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I manage a couple of small websites for friends and family as their admin, ranging from installing wordpress to full-stack web development. In this position I often have to contact the support of hosting companies or domain providers because some debugging requires information from their side or I don't have the permission to change certain things.

Especially when debugging generic problems I just ask them for general information on the system status or log files. In these cases the tech support does the sensible thing and asserts that I have no idea about the web in general and tries to handle me sensibly and explains (to me) basic concepts in detail.

I have tried different tactics of showing the tech support that I am proficient in their field of work (I work as a web developer). Specifically: using accurate terms and technologies to show my knowledge of them and telling the support that I am the "administrator" of the website in question.

Both approaches have not really been successful. If possible I'd like to avoid writing my academic and professional titles in my email signature as this might be seen as "showing off".

I am especially interested in the views of people who have worked/are working in tech support and know the other side of the fence.

How do I show tech support that I am qualified enough to be given the required information directly without coming off as arrogant?

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    Sorry, but what is the problem with detailed explanations? Do you only feel offended in some way or maybe they do not provide enough information on-topic while still wasting tons of words on explaining basic concepts? The answer to your question might depend on it. – user2851843 Feb 7 '18 at 9:11
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    @user2851843 the problem is that I write a lot of these emails and they are a waste of my and everyone elses time... – Bananenaffe Feb 7 '18 at 9:28
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    Please don't write answers in comments; we have a policy against this. If you have an answer to the question, write it up as an answer. Thanks. – HDE 226868 Feb 9 '18 at 20:12
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    @Abigail, that's not the point of the question. OP is referring to letting people know they can speak like proper adults when talking about technical terms, without going through the usual nanny-like discourse that tech support has to provide to non-techies. For instance, it happened to me with Amazon support. The speaker told me exactly where to touch in order to clear the cache of the Android Amazon App Store. Given that I work as an app developer the guy could have just said "please clear the cache". No need to go through "tap here, then here, now you should see this, tap that"... – Andrea Lazzarotto Feb 12 '18 at 19:34

17 Answers 17

133

Unfortunately the tech support people you are speaking to are probably as frustrated as you are at having to go through the basic stuff with you.

Large companies especially deal with the massive volume of tech support calls they receive by employing some staff on lower pay as a "buffer," dealing with simple or "known" issues so that they don't need to employ as many higher paid "second line" support staff. Very often the first people you get through to on tech support lines are reading from a script. They have to ask you the dumb questions, either because their employer demands they do, or sometimes because their computer system doesn't let them get to the next part of the script unless they play ball. Which is not to say that people employed on first line support are not knowledgeable; in my experience lots of over-qualified people have to take less advanced jobs in IT just to get into the industry. But they have to do what their job description tells them to do.

This does vary between companies. One will employ idiots who speak to you like idiots. Another will employ smart people who apologise to you profusely for having to go through all the pointless steps, but that's just what they have to do! Maybe you should shop around and find one that deals with you the way you want them to.

However I appreciate that price and functionality often dictates who we deal with. So my best advice if you need to stick with them is just to expect the treatment you have become used to and 'play along'. Actually, I find some things often run smoother when you act dumber than you are.

Lets face it, if you already know that your ISP is going to ask you questions from a script when you call them, why bother explaining that there is a problem with the DHCP on your router because your computer is assigning itself an APIPA address when you can just say "I can't get on Google" and they'll do exactly the same thing? Plus, if you use tech speak on someone at first line who doesn't understand it there is a possibility they will think they are supposed to know how to fix this, and then waste time trying to. Whereas if you just use dumb terms like "lights are blinking" then they'll quickly exhaust their script and pass you to the second line where you can happily talk tech-to-tech.

