Lessons from Customer Support: The Goodness of Simple + Process Orientation


I can not tell you how many technical support conversations I sat in on when I first got into tech twenty five years ago (we are talking Pre-Web). The company that I worked for, Tribe Computer Works, made packet switches and internet routers, and so a lot of the support incidents were about connectivity issues.

Some poor customer would be calling in frantic because some leg of the network connection was not working. Alice, in Technical Support, would ask a handful of questions that 95% of the time ended with:

  1. Unplug the cable and re-plug it back in.
  2. Replace the ethernet capable with a different ethernet cable.
  3. Turn the switch off for 30 seconds, and then turn it back on again.

The customer getting support would invariably get agitated with this line of “support,” say this was obvious, and they had a DIFFERENT problem.

The support person was very calm, and said, “I am sure that you are right, but we have a specific process that will save you a bunch of wasted time by allowing me to isolate the basics, before moving on to the more surgical interventions. 

Literally, 95% of the time, it was that basic; one of those three cases would solve the problem, and the client would sheepishly apologize, saying they had tried that before, didn’t work last time, etc. etc.

One moral of the story that it taught me is start with the most basic scenarios before getting sucked into complexity.

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