Whether you're in business for yourself or part of a large organization, there is more to becoming a computer professional than just fixing computers. Lesson 1 focused on how to stay on top of your profession. This lesson focuses on perhaps the most important element of the professional configuration—the customer. Remember that whether you are a consultant, a contractor, or on the staff of a large organization, you are working on an individual's computer and that individual is your customer. Your customers are your business.
After this lesson, you will be able to:
Estimated lesson time: 15 minutes
- Identify the level of support needed to resolve a problem.
- Put techniques for offering good customer service to use.
Repairing computers can be a time-consuming job. When a computer goes down or has some kind of glitch, the owner or operator is inevitably in the middle of a major project and rarely has time or patience to address the problem. Therefore, being an efficient and effective service provider is as important as being able to resolve hardware or software problems. It is as important to work smart as it is to work hard. Being organized and keeping good records is the key to becoming efficient, effective, and successful.
How much time does it take you to check IRQs every time you install a new card on the same computer? Do you spend too much time rebuilding CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files when an end user accidentally erases them? Spending a few minutes reviewing and updating your records each time you install a new system or perform maintenance and can save you hours in the long run.
Keep a simple set of documents that contains essential information for each computer you work on. Create a database, spreadsheet, or word processor file to make updating easy. Be sure to back up the data and keep a hard copy on file for quick reference. The following table provides some suggestions about the information you might want to keep.
|Name each computer.||Which name you choose does not matter, but make it unique and descriptive. Establish naming conventions to make remembering them easier. Use names in addition to serial numbers.|
|Document all technical information.||Include the operating system name and version, CONFIG.SYS, AUTOEXEC.BAT, IRQs, I/O base address, DMA channels, device driver names, processor type and speed, size of cache, RAM, BIOS, monitor, video card, modems, and sound cards.|
|Save startup data to floppy disks (unique data).||Include the startup disk (based on the current version of the operating system, AUTOEXEC.BAT, and CONFIG.SYS), device driver disks, and recovery disks—as required by antivirus program or system.|
|Keep an incident log.||In your log of events for each computer include such things as the user, application installations (date and version), upgrades (hardware), and problems (cause of failure and actions taken for resolution).|
In an organization or corporate environment with a large number of computers and peripheral devices, it is often wise to separate support functions into several levels or categories. Depending on the size of the organization and the degree of knowledge of the end users, some technical support can be delegated or handled over the phone. By properly delegating responsibility for technical support, you can avoid being tied up with trivial problems, saving time for you and your end users.
It is usually possible to designate someone within each department, or section, to handle simple technical-support questions. Find someone with a basic familiarity with computers and designate that individual as the key contact. They can handle many of the trivial problems that often plague inexperienced users (for instance, the computer/mouse/keyboard/printer is not plugged in) and can also handle basic maintenance (such as performing backups). By delegating these tasks locally, you can ensure that technical support will be available when more serious problems arise. You will also have a knowledgeable source onsite to be your eyes and ears.
How you apply this level of support will depend on your situation. If, for example, you are an independent consultant or working at a service desk for a computer supplier, you most likely will be dealing with the owner/user and this won't apply.
Handle as many problems as possible over the phone. Phone support offers the quickest solution to many common problems. In addition, by getting as much information about the problem as possible over the phone, you can be sure to have the right tools at hand and an appropriate plan if and when you arrive on the scene.
For those jobs that cannot be handled over the phone, you will need to decide whether to service the machine on-site or to bring it back to your own workspace. Consider these questions when making this decision:
If the work will take more than a few minutes, you might do better to take the machine back to your own workspace.
Possessing a large supply of spare parts can definitely shorten the time to complete a repair; however, having too many spare parts can be a problem as well. Maintaining a large inventory is expensive, especially if you have 100 items that just became obsolete. You will need to keep spare parts in stock and you will need to manage them. Consider the following tips when determining how to manage your spare parts inventory:
Standardizing equipment is very desirable in large organizations. It reduces the number of spare parts required and simplifies installations. But although desirable, it is not always possible. Many organizations purchase equipment, such as computers, solely on the basis of the best price available at the time of purchase. Therefore, whichever manufacturer happens to be offering a special deal at that time is likely to be the one to get the contract. The result is that the organization eventually assembles a wide assortment of computer equipment, making standardization difficult.