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    In one of my internship, I got to befriend a level 2 tech support, so learned a couple thing of how it worked (in that company). Level 1 was out-sourced, and they had a script to go from, regularly updated. From statistics, this took care of 90% of issues. Level 2 was a double handful of tech people, they had basic troubleshooting tools and knowledge and would solve 90% of the remaining issues. Level 3 was the engineering department (where I was), and as a result of level 1 and 2 efficiency less than 1% of issues ever got escalated. The process worked! – Matthieu M. Feb 7 '18 at 15:04
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    So, +1 for play ball. Level 1 is supposed to filter out all simple issues (and once upon a time, you'll have forgotten something, happens to all of us), and they are not supposed to be creative. They get a script that has been refined over and over. Learn the scripts, prepare the answers, and you'll get to Level 2 more quickly than with any other method. – Matthieu M. Feb 7 '18 at 15:06
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    @MatthieuM. Yep, even the techie people sometimes overlook simple solutions. I suggested someone clear their browser cache or something like that once when they couldn't access our site. They proceeded to rant at me saying they did tech support for a living and didn't need to be told to do something that basic. I simply replied, "so that means you tried it already and it didn't work?" Turns out, no, he hadn't tried it, and yes, it fixed it. If you haven't actually tried the simple fixes, then go along with it. It just might work. – Kat Feb 7 '18 at 23:14
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    The level 1 tech support also has no way to understand how in depth your knowledge is without starting by the basic questions and taking time to see what you understand. I remember this one guy I help who bragged about having a master's degree in engineering, talked about big projects he had worked on, and ended up not knowing how to copy paste... – everyone Feb 8 '18 at 16:45
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    Play ball the first time. When you hit level 2, ask them how to get in touch with them again and write it down. I now know how to get directly to level 2 with most of the TS departments I call. Then, the next time I call, I can "Hey, I'm following up on a call with your engineering services department, can you connect me?" and get through instantly to someone who knows what is going on. – TemporalWolf Feb 8 '18 at 23:35
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I've been a freelance web developer for a number of years and dealt with this situation countless times.

The best course of action I've found is to call them rather than e-mail them, explain the problem like you would to another developer as simply as you can and ask if it's possible to get the information from the sysadmin team.

This approach seems to work (for me) because you display knowledge of the field naturally and you also show them you know how system administration in general works.

Most importantly don't throw in buzzwords for the sake of it, this will make you come off the wrong way and like you have no idea what you're doing.

Calling over e-mailing has a number of advantages, you're able to empathize with the person and they're able to hear how comfortable you are with the topic over the phone.

90% of the time they'll elevate you to someone who knows what to do, or they'll get in touch with the correct department.

If you e-mail them, you're likely to get a stock answer because the people (or AI) responding to this level of support will just copy-paste a general response first.

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    Yes. As someone who has worked in tech support, I can tell you that the people who try to sound more tech-savvy than they really are, and play Buzzword Bingo, just make things more complicated by leading a wild-goose chase. If you just tell me in plain English what you've done and how the system responded, we can get somewhere. If you use terminology you don't really understand, we can't. – Monty Harder Feb 7 '18 at 22:16
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I currently work for a small IT company that provides support for businesses around the city. I am the tech support/help desk for the company.

Process

Our company probably works different than the large corporations - when you email the helpdesk@ email address for our company, the email goes directly to our ticketing software, which then sends us an email telling us that you entered a ticket. As our IT department consists of 5 people (including me), when a ticket comes in, whoever has dealt with this problem before, or whoever knows how to fix it will be the one to contact you. **It is worth noting here that I am entry-level (tier 1 support) but the other 4 guys would be considered tier 3 level.

When a ticket is emailed in wanting a password reset, I take it. Or - and I want to emphasize this - when a ticket comes in with insufficient information, I take it. For example, if you email in a ticket "My outlook isn't working", that ticket gets assigned to me. I get back to you and go through the process of

"Does it open? Do you have internet? Do you know the right password?"

And if your answers tell me it's something too advanced for me, only then would I escalate it.

Put as much information about the problem itself into the email, within reason. No need to write a paragraph, that takes time away from you and from us. Bullet points are perfect (preferred).

Our phone process is different to emails. If you call the help desk, you get me. Just me. That's it. And I know nothing. Because we are a small company, I don't have the corporate script per se, but I do have the same questions I ask everyone: when did it start, are you the only one having the problem, any specific error messages, etc. Regulars who call now answer each question in order before I have to ask (wonderful people). Most times, when people call with a problem I am the only one in the office - the technicians are busy. Insanely busy. So when you discribe a problem to me to which I have no idea how to fix, I take notes. Lots of notes. And then I tell you I'll enter a ticket and someone will get back to you. That's about it.

Recap

If you email helpdesk (us specifically), if you use appropriate technical detail you will probably get someone who knows what they're doing, and will greatly appreciate it.

If you call, you will get me only. I will ask you lots of questions, with awkward pauses in between while I write my notes, and at the end of it I probably won't be able to help you. Technical detail is still welcome, but there are some questions I will ask you anyway even if they sound useless to you (someone else might have had the same problem at the same time - red flag).

My Advice

Go back through the emails you have exchanged with the helpdesk previously. Look for certain questions that have been asked every time, and put those answers into the initial email you send about the new problem. Try to add things that make the potential problem sound local. The more information you give them that you know they will be asking for in their script, the faster you will get someone who can help you. And they will thank you for it.

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    "Put as much information about the problem itself into the email". This is where you show your ability to know what is important and relevant and establish your technical level. Don't be brief, don't imply, and break it down Barney style so the person receiving it knows to escalate your ticket. – YetAnotherRandomUser Feb 12 '18 at 1:29
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I used to work in web hosting support, so I can provide a perspective from the other side.

