Best Practices in Tech Support

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As computers and the roles they play in peoples’ lives have changed over the years, tech support has changed, as well. Computer support was once something treated fairly casually outside of the business world — as far as residential support was concerned, people tended to rely on manufacturer-provided warranties, and when that failed, more tech-savvy friends or family members.

Rob Colt, a former network engineer with capability in a broad range of IT job roles, is one such frequently targeted techie.

“I’ve helped every family friend, and you name it, they’re all the same,” Colt said. “I never wanted to be involved in residential fixing because once you fixed it, it was just like being an auto mechanic — ‘I just had my car here, and now it’s broken, and you’re responsible.’ Everybody was the same way with computers — ‘You touched it, now it’s broken. I want you to fix it, and I’m not paying you.’ Those were residential customers.”

But in recent years, Colt has sensed a sea change in peoples’ attitudes toward the upkeep of their computers.

“Nowadays, people are almost as dependent on their computers as they are on their automobiles,” Colt said. “Their whole lives are on there — they pay all their bills on there, they do most of their communication on there, they do everything on their computer. They’re that dependent on it that it’s gotten to where people have to actually pay to repair their computer now. They didn’t want to, but now that you run your life on it, you have to.”

So, sensing that it’s a good time to be in tech support, Colt, along with his partner Tim Buckhout (who has 17 years experience working as a technician and managing technicians, as well), started Choice Geeks, a computer service and support shop in Skokie, Ill.

Apart from the escalating demand for their service, the reason Choice Geeks has seen such success is that its proprietors have a firm sense of best practices in tech support, having been active within it for so long. Colt outlined five essential best practices:

Back Up Everything
If everyone did it, companies such as Choice Geeks might not be in business.

“We do a ton of data recovery because people don’t do any backups,” Colt said. “Data recovery’s a little bit easier than it used to be, but it still costs people money to do it.”

So, Choice Geeks’ No. 1 rule is to back up everything on a machine as soon as it comes in the shop. “You’d have to be a fool if you don’t because if anything goes wrong, and you lose the data, now it’s gone,” Colt said.

Lose the Lingo
Because Choice Geeks is dealing with primarily residential people and small businesses, generally none of its customers are familiar with any kind of IT lingo, much less an endless string of acronyms.

“You have to know your technical vocabulary because you have to know what you’re doing as far as the job, but if you can translate that into examples that people understand, you’ll have a lot better feedback from your customers,” Colt said. “I don’t have any problems turning any computer problem into an example from your automobile to your toaster.”

He also said not all technicians are capable of this, or they rely on “IT speak” as a defense of sorts.

“A lot of techs use [computer jargon] to get away with it when they don’t know something,” Colt said. “They’ll spit out terms that the customer doesn’t understand.”

Don’t Overcharge
Choice Geeks could charge tons of billable hours if it rushed head-on to every computer failure it encountered.

“When you have a massive problem on a machine, like let’s say it’s virus-ridden, 200-plus viruses, you’re looking at three or four hours of a tech sitting there and trying to clean those,” Colt said. “Three or four hours of being billed, you’re looking at $300 or $400. Nobody wants to pay that, and all you’ve done is put a Band-Aid on the machine anyway.”

The computer will likely break again soon, and the technician is looking at another visit and potentially some awkward explanations.

So, within the first 30 minutes of diagnosing a problem on a machine, Choice Geeks recommends a flat-rate service of backing up customers’ data, wiping out their machine, restoring the operating system and putting their data back. This saves time and money, and the machine is back to running like new.

Stay Current on Protection
Choice Geeks tells its customers that no matter what, they should be buying new anti-virus software every year.

“For somebody in the year 2007 to be running Norton Anti-Virus 2003, they are not protected whatsoever,” Colt said. “I always tell people, ‘Once you’re connected to the Internet, your machine is vulnerable. It’s like being a person in a hospital full of sick people and having no immune system.’”

Don’t Use Pirated Software
There used to be a lot of wiggle room on this, but those days are pretty much over.

“People didn’t follow this best practice for 10 years,” Colt said. “They ripped off Microsoft and everybody else by [illegally] using copyrighted software.”

In restoring machines for its customers, Choice Geeks insists on using licensed operating systems —Windows and OS X are much more guarded against illegal software now. “Nowadays you can’t really get away with it,” Colt said.

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