10 steps to a better IT support process


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As an IT professional, you need to have a structured mind in order to think through all the possible problematic situations that can present themselves on a day to day basis. And after having worked in IT for a while, I’ve developed a certain methodology that can help you solve most problems quickly and effectively. The goal of this article is to help junior IT workers in the task of supporting users in a corporate environment. By following these ten steps, you can provide better, more effective IT support.

1. Answering the call

When users call for support, they usually feel helpless and may sound irritated over the phone. Always be polite towards them. After all, it’s because of them that you have a job. Yes, I know that some of them can be irritating to deal with, but explain that if they cannot be polite, you will not be able to help them to the best of your skills.

2. Asking the user to explain the problem

Ask the user to describe the problem to the best of their knowledge. What were they doing when the problem occurred? Did they change any settings recently? Did they install any new applications on their computer? I know that in a utopian world, no users should have administrative privileges to their computer, but the reality is that most companies give them this kind of access for reliability reasons, often resulting in users changing important settings or installing unauthorized applications on their systems.

3. Reproducing the error

Reproducing the error is an important part of the troubleshooting process as it helps you determine when and where the problem occurs. If it is possible, go to the user’s computer in person or via a remote management application to do it. If the location is inaccessible, ask the user to reproduce the problem himself to see if it is an isolated issue. Often, a simple reboot will fix most computer problems.

4. Identifying the problem

Using the gathered information from step 2 and 3, establish the cause of the problem. Is it hardware or software related? Try to think about a couple of possibilities. It is important to keep an open mind when dealing with computer problems. With all the hardware and software installed on a PC, the possibility for conflict between all the components is pretty high.

5. Gathering technical information

Gather as many technical details as possible about the issue and the user’s environment. What are the versions of their applications? Is the operating system using all the latest drivers, patches, and service packs?

6. Determine possible solutions

Establish a few possible solutions using the knowledge you’ve gained in the previous steps and your personal experience. If you can’t think of anything, the Internet is there to help you. Here are 2 resources that saved my life a couple of times. Don’t leave home without them!

* EventID.net
* Experts-Exchange (How to get free access)

7. Fixing the problem

If the problem is related to mission critical data, never forget to do a backup before applying your fix. If you are uncertain about the problem and you came up with several possible solutions, always implement them one at a time, so that if something goes wrong, you’ll be able to undo your changes easily.

8. Test and test again

Did I say test? Test again! Sometimes, a problem may seem to be resolved, but it is not. The solution may also have broken other part of the user’s system, so you need to test everything extensively to ensure everything is in working order.

9. Documenting the issue

Always write down what you did to resolve an issue. Who knows when it might happen again? I’ve made the mistake of neglecting to document some of my resolutions, then later wasted time searching for the same solutions all over again.

10. Pat yourself in the back for a job well done.

Yes, you’ve earned it after all!

After having worked in an IT support related job for a few years, you’ll eventually realize that you won’t even have to think about doing these steps anymore; they’ll come to you naturally. Sometimes, you may even skip some of them–but keep in mind that if you do, you may end up coming back to the one you forgot later in the troubleshooting process, anyway.



21 Responses to 10 steps to a better IT support process

  1. Why in the world would you ever suggest a pay site like Expert Sex Change (Experts-Exchange) when there are so many good free resources that don't pollute Google results. Google should be the jumping off point beginning your search with "-experts-exchange" You'll generally get better results, not to mention ones that won't cost you. I'm speaking from 10 years of Helpdesk and Server admin experience.

    A couple other resources that are worth mentioning are

    http://modemhelp.net
    Although they're a little out of date now their screenshots can be immensely helpful when walking someone through something over the phone.

    If you're dealing with an Email problem remember the following

    -The NDR has useful information learn what it means

    – Headers always help they never hurt, Learn to read them

    – If there's an Outlook Error code involved (0x800CCC….) always find out exactly what it means it usually helps

    Cheers

  2. @LiamM To view the answer to the experts-exchange question you just have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, below the ads. This works whenever you go to the page from a search engine. I’ve found a ton of answers there.

    • I still resent their over representation in google results. But appreciate the enlightenment as to how to get around their pay model. It may just come in handy

  3. Great list. One point I would like to add to end of your troubleshooting process is to have the client test out the system afterwards and don’t consider the issue resolved until they tell you that it’s resolved. Many clients find IT professionals to be arrogant, pushy and frustrating, so they don’t enjoy calling. A simple gesture like this will help them to feel better about a stressful situation and help avoid nasty call-backs.

  4. Why in the world would you ever suggest a pay site like Expert Sex Change (Experts-Exchange) when there are so many good free resources that don't pollute Google results. Google should be the jumping off point beginning your search with "-experts-exchange" You'll generally get better results, not to mention ones that won't cost you. I'm speaking from 10 years of Helpdesk and Server admin experience.

    A couple other resources that are worth mentioning are

    http://modemhelp.net
    Although they're a little out of date now their screenshots can be immensely helpful when walking someone through something over the phone.

    If you're dealing with an Email problem remember the following

    -The NDR has useful information learn what it means

    – Headers always help they never hurt, Learn to read them

    – If there's an Outlook Error code involved (0x800CCC….) always find out exactly what it means it usually helps

    Cheers

  5. @LiamM To view the answer to the experts-exchange question you just have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, below the ads. This works whenever you go to the page from a search engine. I've found a ton of answers there.

    • I still resent their over representation in google results. But appreciate the enlightenment as to how to get around their pay model. It may just come in handy

  6. Great list. One point I would like to add to end of your troubleshooting process is to have the client test out the system afterwards and don't consider the issue resolved until they tell you that it's resolved. Many clients find IT professionals to be arrogant, pushy and frustrating, so they don't enjoy calling. A simple gesture like this will help them to feel better about a stressful situation and help avoid nasty call-backs.

