5 Tips for Talking to Tech Support

These days, having a website can mean using the software or services of a dozen or more companies. It’s inevitable something will go wrong, and when it does, someone will need to contact tech support. If you don’t have a professional like me chatting with them, you may have to do it yourself. Knowing how to effectively converse with tech support can minimize frustration and help you solve your problem faster.

1. Reproduce the Problem

A huge number of problems that are reported to tech support are caused not by bugs in the software, but by pressing the wrong button or forgetting to save. The first thing that any tech support agent will do is seek to verify the problem you are reporting. If they can’t, they won’t troubleshoot it further.

So before you contact tech support, make sure the problem is happening consistently. Then in your opening email, phone call, or ticket, give them precise directions for recreating the problem.

If you are doing the same thing and getting different results, ask yourself if there’s any differences between when it works and when it doesn’t. If you can’t find any patterns, you can still contact support, but they may dodge the problem. If you have a log or record showing the errors, that will help.

2. Clarify the Problem

Tech support is provided under enormous time pressure. The agents you converse with may have raises tied to how fast they handle support requests. For that reason, it’s common for them to only skim your request and mistake your problem for a different issue they see all the time. When this happens, they’ll typically reply with a canned message that doesn’t address your needs.

Look out for answers that don’t appear to match the problem you reported, and when you see them, clarify what your problem is. They can’t solve your issue until they understand your situation. If they understood what you needed after all, they didn’t communicate that well enough, and it’ll be their turn to clarify.

3. Prove Their Software Is Responsible

Many systems involve the combination of different software from different providers. It’s common for tech support to claim someone else’s software is at fault. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t, but either way, they can use this explanation to avoid troubleshooting further.

Isolate the problem as best you can by temporarily turning off any software that interacts with theirs. Unfortunately this can disrupt your site. If you have a staging/testing install provided by a host such as WP Engine or Media Temple, do your isolation there. Otherwise, considering creating a new WordPress installation on your host, and testing the software there.

See if your problem persists under the following scenarios:

  • All plugins, or all other plugins, are disabled. If the problem goes away when you disable other plugins, experiment until you find out which plugin is causing the conflict. Report the conflict to tech support for that plugin.
  • Your theme is switched to a default theme such as Twenty Fourteen.
  • Custom work is disabled or removed. If you’re using a child theme, switch to the parent theme. If you’ve made any changes to the WordPress core, take them out. (Honestly, you should take them out regardless. Core modifications quickly become a maintenance nightmare.)
  • If you are interacting with the service or software through an intermediary application, access the source directly. For instance, if the email at your host isn’t working, try using the installed webmail application at the host instead of Outlook. Otherwise tech support could think a bad Outlook configuration is causing the problem.

If it’s not too hard for you, try isolating the problem before you contact support; it could save you a lot of time. If it’s too tough, you can contact support without taking this step- just be prepared when they ask you to disable all the plugins on your site.

4. Ask for Directions

Sometimes tech support is done by a large department with lots of experience and training in conversing with people who don’t know all the technical mumbo jumbo. But sometimes it’s done by the developers themselves. Developers are great because they can solve tough problems without waiting for someone to help them, but they may also underestimate how much technical knowledge is needed to understand what they say, or follow their directions.

If they give you a solution you don’t understand, ask them to explain. If they tell you to do something and you don’t know how, ask for precise directions. This goes even for situations where technical knowledge isn’t the problem. I recently had a client that was asked by support to login to the special control panel for the software. The problem was that she had lost her password, and couldn’t reset it since the email account linked to the service was down. She told support this several times, but they didn’t seem to understand. However, when I directly asked, “How do we get access to our account without our password or email?” they were able to reset the password for us.

5. Ask How You Can Fix It Yourself

Tech support is expensive; companies try to reduce support overhead with better documentation and controls for their customers. But tech support is so busy that they may not communicate to customers about these features, causing you to waste time contacting them when you didn’t need to.

That’s why it’s a good practice to ask tech support how you might solve this problem if it happens again. There may not be any way for you to fix it yourself, but it’s worth asking. The solution could be as simple as pushing a button.

The more you feel able to address technical problems when they occur, the less stressful they’ll be. That might mean learning more about the software you’re using when you have the opportunity, or simply understanding where tech support is coming from, so you can communicate with them more smoothly.