Level up: When Tier 1 tech support just isn’t enough

What can you do when you’re experiencing a problem and you know that your vendor’s Tier 1 tech support won’t be able to help? What I mean is that from past experience you know that Tier 1 support workers are generally poorly trained and tend to blindly follow a rote script when they respond to customer support calls. They may also be juggling multiple customer support calls instead of giving their full attention to your problem. If you’re like me, your time is precious and you don’t want to waste it running down some rabbit hole by performing troubleshooting steps you know aren’t going to lead anywhere. You would much rather deal with a support person who really knows their stuff instead of a brain-dead drone who seems more interested in soothing your feelings than solving your problem. After all, words like “I realize this must be very frustrating for you” or “we’re working as hard as we can to resolve your issue” are not going to get your business up and running again! So the question arises, how can you squeeze the best possible tech support out of your vendor or service provider when you have a problem you can’t resolve yourself? Here are two different approaches you can follow.

Pull tricks

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First, here’s a trick you can pull based on my own years of experience working closely with one large software vendor. Whenever we have worked with this vendor we have used a set of remote access tools provided to us by them so we can gain secure access to resources located on their internal corporate network. We have also had smartcards and passwords issued to us by this vendor which provide the necessary credentials for logging onto their network. Now because of password policies enforced by this vendor, we have needed to change these passwords regularly every 90 days to ensure continued access. Unfortunately, the particular configuration of the PCs we use for gaining remote access to their network means that we have to phone their tech support hotline when we want to change our passwords (i.e. the tools they provided us for resetting our passwords ourselves won’t work because of the way the security of our own PCs). So what this means is that every three months I need to call a phone number and press a series of numbers to select the option that will connect me with someone who can help me by resetting my remote access password.

Sounds easy enough, right? The problem, of course, is that resetting a password is considered by the vendor’s tech support department as a “low-priority” issue that can be handled by a support person who resides offshore in a low-income country, has minimal training, and follows a script that doesn’t include the weird security configuration of our particular setup. As a result, when I press 2 then 4 then 7 then 9 to select the “Reset your RAS password” option, I end up with someone who doesn’t understand my problem and keeps trying to get me to try steps I know aren’t going to work for me. Then after repeated attempts of my trying to explain to them why their script won’t work in my case and what they actually need to do, they eventually give up and hand me off to someone higher up the ladder (but still off-shored) and I have to explain everything all over again and hope that this time they get it. Anyways, you can guess how frustrated this makes me. You’ve never experienced anything like that before with tech support, right?

Well, eventually I found a simple solution to my problem. Instead of pressing the phone buttons to select the “Reset your RAS password” option, I decided one day to try pressing buttons that would select an option for a more complicated issue, namely the “Problems with RAS connectivity” option. My reasoning was that something more complicated would be handled by a better trained and more experienced support person, and my guess paid off — I was immediately transferred to someone in-country who from the way he talked obviously knew his stuff! So after he asked me some identification questions and asked me what the problem was, I said plaintively “Could you please help me? I need you to reset my password, I can’t do it myself because of etc.” He immediately understood my problem and had my password reset in under a minute.

There are really two bits of wisdom here, I think. First, do whatever you can to get an experienced support person on the other end of the line right from the start. And second, plead for help. After all, you don’t want that person to say they don’t handle such trivial matters and transfer you to someone offshore to handle you (and I mean “handle” you).

Play nice

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Does the above sound ethical? Well, how ethical is it for a company you bought something from or partner with to provide you with poor tech support that ends up frustrating you and wasting half an hour of your valuable time? On the other hand as an IT pro colleague named Steve explains, maybe it pays to play nice by following the Golden Rule when it comes to dealing with tech support:

“It’s definitely a challenge getting the appropriate tech support technician and I can certainly relate. I’ve experienced some of the same issues you’ve described. Let’s face it, if you’re a competent technician, your issue probably requires the expertise and tools a second- or third-level technician provides. I’ve used several techniques over the years to get past the level 1 roadblock.

“First, I simply ask for the next level, especially if it’s an issue I’ve had before. I’d politely explain to the person who answered the phone that I needed a person with specific expertise in the area. Usually, they accommodated my request. Also, if I’d received help from a higher level technician in the past, I would drop their name. I’d explain that “Bob” on the “Complex Systems” team helped with this issue before.

“Also, when I receive assistance, I record the technician’s name and contact info. In the past, I had technicians give me their direct contact info. When I had an issue that needed that expertise, I would contact the tech directly. Sometimes, he would open a case and work my issue. Other times, he would ask me to call in, get a case opened and then send him the case number. Either way, I would get to the help I needed more quickly.

“At times, usually in extraordinary circumstances, I would contact my sales rep. The sales rep usually has the ability to contact managers and other leaders in the tech support organization that I might never be able to contact directly. Years ago, I was implementing newly purchased software. I had several issues and had opened tech support cases. While tech support was following their normal process and working on my issues, it reached a point where the unresolved issues were impacting my implementation schedule. I contacted my sales rep and explained the situation. He contacted the tech support manager directly. A day or two later, a technician was assigned directly to me and worked with me to get all of my technical issues resolved.

“Lastly, I try to be genuinely nice and grateful. Let’s face it. We want our customers to treat us respectfully. We should treat those who we call for support like we want to be treated. (Yes, I realize that’s the Golden Rule!) Say please and thank you when the first-level person forwards your call. Compliment the technician who resolved the issue by name on surveys. Send a complimentary email to his or her manager if you can. If not, send it to the sales rep who can probably forward it to their boss. It’s been my experience that top-level tech support personnel are a relatively small group, even in large organizations. If you’ve called for help a few times, chances are you’ve received help from the same person more than once. If you’re a jerk, he’ll remember. If you’ve gone out of your way to compliment him, he’ll remember that too. You want the tech to want to help you. It all results in more complete and prompt service.”

Tech support suggestions?

Whether you want to play nice like Steve suggests or pull tricks like I’ve occasionally done (although more often I’m Mr. Nice Guy in these situations) I think all of us will agree on one thing and that’s that dealing with tech support can be very frustrating! If you have any suggestions of your own on how to make support calls a more rewarding and less frustrating experience, feel free to use the comments feature below to express your thoughts.

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