One of the greatest challenges in the job is properly gauging the technical level of the customer. Depending on the host, you get tickets from any one from total amateurs to professionals who are more qualified than you are. Obviously you need to tailor your response to make it understandable to them, and sometimes you'll get it wrong.

From experience I can say that professionals will be more forgiving if you go through things at a basic level than amateurs who have no idea what you're talking about, so people will probably err on the side of caution and not assume the customer has a high level of expertise.

So what can you do to demonstrate your technical knowledge? Well, you are doing the right thing by using the correct technical terms. That will give an indication to the person handling the ticket. Explicitly explaining your role as the administrator or developer should also help.

Explain what you have done before raising the ticket. If you're just after the logs you can say "I have checked the control panel and FTP root directory and I haven't found any way to access the error logs". That will give further indication that you know how things work.

Refer to previous tickets where you have asked the same thing, with a ticket ID if possible. Assuming you're dealing with the same host, this should get your ticket resolved in a single update (assuming the support are anywhere near competent). They should just read through the previous ticket and know exactly what you need.

This might not be possible, but it would help if you invested in reseller hosting which is designed for developers who host many websites and move the sites you manage under it. The host should easily be able to tell from your account that you're a professional. Also such hosting services probably make the logs available without having to ask support.

Things not to do include asking for escalation to second line support in your first update. That's just not going to happen. First line support workers are likely rated on how many tickets they escalate and won't do so unless they're certain they need to. Don't get angry and start giving poor ratings as that can make people less co-operative.

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    "Explain what you have done before raising the ticket." This is what I came here to answer (but now don't need to). I get my best results by demonstrating appropriate troubleshooting up front, as part of the initial report. – Monica Cellio Feb 7 '18 at 23:39
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    The most important part of being a tech support person is also the most surprising: the ability to communicate. You have to be able to assess the person on the other line's situation, abilities, & things they are overlooking in order to provide them what they are looking for, even if they don't know what they are looking for. You will mess up and get called arrogant or condescending, and there are people you'll never be able to help because of their ego. The rest of the time, you'll be able to solve the problem. – YetAnotherRandomUser Feb 12 '18 at 1:31
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The best advice I can give you is: Seek a smaller provider which often are less formal and more approachable. When you found one where you have a good support, request your friends and family to move to this. You are doing something for them, then it can only happen on your terms.

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    I totally agree. Some time ago I needed a good company for MS Exchange mail hosting. I read reviews and I made a contract with a big company with good reviews. And then the problem started when I needed their support. For every support request they has a standard list with 10 questions and they didn't do anything before these questions were answered. I understand that this helps for beginners and helps to keep people away from the support. But it is totally annoying for people who know what is relevant and what not. I changed to another company who does not ask annoying questions anymore. – user8838 Feb 7 '18 at 11:22
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    @King Graham: You are right, but as the other answers suggest, sometimes there is no solution. Sidestepping may be a means to achieve the end goal by OP, not to wast more time then needed dealing with support. Just wanted to offer that alternative. – user6109 Feb 7 '18 at 12:28
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    My experience is that smaller providers are not better at tech support. – paparazzo Feb 7 '18 at 14:48
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    @Daniel +1! Of course, if you're too successful with migrating all your clients and friends to your friendly small provider it grows into a big provider and needs to hire cheap first level support to deal with all the customers ;-) Heisenberg for customer support quality ;-) – AllTheKingsHorses Feb 7 '18 at 15:58
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    @AllTheKingsHorses: But of course, before making your provider that incredibly successful, you bought equity in it long ago, thus you now have time dealing with first-level-support while you enjoy your dividends. – user6109 Feb 7 '18 at 16:04
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I hope you can take a deep breath.....

Tech support works with scripts. Just get to know these scripts by heart and answer all questions from the script you can in one long sentence, before they ask it.

Like in "Hi I have a problem with this and that...I have restarted the router, I have checked the cables, the red light is on, the green light is off, not other lights are blinking......etc.etc.etc.

That way the person at the other end of the line can just go click-click-click and you'll be 10 steps further in their script in 5 seconds.