In cases such as this, you can standardize what you have control over, and group the rest as well as you can. If you have several identical systems, by using an identical configuration, with standard CONFIG.SYS, AUTOEXEC.BAT, and IRQ assignments, you can simplify the troubleshooting process. Even if you have many computers with little in common, adopting certain standards can be worthwhile. For example, establish common IRQs for standard equipment such as modems, sound cards, network cards, and mouse and SCSI devices.
The bottom line in computer repair is customer service. Whether you work for a large organization or as an independent consultant, the end user is your customer. This section discusses general guidelines for setting up and managing customer service.
There are generally two methods for handling initial support calls to a technical service department. The first method, and perhaps the most common, is the help desk. Each call is routed through a central location or phone. At this point, the call is evaluated, classified according to the nature and urgency of the problem, and then routed to the appropriate member of the support team for action.
In the second method, any member of the support team can respond to a call and attempt to solve the problem. If that fails to resolve the issue, the problem is handed on to a more knowledgeable team member for action.
It is at this stage that you have the opportunity to put your customer service skills in action. The person who calls you will be sensitive not only to how you resolve the technical problem, but to how you treat that individual personally. Chances are, if someone needs to call you, the day is already going badly. Your demeanor and expertise can improve it or make it worse. This is especially important if you are in business for yourself; it can mean the difference between building your business with repeat calls and referrals—or bankruptcy.
When you receive a call requesting you to provide technical support, going through the following four simple steps should lead to a successful conclusion of the encounter:
Take the time to create a form and/or a database for tracking calls. This will provide a source of information for future use. Basing the form on keywords chosen to describe the problem briefly, will allow easy creation of reports.
If you work independently, you should also keep a client profile log that includes a few paragraphs describing each of your clients and their business. Include notations of any relevant facts about clients that you can use in future conversations with them. Also, take note of any client plans for future expansion or equipment upgrades that might need your help. It is best to get in a habit of writing this down as soon as possible after your service call, when the important details and observations are still fresh in your mind.
Referrals are the lifeline of any small business. If you feel that your client is satisfied with your work, do not hesitate to ask for referrals and ask if you can use the client's name as a reference. Keep a written record of referrals you receive and contact the referred individual with a phone call or letter as quickly as possible. Also, leave a few business cards with your clients and encourage them to give the cards to anyone who might need your services. Call your clients within a few days after you have serviced their equipment, and confirm that their problems have been resolved. They will appreciate it. Even technicians who work in a corporate setting can find this procedure helpful as well.
You will inevitably encounter difficult clients or coworkers. Keep in mind that it is your job to identify, and to try to resolve these problems too, not just those that are mechanically based. Here are a few suggestions for handling difficult clients and coworkers:
Because new devices and software are introduced every day, it is not uncommon to encounter problems that are outside the scope of the support group or your current level of experience. In such cases, addressing the problem requires gaining the assistance of the hardware or software supplier. Whether you turn to a more-experienced team member or an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), be sure to track the progress of the problem and who retains responsibility.
Of course, if you are an independent service person, you will be responsible for doing the research to find a solution to the problem. Keep a record of your resources (phone numbers, individuals' and company names, Internet URLs, documentation sources) for future reference.
If the problem is resolved by making previously undocumented changes (such as a patch or upgrade by the OEM), be sure to pass along the information to other team members. Also, be sure to keep good documentation of the solution because you may need it for future reference.
After a service call is concluded (successful or not), there is one more action to take: document the closure. Make this report as detailed as possible. Include what was done to resolve the problem—or what steps were taken to try to resolve the problem—and the results of your efforts. If the problem was not resolved, explain to the user why it could not be fixed and provide some alternatives. This might include advising the user to return the computer to the dealer from which it was purchased, if it is a relatively new unit. If you are unable to resolve the problem, do not be afraid to pass it on to someone with more experience or who specializes in that type of problem.
The following points summarize the main elements of this lesson: