How to get the best tech support
How do you spend most of your day, every day? For most people -- including myself -- the answer is: using various kinds of software, from desktop software to web applications to mobile apps.
This fact has been driving productivity growth in developed economies for several decades now.
However, when you hit a snag it's easy to forget all of that and curse at dumb computers, incompetent software writers, and buggy software.
Now, in addition to using dozens of software applications every day, I get to run a cloud software company, so I have a view from both sides. Especially since I like choosing tickets from our support queue and replying to them myself, this helps me to stay tuned to feedback from our clients.
In this blog post, I wanted to share some quick personal observations on software support, which I hope can help you get software problems resolved as quickly as possible.
So, how do you get the best software support?
Phone vs email
Some people like to call, some people prefer emails. Here at Wild Apricot we do provide support via both phone and email; but in my opinion it's usually best to start with an email.
- You save time by not waiting in the calling queue.
- If you have an urgent question, you can specify the details in the subject line. For example: 'Urgent - my website www.abc.org is not loading'. Good technical support services always monitor the support queue for any urgent issues and your email will likely get bumped to the top. (At least, this is what we do here at Wild Apricot). With phone calls, you have to wait in the general queue; we can't know in advance if a particular call is about an urgent problem, or just some prospective client kicking the tires.
- The support team can route your support request to the best person. How often have you been in a situation when you explain your question in painstaking detail to a customer service agent only to hear "OK, let me transfer you to...", and then you have to provide your account details yet again and explain everything from scratch? With an email, everyone is on the same page and a support ticket can be assigned to the best person to answer it, comments can be added along the way.
- Since the details of your request are documented, it's easy to follow-up. Have you ever made a follow-up call to technical support and had to re-explain the problem again from scratch? Happens to me all the time. I have spent a few hours in call queues and explaining to about 10 different people at my bank that I want to be removed from the online interface bank accounts that we stopped using over 5 years ago. Eventually I simply gave up.
In Wild Apricot, you can access a full history of your emailed support requests:
So if you have additional information -- or have a follow-up question -- it's very easy to do this with email.
If you do prefer a phone call, consider a callback option, more and more software companies offer that. The idea is that you book a predefined timeslot online and get a callback at the selected time. We do offer this here at Wild Apricot, go to http://www.wildapricot.com/contact to book your callback appointment:
This works best for less urgent problems and when you want to cover more than one question/problem.
Be specific and provide details
Here's an example of pretty inefficient support request:
Text: 'Your system does not work. I can't update webpage. Help!!!!!!'
This email does not provide any useful information to understand and track down the problem - even if we manage to find the account in question by sender email. So we can only reply by asking for more information about the exact problem.
So, here's how I recommend you structure your support email:
- Use the email subject for a short summary of your question/problem, e.g. "Webpage editor hanging when saving page About us"
- Start with your account detail: "My name is John Doe, my account # is XXXXXXX, my website address is www.mysite.org"
- Describe the steps to reproduce the problem:
I go to the web pages tab, find the 'About us' page, click on Edit. Then I replace the large picture of the moon with the new picture I have uploaded - sun.jpg. When I click on 'Save' button, my browser crashes.
- Ideally, provide information about your computer environment/software, for online software its very important to know your browser version and operating system, e.g.
"I am using Firefox browser version 14.12345 on Mac OS 10.7.4" (A handy website to get these details is http://www.supportdetails.com )
- For complex problems, consider providing a screenshot: http://take-a-screenshot.org/
It's very natural to feel frustrated and angry when software breaks down, and especially if you lose hours of painstaking work!
(So, always make backup copies / save your work frequently! My left hand has long ago learned to periodically press CTRL+S when I'm working in Microsoft office. It's probably unnecessary now that MS Office auto-saves your work - but I would rather be safe than sorry!)
So we receive our fair share of emails to our support which start out like this "You guys suck..."
Do you think this puts a support agent in the best mood to help you solve your problem? I know that my first reaction to emails like that is frequently a desire to tell this person off and suggest that they try a different software. (Though I rarely give in to this desire :-) )
Consider one thing: with many problems you are venting at the wrong party! Just consider what's involved in running modern cloud software like Wild Apricot:
- your computer operating system has to run your browser...
- which gets to it through multiple networks and can easily get interfered with firewalls and antivirus software...
- from our web servers...
- interacting with our database servers...
- and dozens of other specialized machines...
So yes, the problem might be with one of our servers or our code, but very often it's somewhere else and can be frequently solved by clearing your browser cache and restarting your browser (because either the browser or the operating system has glitched.)
By being courteous and polite, staying focused on the problem and providing as much detail as possible, you stand the best chance of resolving your problem faster.
As a side note, we have a gentleman who always starts his emails with 'WA Superstars', whether he has a simple question or is dealing with some major problem. Yes, maybe it is overkill...but you know what? Any support person -- including ours -- are going to be a lot happier getting messages from someone like that rather than someone who is rude.
Multiple questions and follow-ups
Sometimes, especially when you are learning the software, you have a bunch of questions and it's obviously more efficient for you to list them all in one support ticket or phone call.
For other specific questions and problems, I highly recommend sending separate support emails. With multiple issues, the subject of the support email might mismatch your second question or cause the investigation of the original question to get confused; for example, if one question required escalation to the development team but the other question could have been easily answered on its own.
The corollary to this is to try and keep the dialog about a specific problem to the same support ticket. You might have noticed that usually when you receive a reply to your support ticket, there is a weird string of numbers added to the email subject. That's the unique identifier of the support thread; most support systems these days generate one and then automatically group emails with the same identifier string as one support ticket. When you need to follow-up on a support ticket, make sure to use the Reply button (or copy-paste the identifier string into your email subject, including brackets). This will ensure that emails stay together, and make it easier for the technical support team to help you.
The ideal technical support is when you don't even need it -- when software runs smoothly and perfectly, and you have mastered everything you need to know about it.
How do you get to this nirvana?
- Keep your computer software up to date: apply updates as soon as possible. Outdated operating systems and browsers are frequent causes of problems with online software. As well, it's a great idea from a security standpoint to keep your software up to date as new security holes are found all the time! And the big advantage of cloud software like Wild Apricot is that we take care of security and other updates so you don't have to remember to do it and can have your technical resources available to do regular maintenance instead.
- Try basic troubleshooting on your own: clear your browser cache, restart your browser, restart your operating system. This can frequently clear up some corrupted memory or code which is getting your browser stuck.
- Report your problem but try a workaround: try another browser like Firefox or Chrome; try doing the same operation from another computer. And please follow-up with support to let them know what else you have tried and whether it worked or not; it can really help to hunt down the problem.
- Check out online resources for the software in question. Frankly, I know that quite often these can be pretty bad. That's not the case with Wild Apricot -- we have comprehensive online help available at http://help.wildapricot.com which is also updated frequently based on the feedback we get on help pages and in support.
Our help site even includes a number of video tutorials, as well as some pretty advanced code examples:
If you can't find something or have any improvement suggestions, please make sure to let us know via support -- our Picky Apricot, Steve Andrews, is very keen to keep polishing our online help to serve our clients better.
Also, we have online discussion forums, so feel free to search those as well as post your questions and improvements suggestions. We read each and every post; I personally get an email about each new post, and at the very least scan it.
I hope you found these ideas helpful in getting the best technical support for Wild Apricot software or any other software you might use.
If you have any other tips on getting the best support, I would welcome your comments!