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    So true. I have a friend who once had a runaway dump truck clobber the pole in front of his house. He called the cable company to schedule someone to come out -> "Can you try turning off the modem and turn it back on again." – user1982 Feb 7 '18 at 22:20
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    except sometimes they'll still ask you the same questions that you just answered... – Ploni Feb 7 '18 at 23:07
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    Having worked several help desk positions, I have to give this a downvote. Getting ahead of someone on script will just confuse them and delay your help. Be prepared with the answers, but wait for their prompts. They also need time to write notes about what you are saying, and just blasting details from the get go will only lead to asking you to repeat things. – aherocalledFrog Feb 8 '18 at 17:21
  • @aherocalledFrog If the person answering the call misses something, nothing prevents them from asking you to repeat something. I think the key point that should be added to this answer is to not sound or act annoyed if the support tech asks for something you've already rattled off. To accept that you gave them a whole bunch of information at once, and that they might legitimately have missed or forgot one bit of it. Or, especially if you know the order in which they ask these questions, to take it slower; don't say it all in five seconds, take half a minute. Give them time to click! – a CVn Feb 11 '18 at 13:10
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Often it will not help you. Many support hotlines have a script, they need to use. So if you have a problem with your internet connection and your router tells you the exact reason, they will nevertheless ask you to reboot your router.

You can either play along and just do it or you tell them you've done it already. Then they can make their checkmark "customer restarted the router, problem persists" and ask the next question. Maybe they measure the line (and will notice that the line is perfectly fine, just as your internet router tells you in its interface). Next checkmark. Objecting will not help, if they are required to do this check by their protocol. So let them do. The less you object the faster they will finish all tests and come to the actual problem.

Yes of course it is frustrating. And possibly for the support person as well. First level support is a frustrating job. But on the other hand you need to understand them. There are really a lot of people calling their internet is not working when they unplugged the router to plug in the vacuum cleaner. And asking them if they think they know what they are doing will not help, because many people will overestimate their knowledge, making the support even more complicated as the tech guy may at first believe them and only find out later that they told wrong things because they do not actually know what they are pretending to know.

You may have luck and get the next time the same support person or someone who has a protocol of the last call and already know the usual problems you're having and how to solve them.

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    This comment is applicable to most of these answers - it's rather aggravating that we as customers of the tech industry seem to be willing to accept "restart it" as a solution, and more aggravating as someone in the tech industry that we are not generally prepared to invest enough effort into producing products and services which don't need to be restarted as a matter of course. – Phil Feb 10 '18 at 4:59
  • The point is not that the device needs to be restarted. In most cases it does not. But a restart resets a lot of things, which may be the actual problem. So it is an easy solution and easy to describe on the phone. Debbuging the actual problem needs more time and is more complicated depending on the expertise of the customer. And for the people organizing the hotline it is a matter of propabilities. When 60% of the problems go away by rebooting, telling customers to reboot will save support time and make the customer more happy than half an hour of debugging something they don't understand. – allo Feb 10 '18 at 16:53
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    And so rather than the vendor debugs the problem and fixes it, they list restarting it as the solution. Or rather than shipping a bug free product, they ship one with bugs and advice to reboot to fix those bugs. Only in IT is this state of affairs accepted. Anyway, this is becoming a vent, and as I originally said, is applicable anywhere. – Phil Feb 11 '18 at 18:18
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One solution that fixed this issue with my ISP was that when I went through the first and second line and got in touch with the people that fixed my problem, I asked them if they could give me one of their personal numbers in case the same problem happened again.

The problem did occur a couple more times, and I just directly called the same guy.

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    Good first answer, but if you could explain a little on the 'how to ask part' (what to keep in mind, can the OP directly ask, or should it be phrased more subtle?) that would improve it even more :) – Tinkeringbell Feb 7 '18 at 14:20
  • Be very, very careful with this, because it can work, but it also can backfire horribly. At the very least, if you get such contact details, don't abuse the privilege of having them, accept that the person might simply forward whatever information you provide them with to their official support ticket system, and accept that since you're targetting a specific individual (who you don't even know if they're working, sick, on vacation, occupied with other tasks, or otherwise), having to wait days for a response isn't the least bit unreasonable. – a CVn Feb 11 '18 at 13:16
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I am especially interested in the views of people who have worked/are working in tech support and know the other side of the fence.

Check.

How do I show tech support that I am qualified enough to be given the required information directly without coming off as arrogant?

To quote The Usual Suspects: "In my opinion, it can't be done".

  1. They might not be qualified to know the required information.
  2. If they know it, they are likely not allowed to give it out.
  3. If they somehow haven't been prohibited from giving out certain information, there is still no way to convince them that you can be trusted with it.
  4. If the hosting company (or any organization that you're trying to get support from) wanted you to know something, they would have already told you or made that information available.

Frankly, people who feel "qualified" to look behind the curtain (and this especially includes developers) are one of the main categories of annoying customers for tech support people. The curtain is there for many good reasons, not only because most people wouldn't understand what's back there. The fact that you want to know more than you've already been told actually suggests to me that you might have less of an understanding of the big picture than you might think.

