Setting up
On-line Tech Support

"The moral of the story to suppliers is, don't underestimate the power of decent technical support material. A nice reference guide to your technology is much more useful than a mouse mat, honestly." - Chris Rand, editor ''

Browse most technology orientated company websites and it is soon apparent they are full of technical sales data regarding their products, but seriously lacking any technical support material. If questioned, the answer will probably be "we have a technical support department to look after that". Ah! The customer feels a level of comfort knowing there is a support team.

Then, a breakdown in the early hours of the morning and there is just no-one to turn to. What the supplier (or, for that matter, the customer) forgot is such departments are usually office hours only! Now he has to either attempt a repair himself, or is forced to wait until the techs have arrived at work and have consumed some all-important caffeine. If he himself is a supplier, then he is in the rather embarrassing position of explaining this to his client. This does not do product reputation much good!

It is clearly understood that not all companies can afford to offer 24 hour 'hot-line' style tech support. This alone is quite some feat to accomplish. But there is now a tool that is available 24 hours a day - the Internet.

At a small, but relevant, tangent; The correct approach to Technical Support to be taken by the members of the team should be a striving to do themselves out of a job. Many will not agree with this principle especially as it is likely to be viewed with the thought they may soon have no work, followed by 'out-of-work'. This will not happen as there will always be new clients wanting help. The real aim is to ensure the job is so well done that people don't have to come back. This creates time to concentrate on the new customer making him feel rather special but without increasing the workload which remains at an acceptable level.

Back to the subject; The mere mention of setting up on-line technical support information usually has the tech support team cringing at the thought of "we're going to be asked to create websites!". Half of that is true, but the approach to the subject is at the root of what invokes such a response.

There are many instances where the help offered by the tech support department will be in the form of an email or two (or many!). When a customer asks a question already asked and answered in an email to another, the usual course of action taken by the tech support chap will be to simply copy and paste what was previously said into a new email and this then sent to the awaiting recipient.

If the workload becomes nigh unbearable, management may step in and suggest a website development team become involved to set up a Frequently Asked Questions page. The website team, however, view the task with about the same horror as the tech support team do. Their first thought is they may be able to set up the site to comply with the corporate look, but how are they going to convince the tech support team to generate the content.

But, the content is already available!

A quick look through stored emails is likely to reveal enough material to write a book, let alone a few pages on a tech support website. All that is required is to intelligently divide the task between the two teams. The website team need to build an index page and a template 'document' page. When an email is written to a customer then all that is required of the tech support person is to copy and paste this into the template, save this as a new name (numbers work best as this removes the need to use funny abbreviations), and then add a link to the document in the index page.

Now this may sound complicated, but c'mon, a bit of copying and pasting is not difficult! There is no excuse as the same function was done during the copying of a previously sent email to a new customer. So on this basis all that needs to be done is to train the tech support team how to take text sent in an email, and to copy this in between the <p> and </p> tags in a page that already contains all the other code that makes it conform to the company 'image'.

This does not have to be done all at once, but rather on a "stitch in time" basis. If presented to a tech support team that this is going to reduce their overall workload, and allow them to have the least stressed jobs in the company, then their cooperation is likely to be guaranteed.

Slowly but surely the on-line tech support is built up with only the really tough questions requiring a little hand-holding. Answering simple questions, where the customer was a little too lazy or did not know where to look up the answer for himself, will now become a matter of sending, in an email, a simple webpage link to his answer. The likelihood of him asking questions again is also reduced.

Yes, this is exactly how this website is being built!

Oh!, one thing before I go; I would advocate is that the attitude of 'doing yourself out of a job' only be taken in the security of good sales figures. If there is any doubt as to the selling powers of the sales team, you may want to put any actions to reduce your work load on hold. I steamed ahead and suddenly found myself without work, literally!

As the knowledge of the technical support website spread around the world I found myself helping customers from far away lands rather than any new ones "back home", because there weren't any. When I resigned I was informed that I did so timeously as my job was already under threat in light of bad sales figures. Yip, the tendency is to sack the support staff that achieve their targets rather than the sales people who didn't!

Would I change my attitudes? No! I don't for one moment regret what I have done and the means I used to achieve it. It has resulted in the greatest advance in my career.

Marc Dekenah

©  Marc's Technical Pages - 01.08.03