the email. This is how the exchange went:

“Peter, I can’t open my shared folder on the network.”

“OK Chuck, can you get onto the network?”


“Are you getting email?”

“Yep, and I know what you are going to say next, and yes…I did reboot.”

“Hmmmm…OK, I will be right over.”

Now, my office was in a different location from my boss so I had time to think about the problem. When I had arrived at Chuck’s office, I already had a dozen things I was going to check. I spent a couple of hours checking everything from network connections to his profile on the server, I had exhausted Chuck’s patience…and his goodwill. I was now officially in his way and could feel his cold stare on the back of my neck as I burnt up his valuable Monday morning. At this point I was at a loss…Finally, Chuck had a lunch meeting to go to so I had time alone with his PC, and he echoed these fateful words. “Peter, you need to have this fixed by the time I get back”, we’ve all heard those words haven’t we.

After panicking for a couple of minutes, I took a deep breath to clear my head, took a walk to the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee. As I watched to cup fill with coffee, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. In my haste to solve the problem and get out of Chuck’s way, I started to work on solutions without gathering all the information I needed to properly solve the problem. I sat at my bosses desk, re-read his original email, took out a pen and started to write down everything I knew about the problem. I took nothing for granted, checked everything again, starting from the simplest to the most complex. Allowing every answer to bring up more things to check. I started with the cable, even though I knew he could still receive email and surf the web. It checked out, I checked that he could ping the server. Yep, no problem, I checked the TCP/IP settings in his computer…oops…forgot that one the first time I tried to solve his problem. Would you believe, the “Client for Microsoft Networks” was unchecked?!?! A feeling of relief came over me! I restored the setting just as Chuck walked back into his office.

“How is it.”, Chuck asked.

“I just need to reboot and have you log back on and everything should be fine.”, I said. Hoping like crazy this was the problem.

Well, as you can imagine, I rebooted, he logged on and was able to access his shared folder. He followed up with the obvious question, “What caused the problem?” I proceeded to tell him about what I had done to try and solve his problem to make it seem as if I hadn’t wasted his time. Thankfully, he was just happy to have his computer back so he didn’t ask me why it had taken so long.

These are two examples from my past that illustrate the only two times I had not provided the level of service I could have. I am writing them here so as to help you learn from them as I have. Poor service is rampant all around us, as IT professionals, we need to try and live up to a higher standard.

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