There is a solution to your problem. If you really need to have knowledge and control of the systems that are hosting the web site(s) that you are supporting, then you'll have to choose to manage those systems yourself. That doesn't mean buying expensive servers or paying a lot for amazing bandwidth somewhere. I suggest you try out a public cloud service like Microsoft Azure or Amazon AWS and see if that fits your needs better. With services like that, you can choose how much control you have (more control is more expensive). One way to look at your current situation is that you're not paying them enough to tell you the gory details, not that you're not knowledgeable enough.

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    "The fact that you want to know more than you've already been told actually suggests to me that you might have less of an understanding of the big picture than you might think." I don't see how me asking for information like "what DNS aliases are configured for this domain" shows that I am somehow lacking understanding? – Bananenaffe Feb 8 '18 at 6:55
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    @Bananenaffe That's an excellent question! I don't know all the details of the scenario you're presenting, on the surface I'm struck by two things: First, I think you're talking about a "CNAME record for a zone", since there's no type of DNS record that is properly called an "alias", so right there I'm starting to wonder. Second DNS zone information is sensitive. Many years ago it was possible for anyone to query a DNS server and literally get back all the records at once, but that was a security issue. Now you have to be an admin for the zone to get that info. – Todd Wilcox Feb 8 '18 at 14:27
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    @Bananenaffe If you're already an admin for the zone in question, then the proper way to get that information is to log on to the DNS server or DNS control console and read it right from there. If you're not an admin for the zone, you're not supposed to have that information. Note that the person you are talking to on the phone is almost certainly not a DNS zone admin, so they also should not have that information. If they somehow did have it, they definitely shouldn't give it out over the phone. This is for your protection. – Todd Wilcox Feb 8 '18 at 14:29
  • I'm sure this talk of DNS is a tangent, but the answer to that question is readily available by asking any recursive name server (risk: cached answer), or any name server that is authoritative for the zone (risk: stale zone), or the single name server that is the start of authority. No need to ask a person. – Phil Feb 10 '18 at 5:03
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The simple answer is that you cannot - there are no words that let you sidestep the checklist process that most first line support teams use. Well, aside from knowing the answers to give that get you through the shortest chain to a point where they need to escalate to second line...

Instead, look at whether they offer a support option where you have a dedicated second line contact. This will be more expensive, but potentially worth it.

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    Hello Rory, my old friend. I was just going to post this same answer. I am from the other side of the fence as the asker requested and I talk to people who "know a lot about IT" often. But unless they are actually on my team, they can't actually know the specific systems that they need support on, and the specific knowledge is what solves the problem, not generic IT knowledge. The asker has to just go through the motions with tech support. – Todd Wilcox Feb 7 '18 at 20:49
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Feel free to hint, brag, or both! The best CS reps should easily take a hint from clear language and a signature like John Appleseed, JavaScript/Ruby Developer, but any will catch on with a simple line like "I know what I'm doing, so I'd appreciate an extra-technical explanation!"

Consider that many customers are rude or arrogant, so you can safely brag a little and still come off as comparatively wonderful! Help them help you with that short brag and they'll only be appreciative. And remember: be nice and it's ok to lose the modesty for a sentence or two!

Source: I'm a CS rep at a tech company, and I appreciate it when savvy customers clue me into it!

  • I thought you were being sarcastic in the first paragraph. I've upvoted you, but not all CS reps seem to feel the same as you do. :- ) – J. Chris Compton Feb 9 '18 at 20:25
  • @J.ChrisCompton Haha, apologies, not sarcastic I promise :). I try to do it a little differently than most! – owlswipe Feb 9 '18 at 21:14
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    No need to apologize. The bold "be nice" and 'limit your bragging to a sentence or two' clarifies your tone perfectly – J. Chris Compton Feb 9 '18 at 22:20
  • This would be my advice. Brag along, with no subtleties. You are using a paid service and there is no obligation to be particularly nice (beyond the minimum required by common decency). Everybody is happier if the conversation starts from the right spot. – Peter A. Schneider Feb 12 '18 at 10:30
  • @Peter A. Schneider - see my post. The relevant part being that you do want the rep on your side - it is true that sometimes it won't matter, but often it matters... matters a lot. I conceed that you are using a paid service and your obligation to 'be nice' is different than it would be in a social situation. I'm just giving you my opinion that if you are nicer than most people whom they deal with, your life (usually) becomes easier. – J. Chris Compton Feb 12 '18 at 20:31
2

First of all, I would start off presenting yourself:

Dear XYZ support team

I am the web developer in charge of example.com website.

