Having Your Act Together

Having been a support technician I can safely say that the fastest way to a support guy’s heart is to know that he hates you. He doesn’t want to talk. He doesn’t want an audience. You are not his friend. And it isn’t personal. He just wants to get in, get the problem fixed, and get out again.

The best way to defeat this is to have your act together. Help him get out as fast as possible and he’ll stay forever.

My DSL modem died two days ago. I know it died because the power light would come on, then the Ethernet light despite no Ethernet connection. Then it would sit there, and the Ethernet light would occassionally blink for 30 seconds. I’m the kind of guy that watches his devices when they behave normally. This was not normal.

I called AT&T last night and talked to a technical support guy who diagnosed the problem as being a noisy phone line. Though that was the worst diagnosis ever I didn’t argue with him because he was going to dispatch a technician. My unstated goal for that conversation was to have a guy wearing an AT&T shirt, driving an AT&T truck, carrying a new Speedstream 4100B DSL modem, appear at my door.

Mark, the AT&T shirt-wearing fellow, knows phones. I had moved the DSL modem to the living room because I was embarrassed by the morass of cabling in my basement, ancient phone lines half replaced by Category 5e wiring, mostly disconnected from the terminal block. My DSL modem lived on a jack sloppily wired to the terminal block. “No matter,” he reassured me. “I’ve seen worse. Let’s go check it out.” We picked up my laptop, cabling, and modem and headed downstairs.

As we unboxed the replacement modem he asked if I had the card that came with the original one. The one with authentication information. “I must have lost it,” I replied, “but I called support about an hour ago and had them give that information to me.”

“Really?” he said, as if nobody ever thinks of these things. Most don’t. He looked genuinely pleased.

Technicians go into a support situation assuming the other person is an unprepared idiot. It’s the only way to prepare, to assume that you will have to find and fix the problem completely on your own, often with the customer acting against you. Once in a while the other person isn’t an idiot, though. You usually discover this through one act, a single gesture or sentence, that proves their worth. And right then the tone of the conversation changes. Adversarial distrust becomes cooperation. You become a team, if only for a few minutes, because they are worthy.

This team, once my DSL modem was okay, rewired my phone system. Mark added a new Telephone Network Interface and a punch block while I sorted out the lines coming in from the rest of the house. Now, instead of a dangling rat’s nest I have neatly connected, brand-new cabling. I have a solid, single demarcation between AT&T and my house, too. This was way beyond the call of duty, done because what I had was a mess. Because it should be done. Because it was half done anyhow. At least that was how he justified it.

It was really done because I spent five minutes on the phone making his life easier.

2 thoughts on “Having Your Act Together”

  1. I agree 100% on this. I used to work at a Help Desk and it put me in a lot better mood when people had their stuff together and weren’t cocky about it..

  2. Amen.

    This goes along the lines of don’t hassle the cop who pulls you over because you were speeding. I’ve gotten out of more tickets because:

    I kept me hands were the cop could see them.
    Didn’t roll the window down.
    Turned on the interior light if it was dark.
    Listen and followed instructions.
    Didn’t whine

    It’s mostly common sense stuff but seeing how everyone want to jump on the ITIL bandwagon, I guess common sense is in short supply


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