“Sir/Ma’am: have you tried turning the [insert super important device here] off and on again?”
I must have asked this question 1564894656187948 times a day while working in tech support for a local ISP. Yes, the work was mundane and I wanted to cut the headset cord to my phone, but what I didn’t realize is that working in tech support leveled up my people skills, I learned to be able to convey empathy (even when I really didn’t mean it) and figured out what the next step in my career would be. I personally believe that there are several benefits to getting your start in a technical support/help desk role.
1. Your people skills will improve. The more users you speak with, the way you communicate will improve. Everyone calling or sending in tickets to your queue will be different: different technical skill sets and different attitudes. Your first call could be a CEO calling in irate because his site is down, and the next call could be your grandma calling because the Internet isn’t working and her hips hurt so she had to miss bingo and.. you get it. I used to let the customers ramble on in hopes that they’ll be distracted while I tried to fix their issue, but would end up getting caught up and suggesting which brand of crockpot to buy (don’t ask). As time in support goes by, you’ll come up with your own way of guiding the direction of the conversation. When a user is upset, I let them rant for a bit, then I do the following:
- Convey empathy – “Mr. Guy, I’m sorry your having trouble with your….”
- Offer a solution and do it – “While you were explaining your issue, I was looking at your signal and it appears to be fine. Let’s do a bit of troubleshooting to see why…”
2. Your ability to convey ideas and directions will be quicker and clearer. At the call center I worked at we had call handle times, where we had a cert time limit to help our users. Let’s say the average call handle time was 12 minutes. I’d be so focused to fix the issue under the time limit, I’d try all sorts of troubleshooting methodologies, and end up making the situation worse. After a few coaching sessions and learning to take notes after each call, I gained a rhythm. A ticket would come in, in regard to a Windows Update issue (the user would include a screenshot of the error message with the error code), and I could refer to my notes on how to fix said issue. Basically, I provided myself a baseline of where to start troubleshooting and move on from there (Thanks, Google).
3. Your ability to diffuse an irate customer will be verbal Kung Fu. Or if you do chat support, you will become a “Gangsta with a keyboard”. After a while of being a tech support jockey, you develop your own skills of diffusing an irate customer. I remember someone would call in yelling about their Internet connection dropping for the 5th time that day and my stomach would be in knots, because I knew I had to fix their connection fast, quick, and in a hurry. But the more those types of calls came in, the anxiety lessened and I was able to focus on the main goal: fixing the problem.
Remember: The user calling in isn’t mad at you; they just want their s*^% fixed. Don’t take it personal.
4. You’ll always have a “war story” to share with friends or a potential employer. This is the fun part. As a support specialist, you will hang up the phone or end the chat with a thought of “WTF just happened!?”. No matter if the result of the story was good or bad, save it. Remember it. Write it down in your Lisa Frank diary like I do. There will come a time you’re in an interview and the interviewer wants to know:
- Name a time you had a difficult customer/user and what did you do to de-escalate the situation.
- Tell me a time where you were the hero. What happened? What did you do?
Also, having war stories are good entertainment for friends, families, and spouses that are curious about what you do. I usually tell the story of a user calling in to report his Internet is down… and he is without electricity… But it’s cool because he has the “modem box” hooked up to a gas generator.
I’m not lying.
5. You’ll figure out “your path”. Granted, it took me until a year ago to figure out I wanted to be a Network Security Engineer. After a few years in support, I stayed because I genuinely love helping users come up with a solution, all the while educating them so they can fix the issue on their own (should it happen again). However, it is possible to get burned out doing tech support. There were times I just wanted to “throw the whole IT career away” but I didn’t. Instead, I asked “What else can I do?” In doing my research, I found CompTIA’s Career Roadmap Here and looked into the different career paths and what were the typical certifications acquired to be a Network Engineer. You don’t have to stay in support for years to figure out what you want to do. As long as you are not stagnant with your progress and keep moving forward, you will figure it out. And if working in support is your career choice, then right on!
My whole IT career is support: Support of an environment and most importantly, support of users. The users keep us employed. You will meet users that will range from 12 years old to 92 years old. Users that will right off the bat tell you “I have my MCSE certification” (and they don’t, sometimes used as a scare tatic), or ask “Which box is the modem?”. There will be days where we think being in this field is fantastic and you are King/Queen of IT, and other days, you’ll feel beat up from taking L’s all day.
My point is, do the brunt work. Start in a support role and work your way up. If you get lucky enough to skip over support, then hats off to you. I know that for me, starting in support was a humbling experience and it helped me to figure out which IT path I wanted to specialize in.
That’s all I got. Take care.