By presenting you this way, you are establishing the frame to treat you, hinting that you should be presupposed to be somewhat proficient, so they could choose to answer in a more technical detail. Note that if it actually was your fault (such as not finding the changes because you were connecting to the wrong webhost), the higher knowledge you implied to have, it's more likely they will probably look down on you as not a good "expert" (even though we all make silly mistakes from time to time).¹

I don't think that telling them that you are the "administrator" of the website conveys this, since that could apply to anyone with an administrator account on the CMS, regardless of their proficiency.

¹ Not that it will matter much after they close the ticket. Unless you contact them so often that they remember you, which would be nice if they have a good opinion, and probably mean they will dumb down even more if they think you have no idea at all.

Second, explain clearly the issue:

My customer is experiencing an issue where his WordPress 4.9.4 install doesn't show the updated content after editing. He claims this happens on different computers and browsers. It will eventually be shown, though.

I am stating the problem, the technology used up to the actual version. And also, the facts that you didn't verify yourself are being qualified as such (it wouldn't be unlikely that you were told something that was wrong).

Third, state the troubleshooting you already performed and their results:

There is no caching plugin installed, and the option "Show stale content" that is available on the site preferences is disabled.

Then, you may advance your hypothesis:

Do you have any other caching layer that may be affecting the customer? Is there a caching proxy (such as squid or varnish) serving the pages before being served by Apache?

Here you are guessing that there is a proxy serving cached pages. The mention of actual packages can be useful in case the support team didn't know about "caching proxies", but remembers that there is something called "varnish" installed there.

Thanks for your attention

Be polite in your tickets, keep the ticket identifiers on the subject, take care of your orthography, organise the text in paragraphs. A text that is nice to read will be easier to handle than one where you need to guess what it is talking about, and just for that it will probably be answered quicker. Plus the effort spared on understanding it can be directed to the actual problem.

Include screenshots if needed (and supported by the ticketing system). In same cases they may show the problem better than a text description (sometimes, there is a crucial hint there that can be obtained). If you are using the command line, provide both the command and its output.

Beware that making a text too long may have the opposite effect, too. If you think the long explanation can actually discourage the reply, you can arrange differently:

Dear XYZ support team

Do you have any caching layer in front of your FooWebsites package?

The issue I am facing is that the customer doesn't see immediately the changes he performed in WordPress 4.9.4.

I have already checked the following things:

(…)

If some of the data is long (like a debug file), you can provide that on an attachment. This way, if irrelevant, it can be skipped by not opening. Depending on the ticket platform, they may otherwise need to scroll down seven pages of logs before reading the next reply.

If there is some extra information they would be unlikely to need, you can simply offer to provide it (“I recorded a video performing the publication steps and where the problem can be seen, would you be interested on it?”).

You should sometimes follow-up acknowledging that their solution worked. Specially if you have been back and forth with the tech support. Rather than presenting a list of possibilities for fixing the stale content issue and not hearing back, it is nice to receive:

Thanks a lot, changing that option in cPanel solved it. You are the best!

This way, the HelpDesk can note the issue as fixed as and close it. Take it with a grain of salt though, as it may be that the ticket had already been closed after their answer, and thanking them would reopen it (generating more work). So if you think this will be the case, it may be desirable not to do it (specially if it was an easy answer for them). If you don't know the status of the ticket at their side, I would recommend erring on the side of acknowledging the solution and thanking, though. The people answering you are humans (hopefully), and deserve being treated as such. It is generally really simple to reclose such a "Thanks" message.

In general, try to follow guidelines for posing technical questions, such as the famous Eric S. Raymond How To Ask Questions The Smart Way.

It may take a bit longer to state what you tried instead of simply saying "WordPress doesn't work", but that way you are presenting your proficiency by your work. And it may even spare you the question entirely (stating the issue may hint a solution, or provide a way by which you can get confirmation of what is happening by yourself). It will anyway be faster than if they had to start asking you "In what way it doesn't work, what did you tried?" following a script.

I recommend sending an email/ticket instead of calling. Unless you have an expensive support contract (and probably even then), calls will be handled by the lowest Tier, and may actually need to convert that into a ticket if escalating as noted by Gypsy). If you contact by email, the information you provided (not the way the first Tier understood some parts of what you said) is available to anyone handling the ticket (even yourself!), which allows a less noisy communication. It also spares you from having to explain everything from the beginning to every agent each time you are transferred.

You mention that you write a lot of these emails and they are a waste of your and everyone elses time. I would argue that there is something wrong if you need to spend too much time in relation to the "normal" work to keep the thing up. Perhaps you are not so proficient [in the way your friends WordPress is installed], the webhost is doing some uncommon things, their tech support is incompetent… At one point it may make sense to switch providers.

You may find out that even if your question is crystal clear, you are being provided long answers with many points not too relevant to your issue, "wasting their time". For example, after asking to which host you should ssh to, they are not only indicating where to find it, but also how to access by FTP and explaining how to download and run PuTTY.