  7. This is exactly the why I’m doing it regularly.
    Eventid.net also saved my life a couple of times but I didn’t know about the scroll down cheat on Experts-Exchange! Thanks for that.

  8. At my old work, even though the problem was a well known problem, and the fix could/should have been automated (and put into the login script…), we were required to go to the person’s workstation, stop the service running their application (a document imaging system), clear the cache to it, and restart the service. And if that didn’t work, reboot. OUR responsibility, not the users. I didn’t understand the reasoning for that then, nor now. Maybe it allowed us to have more IT people around.

  9. This is exactly the why I'm doing it regularly.

    Eventid.net also saved my life a couple of times but I didn't know about the scroll down cheat on Experts-Exchange! Thanks for that.

  10. At my old work, even though the problem was a well known problem, and the fix could/should have been automated (and put into the login script…), we were required to go to the person's workstation, stop the service running their application (a document imaging system), clear the cache to it, and restart the service. And if that didn't work, reboot. OUR responsibility, not the users. I didn't understand the reasoning for that then, nor now. Maybe it allowed us to have more IT people around.

  11. People keep saying the customer is the reason we have jobs, and that is such a false statement.

    We are not customer service representatives. We are Information Technology Professionals, with experience in the field to enhance our classroom training. We are hired because we are skilled in our field, and keep our jobs because we are good at them.

  12. People keep saying the customer is the reason we have jobs, and that is such a false statement.

    We are not customer service representatives. We are Information Technology Professionals, with experience in the field to enhance our classroom training. We are hired because we are skilled in our field, and keep our jobs because we are good at them.

  13. Great list!

    I used to work tech support for a retail point-of-sale system. One of my favorite calls was when a customer called to say that their OCR-A scanner had stopped working (this was quite a long time ago). After verifying that the scanner was plugged in, I had them turn the scanner off and on. Well, when they turned it off, I could hear it make its startup noise. I confirmed that they *thought* they had only turned the scanner off, not back on, but told them to try scanning an ISBN … and magically (to them) … it worked!

    That just drove home that you really have to pay attention when taking support calls – and not to believe everything that the customer tells you. Not that the customer intentionally lies, but sometimes you have to interpret what they MEAN, not just what they SAY.

  14. Great list!

    I used to work tech support for a retail point-of-sale system. One of my favorite calls was when a customer called to say that their OCR-A scanner had stopped working (this was quite a long time ago). After verifying that the scanner was plugged in, I had them turn the scanner off and on. Well, when they turned it off, I could hear it make its startup noise. I confirmed that they *thought* they had only turned the scanner off, not back on, but told them to try scanning an ISBN … and magically (to them) … it worked!

    That just drove home that you really have to pay attention when taking support calls – and not to believe everything that the customer tells you. Not that the customer intentionally lies, but sometimes you have to interpret what they MEAN, not just what they SAY.

  15. Good guidelines for you if you’re unsure of yourself, but following some of these too rigidly would make you difficult to work with (or even get you fired!). Nitpicks:

    1. Telling someone they need to be polite implies that their conduct is inappropriate, which is likely to infuriate someone who feels they have a reason to be upset. They’re probably not mad at you personally, but this approach definitely has potential to change that.

    In corporate IT, your caller contacted you because they need to get something done. Your job is to do what you cam to assist, and that means both of you have the same goal. Empathize: ask questions about how the problem affects them. This can help you prioritize your work and often yields useful technical detail. Maintain an attitude that you and your caller are are in this problem together and you will find that most calls that start out emotionally charged become much more productive.

    5. Usually, this step will only apply if you’ve hit a dead end and need to escalate, so don’t go overboard here. As you gain experience, you will acquire an instinct for what kinds of details are potentially relevant, but generally speaking it is not a good use of your time or your caller’s to track down every version. A quick export from the user’s MSINFO32.EXE is often sufficient to analyze any system-specific details that your or your escalation point’s research might need to track down.

    8. Again, you don’t want to waste too much time on this. You probably don’t have time to exhaustively test the system for potential problems. If you’ve broken something, it’s usually evident by now, and your caller will probably be quite happy to get back to work and take on responsibility for letting you know if the problem crops up again.

    9. Seriously. Do this.

  16. Good guidelines for you if you're unsure of yourself, but following some of these too rigidly would make you difficult to work with (or even get you fired!). Nitpicks:

    1. Telling someone they need to be polite implies that their conduct is inappropriate, which is likely to infuriate someone who feels they have a reason to be upset. They're probably not mad at you personally, but this approach definitely has potential to change that.

    In corporate IT, your caller contacted you because they need to get something done. Your job is to do what you cam to assist, and that means both of you have the same goal. Empathize: ask questions about how the problem affects them. This can help you prioritize your work and often yields useful technical detail. Maintain an attitude that you and your caller are are in this problem together and you will find that most calls that start out emotionally charged become much more productive.

    5. Usually, this step will only apply if you've hit a dead end and need to escalate, so don't go overboard here. As you gain experience, you will acquire an instinct for what kinds of details are potentially relevant, but generally speaking it is not a good use of your time or your caller's to track down every version. A quick export from the user's MSINFO32.EXE is often sufficient to analyze any system-specific details that your or your escalation point's research might need to track down.

    8. Again, you don't want to waste too much time on this. You probably don't have time to exhaustively test the system for potential problems. If you've broken something, it's usually evident by now, and your caller will probably be quite happy to get back to work and take on responsibility for letting you know if the problem crops up again.

    9. Seriously. Do this.

  17. Sorry but the only question needed is :

    "Have you tried turning it off and on again ?"
    Solves 99% of said problems… :)