Technical support workers can act as a company’s frontline ambassadors of good will and play a vital role in client retention.
However tech support teams are most effective when themselves supported by company programs that respond to their needs, says an industry insider.
Unfortunately many senior executives neglect technical support teams, because they are not directly linked with revenue generation, notes Randy Miller, director of services for Journyx Inc.
Based in Austin, Texas, Journyx is a developer of Web-based time tracking software.
Benefits provided by a tech support team are generally intangible, Miller notes.
“The support technician is the person customers go to when they need help because your product let them down. If your support team can’t find the answer – that reflects negatively on the company.”
However, Miller said, the effectiveness of a support team is directly related to the support it gets from the company.
A salesperson by training, Miller says he got into the technical support trade when he “inherited” the department from a departing colleague at Journyx sometime during the 1990s.
At that time the company’s support team consisted of one senior technician and two junior technicians.
The team supported 400 companies and an estimated 10,000 users, recalled Miller.
It often took technicians an hour to resolve a problem and customer complaints were frequent, he said. “The situation was pretty bad and the team was frustrated.”
In the process of improving performance, Miller eventually had to let go of the team’s two junior staff members, but he learned a many valuable lessons in building a strong tech support team.
Here are eight of them:
Document problems and fixes
When Miller took over the department, he found technicians often got stuck on problems even if they had handled a similar issue before.
The team did not have a list of standard procedures for tackling their more frequent calls. “The members kept re-inventing the wheel each time they received a call for help.”
Miller had technicians jotting down notes on how they resolved problems. The notes were then passed around to other team members as “cheat sheets.”
The department took it a step further by compiling the list into a sort of quick reference for commonly encountered issues.
The simple solution cut problem resolution time from hours to just minutes, Miller said.
Coordinate efforts with other departments
If a company’s business is going great, then the technical support team will certainly hear about it by way of increased customer calls, said Miller.
To reduce the number of issues technicians have to deal with, the support team must coordinate efforts with other company departments, Miller said.
The Journyx executive has technicians who regularly meet with research and development staff. “We make sure we’re in the know when a new product or upgrade is being developed.”
This way, Miller’s technicians can inform developers which features were a big hit with users, and which features they disliked.
When the upgrade or new product comes out, it’s certain not to have the issues that gave support technicians a headache.
Listen to your people
Conditions in the technical support industry are not the greatest, says Miller.
The pay is considered among the lowest in the IT industry.
The environment is fraught with frustration and stress because workers often deal with people who are already stressed out and at their wit’s end.
Managers must make an effort to keep channels of communication with technicians open. Regular meeting, however, should be kept brief so they don’t intrude on urgent duties.
Provide training and a career path
Miller says the technical support field also has one of the highest turnover rates.
“One colleague expressed surprise when I told him that I had a technician who would be celebrating his second year with us.”
He said it’s almost a given that people in technical support don’t expect to stay there for long. Most want to graduate into programming or become a developer.
The key to keeping talent is not to hold them back, Miller said.
He suggests companies provide education subsidies or offer studying employees flexible work hours to enable them to pursue courses.
Managers must also regularly meet with employees to discuss career goals and opportunities.
“These talented individuals will eventually move up. If you can provide a path for them they can move up in your company.”
Attitude trumps aptitude
Building a winning team starts with hiring the right members. The best way to support a team is to fill it with good members, said Miller.
When recruiting personnel, Miller looks out for people with a sense of responsibility.
“Technical know-how can be learned, but the right attitude is harder to develop,” he said.
In job interviews, Miller always keeps his ears open for applicants who actually utter the magic words “I took responsibility for….”
“I want people who will take ownership of a task and wrestle it until it’s done.”
Curiosity will get you a job
People who have a natural curiosity for finding out how things work are a natural for technical support, Miller said.
Managers should look out for candidates who like to solve puzzles, assemble things or tinker with equipment.
At one time, Miller hired a candidate who had purchased a welding kit because he wanted to learn how to create metal sculptures on his own.
“This type of people will have the proper mind frame and patience to tackle new or complex problems thrown at them.”
Get good communicators
Technicians will be constantly dealing with stressed out, irate and frustrated customers. A good team member must be able to convey information clearly and courteously irrespective of the situation, Miller says.