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The Secret to Small Business Tech Support


Ever get that sinking feeling? That pit-of-the-stomach sensation when you know something's gone wrong. Business owners know what I'm talking about. We get it when that customer calls to complain about a job. Or when a supplier's key shipment doesn't arrive on time.

You're a business owner. You know this feeling. When is it the absolute worst? When it's a technology support issue. You come to work and your computer screen is not the way you left it the night before. When you arrive at your office this morning, you're not greeted by the typical desktop. Instead, the screen is frozen at "Windows is starting up." An update that automatically downloaded last night screwed something up. Your screen is black. And now so is your mood.

You watch the screen for a few minutes, waiting for something to happen, but you know nothing will. Finally you restart the computer. Twice. Same result. Now you have that sinking feeling. You see your morning slipping away: This computer isn't going to start. And neither is your day. Until you get some help. You will have to call technical support. But halt your hyperventilation—there's no need to worry at all. As a fellow business owner, I'm going to help you. Because I've learned how to handle technical support with a few rules for people like us.

Rule One: Don't Get Angry

You can get angry if you live in a city where it snows half the year and your team starts the season 0-4. You can get angry every time you hear that Jennifer Lopez is paid $12 million to be a judge on American Idol. But this time, getting angry won't help anyone. And it won't help you get your issue resolved any quicker. If you're running your own business, the last thing you want is for your employees to see you storming around your office, wildly swinging a golf club over your head like a tomahawk while you kick over your chair and repeatedly yell "Why, why, why!" It's enough that your family's seen this behavior. You must give employees the impression that everything is in control. That YOU are in control. You are a businessman. You are Don Draper. So do what he would do at 8 a.m.—have a bourbon and a smoke. Microsoft (MSFT) Windows never rattled Don Draper, right? So be calm.

Rule Two: Be Nice to the Technician

Of course it's annoying that you have to wait on hold. And we all realize how aggravating it can be when you have to punch in your "customer ID," ZIP code, mother's maiden name, favorite vacation spot, and social security number into the automated system three times, only to be asked for that same information again the minute a live person comes on the phone. It's not his fault. The technician is just doing his job. He's going to be nice. You need to be nice, too. You're a business owner. How would you like it if some customer was being a jerk to one of your employees? You're not going to get on his good side by being a jerk to him. At best, you'll earn the right to be put on hold five more times than necessary or be forced to sit and wait in silence for many extra minutes, wondering what he's actually doing as he's clicking away on his keyboard.

Rule Three: Be Patient

You know from running your own business that sometimes the answers can't be delivered immediately. Don't you wish your customers would also be a little more patient when they call with a problem? Of course you do. So take a deep breath. Don't worry about those long silences on the line when you think you've been disconnected. He's there. He's probably just mulling things over. Or talking about the issue with his colleagues. Whatever. Be patient. Answer the questions. Take this time to rearrange your schedule. This problem will ultimately get resolved. It's going to just take a little time, that's all. Don't even consider grabbing the golf club again and knocking that picture of your wife and kids at Disney (DIS) off your desk.

Rule Four: Cede Control

As a business owner, you are probably a control freak. Like me, you hate other people doing things you don't understand. That's why you don't work for anyone anymore. But to get your problem fixed, you're going to need to relinquish that control … at least for a few minutes. When the technician asks to remotely take over your system to do his troubleshooting, just let him. Don't worry about security. Try not to think of anything malicious he could be doing. Don't fret that he's going to search the websites you recently visited. Remember, he doesn't care about all that. He has others in your situation he needs to help, too. Let him take over your computer and run all those complicated scripts and programs that only the technical support guys know how to run. Don't ask what he's doing. In fact, don't even watch what he's doing. Look over some paperwork instead. Try to look busy. Walk around the office as if you're lost in your thoughts, conjuring up some brilliant plan to take your business to new heights. The tech guy will soon finish.

Rule Five: The Most Important Rule … Delegate

Haven't you learned anything over the past 20 years running your own business? You're the boss. So act like one! You know by now that you'll only screw things up by doing the service yourself, so you have someone else do it. You know by now that you'll lose that customer if you call him and scream about his overdue invoice, so you have someone else do it. And you should know by now that you'll never be the technical wizard that you once thought you could be when you bought your first Windows 3.1 computer—so you need to delegate this, too. The minute you see something is wrong, have another guy in your office, or your tech guy, deal with the problem. And instead, pick up the phone and call a customer. Check on an order. Walk around the warehouse. Order lunch for the staff. Just do something else more useful. And more appropriate for the owner of a company.

See? It was just a simple fix. Your computer is up and running. Life can return to normal—just in time for lunch.

Gene_marks
Gene Marks, CPA, is the owner of the Marks Group, which sells customer relationship, service, and financial management tools to small and midsize businesses. Marks is the author of four best-selling small business books and writes the popular "Penny Pincher's Almanac" syndicated column. He frequently speaks to business groups on penny-pinching topics. More penny-pinching advice from Marks can be found at www.quickerbetterwiser.com.

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