This doesn't mean that by not grasping that you are proficient they spent a lot of time in order to explain you basic concepts. When there is a frequent question, there will be a template for the solution, and it is actually faster to reply explaining everything than cutting down to just what was asked. So, if there is a case that the rest may be useful, it makes sense to leave it even if it may be a bit redundant for your profile.

Having a written communication goes both ways, as you can skim the reply to the part where they explain what you wanted. However, if you need to ask back, do read everything and confirm it was not at another part of their reply.

Nevertheless, no matter how well explained is everything, sometimes you will get in contact with a tech support who will fail to properly address your request the first time.

  • +1 for linking to the ESR document. In other words, just the facts: I'm trying to do X, I attempted Y, I expected Z, but instead I got W. – Matthew Leingang Feb 9 '18 at 17:51
2

I'm a CS student and have called our ISP multiple times because of network issues, but never to any avail. They just said to restart the router and call again if the problem persists over a few days.
At some point, I noticed an error message in the routers log that strongly implied that the problem was within their network. What I did then, to get around the telephone tech-support that doesn't seem to know much, is to tweet at them.

This has multiple effects:

  • If they don't respond, it's bad PR
  • They can respond when they find the time to do so
  • They can fetch the people who are actually supposed to know how to answer

In my case, I was asked to give a bit more information over Twitter Direct Messaging and was about a week later called by an expert.

But if you aren't reporting a problem on their side; if you're only asking a question, then telephone support would probably be the better choice because you haven't tried some of the ridiculously simple solutions (at least I always forget to try one) and sometimes we just don't know their internal architecture.
In this case, the other answers are better-fitting. However, what speaks against just straight up telling them that you're working as [Insert title of your position] and you know what you're talking about?

  • +1 for creativity, even though this seems to be a highly specific scenario and they might just answer with "call tech support at xy" ;) – Bananenaffe Feb 9 '18 at 6:17
  • I think twitter support got overwhelmed at some point. It worked at first when Comcast rolled it out, but then they became unresponsive. Most other companies would probably follow suit. – YetAnotherRandomUser Feb 12 '18 at 1:41
1

I find most tech support is filled with inexperienced and frustrated staff who just run off a script. They're not paid well. They are Tier One support to filter out most of the incoming calls. Tech support is designed in tiers.

I typically request to speak with an engineer when I find myself detecting an inexperienced support person. It's not their fault. They're just doing their job the best they can and often restricted by their company from doing anything else but follow the script.

You must understand that tech support constantly gets bombarded by calls from people who refuse to learn or accept genuine solutions. While at the same time some of them are so inexperienced that they often don't provide good solutions and don't know it. Furthermore many of them are paid or rated by the number of tickets they close, not solutions. It's a bad recipe and unfortunately it has become the norm.

Take stack-exchange as an example. It's like a tech support. It has a lot of experienced people but is plagued by contributors who are not effective at dealing with amateurs in a professional manner. Now add the voting system into the mix and it's a lot like getting evaluated for closing tickets instead of delivering solutions.

Some people, regardless of their experience level are horrible as teachers. A school teacher gets asked the same question every year. Every year they answer them, even if it seems redundant, and the answers are simple to THEM.

Teaching requires patience and the acceptance of being asked "dumb questions" repeatedly. If they cannot handle that, then they should simply not teach or pretend to be a teacher. Stack-exchange is not teaching or education. It's just giving out answers for upvotes. Just like some tech support is about closing tickets.

Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime.

My advice is if you are looking for a quick and accurate answer ask to have the trouble ticket elevated immediately and to speak with an engineer that will recognize your knowledge and speak with you on your level.

1

I usually start out with something like:

Hey, I'm a PhD in [field] and do [whatever] professionally. Before calling you, I've narrowed down the problem to [something on their end], so that's what needs to be addressed. If I could speak to an engineer about [specific problem], that'd be great; but if we've gotta walk through the script, let's just knock it out quickly.

If they end up requiring the script, then the best way to use your expertise is to run through it quickly. Keep the chit-chat to a minimum and just do the stuff efficiently. If they start describing how to perform some step, you might interrupt them with, "Got it, just a sec.", then let them know once you're ready for the next step.

Or if tech support's via email, then you might write up a problem description for them with the data you've collected and a list of things for them to check on their end. This can allow 'em to forward it to an engineer.

  • If I ever got that as an email, I would make sure to cover all of the basics before advancing to what you thought the problem was. I've never had someone puff up their chest that much and turn out to actually know what they are talking about. Also, every time I skipped the basics, the problem turned out to be something basic that was overlooked or assumed. – YetAnotherRandomUser Feb 12 '18 at 1:39
  • @YetAnotherRandomUser Odd to see it as puffing one's chest; to me, it's about being concise and getting stuff done quickly. I haven't worked a tech support line before; are client interactions really that predictably silly? Most of the times I've had to call tech support, it was to report a bug or inform an ISP/power-company that the net/power's out. While I can appreciate that tech support lines would get other sorts of calls, surely bug reports and service interruptions aren't too uncommon? – Nat Feb 12 '18 at 8:59
  • Tier 1 tech support is an often times justified response to help vampires, the ignorant, & the nontechnical people who call in looking for help. Oblivious nontechnical people who wag their egos around (to varying degrees) are way more common than you might think. Then there are the "I've been doing this 20 years" crowd. (1 of 2) – YetAnotherRandomUser Feb 12 '18 at 19:51
  • (2 of 2) 20+ years ago, that was a viable metric for skill. Today, with fast paced technology? It's an opposite indicator: why aren't you doing anything better after so many years in the business? Good, competent tech support longs for real problems on hard issues. Same pheonmenon that Stack Overflow deals with all the time. – YetAnotherRandomUser Feb 12 '18 at 19:52
1

I am especially interested in the views of people who ... know the other side of the fence.

Yep, in college and just after, I had the title TS (tech support). Since then through the years I have found that all developers do CS (customer support) in some way - and the better you are at it, the better you're regarded... but that's off topic.

How do I show that I am qualified enough... without coming off [the wrong way]?

Standard disclaimer that it DOES actually DEPEND: (1) on the company you're dealing with, (2) on the rep you are working with, and (3) how you are interacting with them.


FIRST TIME with THIS ISSUE (little or no history with the company)
The short answer is that your quickest solution is to do ALL of the following:

  1. be nice to the rep
  2. politely answer their questions
  3. do what they asked you to do,
  4. even if this means doing the same thing again
  5. answer briefly, then stop talking

NOTE you can combine those: {1} {2} "Okay, give me a moment, {3} I'm getting up to do that. {4} As I mentioned earlier, I have already cycled my router, but {3} we will give it another shot. {3} I have just unplugged it again, counted to ten, and {3} plugged it back in." {5}

If you choose to say 'I already told you that' {4} then your tone of voice is critical.

If you say the above in a snarky/belittling tone the rep isn't going to want to help you. And that does matter.

Smile between each response - especially if you are tired or annoyed.

My first TS job there was another rep that used language (both cursing and sexist) that you would have though would get him fired - but he had some of the best customer reviews... and I'm not aware that he EVER had a complaint against him - he was ALWAYS smiling when he dealt with customers, and they all evidently took it as joking around. (I wouldn't try it... but it worked for him)

My point in the previous is that it doesn't matter so much exactly what you say.
Your purpose is to get the rep on your side, so s/he wants to help you - that's when you get what you want. And, in fact, the rep wants the same thing: a quick solution.


REPEAT ISSUE (or some history)
You have additional data. Use this to your advantage!
Let's say you need logs; you can't get them yourself, but you have gotten them before:

  • Hey this is Bananenaffe again.
  • I'm having the same issue I was having in Nov 2017.
  • Could you provide me the logs again? They were exactly what I needed!
  • I spoke with <whoever> on Nov <day and time>. S/he gave me the logs with ticket <number>.

This demonstrates the TWO things the rep MOST wants to hear:

  1. it is not a rule violation (someone else did it)
  2. there is a quick close to this ticket.

Hope this helps

1

I have worked in 1st, 2nd and 3rd level technical support for an internet bank, IT development for various companies and web development as a freelancer. I've handled everything from password resets through to developing complex business systems using a variety of languages on a variety of platforms. Hope you don't think I am showing off!

Anyway, even when I first started out and I was relatively inexperiened, 95% of customers had a lower level of knowledge than I did when it came to computers so you would by default try not to use jargon, assume they hadn't done anything to resolve the problem etc. With experience you would get to have an idea about how knowledgeable the customer was just by talking to them for a few seconds, but you have to be careful not to assume things.

Companies do tend to use scripts but the good ones will allow their staff to stray off the script once they are experienced enough to do so as long as it benefits the customer and the company, usually this involves fixing the problem more quickly.

Nowadays when I want technical support I will email my web host and give them all the necessary information, i.e. what I have tried to do to resolve, what I think the problem is etc and usually it is fixed first time within a few hours. If I need urgent assistance I will ring them but 99% of the time email is sufficient and less stressful, rarely do I need to send a second email.

You may want to consider a new webhost as service can vary quite a bit in my experience.

protected by apaul Feb 9 '18 at 22:32

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