Sunday, June 6, 2010

Don't Be a Tech Support Nightmare

Synopsis: even if you're under stress, try to communicate clearly with the people in tech support. There's a little checklist at the end of this post.

In this blog post, I want to share some issues people in tech support are facing, and raise some awareness of the difficulties anyone in tech support has to contend with.

It all comes down to communication, or a breakdown thereof.

I am sure a lot of other small software companies are facing the same issues - so please, takes this plea to heart next time you're dealing with software created by a small company.

It might come as a surprise, but in small companies like Rorohiko, tech support is being run by real, live people. We don't have a complex automated response system - if you e-mail, you'll be answered by a real person. We go to great efforts to run a tidy, responsive tech support department. We provide world-class support on our software - whether it is free or not. We respond quickly to e-mails, most of the time within hours.

Yet we still run into the occasional tech support nightmare.

The problems we're facing are manyfold.

1) Not Enough Info

First of all, people often don't give tech support people any information at all, or way too little. You'd be surprised how many times we get an email that simply states:

"Dear support,
It does not work. Please fix ASAP!

This is sometimes prefaced with some upset diatribe about things being urgent.

We then need to guess what 'it' is? More than once the 'it' that did not work turned out to be a software from a different company all together.

(So - no, we don't do electronic PCB design. Nor knitting patterns. And no, we're not Adobe. We make task tools to help do things faster with InDesign - plug-ins, extensions, little applications. We don't make InDesign).

As we're servicing both people on Macintosh and Windows, we also need to figure out whether this person is using a Mac or Windows, and what the version is of their OS - XP, Vista, OS X 10.5, OS X 10.6? Then we also often need to know what version of InDesign they are using.

We sometimes use little tricks like looking at the raw e-mail headers of their e-mail - that might give us a clue whether they're Mac or Windows users, and sometimes even what version of the OS they're using. So if their hidden e-mail header says their e-mail program is Outlook, that's a give-away that they're on Windows.

2) We Cannot Reach The Person In Need

Our e-mails get thrashed by their spam-killer.

Or their e-mail server rejects our e-mails because it deems them suspicious - so we get our e-mails back after a few days with 'Undelivered e-mail returned to sender'.

Or our e-mails don't get through because their e-mail inbox is full.

So the scenario is like this: we get a question, and we reply, typically within a few hours. Our reply does not reach its destination.

We get an upset follow-up. We try to use a different 'sending' e-mail address, most of the time to no avail. We get an even more upset follow up,... and so on.

Sometimes people also post messages on forums saying things like 'Rorohiko does not answer e-mails'.

Luckily, most people have an e-mail signature, and such e-mail signature is a really Good Thing as it often contains a phone number. If we notice e-mails being bounced and we have a phone number, we give them a call - problem fixed.

But all too often there is no phone number - all we have is a first name and some email address or What's a tech support person to do?

3) Not Enough Answers

The third problem is that people often are unable to answer the questions we ask - they're often under stress, and have trouble concentrating on what we ask them. A dialog could go like this:

It does not work. Please fix ASAP!

Hi,... So sorry to hear that. 

Could you let us know the name of the software you're having trouble with? 

Also, we need to know whether you are on a Mac or on Windows. 

Furthermore, let us know what version of the OS you're using: is it XP, Vista, Windows 7? Or OS X 10.4, 10.5 or 10.6? 

And if InDesign is involved, please give us the version number - CS, CS2,... CS5? 

Thanks so much!

Rorohiko Support

I am on CS4. I need to get this out by tomorrow. Please FIX ASAP! IT IS URGENT

Thanks so much for that information! That helps a bit - but we need more. What is the name of the software you're having trouble with? We have many products available, so it could be any one of them.

Rorohiko Support

The product is called Adobe InDesign. And MS Word. HELP ME!

(ok - here we can kind of guess the issue might be with our TextExporter - that's the tool we most commonly see being used together with InDesign and MS Word).

and the e-mail ping-pong drags on...

4) Don't Contact - Post It On a Forum Instead

This is one of the biggest issue we're facing. Instead of asking us for help, some people simply assume they are on their own, and look for help with our software on public forums.

That's OK - the people on those forums are often very knowledgeable, and very helpful, and you might get a solution, or they will point you to

The problem is that we're kept out of the loop - i.e. if there's a problem with any of our software, we'd love to hear about it.

So, our plea: if you have any issues with our software, let us know!

5) Web Sites Do Go Down

We are using an ISP located in the USA, and we're pretty happy with them ( if you need to know).

But every so often, just like everyone else's, our web site goes down for 10, 20, 50... minutes. It might be DNS failure, a hardware replacement,... Sometimes there's some other internet issue.

If you try to reach and you cannot reach the web site here's what you should do:

1) E-mail to let us know that our web site is down - we're not continuously monitoring it, so we're always happy if someone helps us out by letting us know.
2) Sit tight, and try again in a few hours.

Here's what you should not do:

1) Assume that because our web site is down, something must be horribly wrong
2) Put posts on public forums asking whether Rorohiko has gone out of business because their web site is down

6) We're In a Different Time Zone

Rorohiko is based in New Zealand. That means we're in a different time zone - so you might not always get an immediate response to your e-mail. We're almost a day ahead of the USA - so what is Friday in the USA is already Saturday here in New Zealand. If you e-mail us on Friday, we might already be out fishin'.

Most of the time we do keep our support department active over the weekend, but occasionally, e-mails won't be answered until after the weekend.

7) Be Impolite And Demanding On Forums

This is not an issue that affects us in tech support, but we do see it happen a lot, and I wanted to address it here, because it is also a communication issue.

Various forums like are run by volunteers - people willing to sacrifice their own time and knowledge for the greater good.

All too often, someone under stress busts in on these forums, and starts demanding a solution for a problem, preferably in ALL CAPS, and they NEED IT NOW.

Please, don't do that - keep in mind that software forums are like tech support run by volunteers. If a forum post does not get answered: that's how it goes. You cannot force volunteers to help you fix your problem.

Being polite helps. Being complete and concise helps too. Building goodwill by helping others in need helps too - so if you can help someone else, do it. By doing that, you increase your chances of being helped when the time comes you need it.

But don't expect help if you go bustin' in yelling you need help NOW.


So - if you are ever in the position of needing tech support - please think of the recipient at the other end, and help them help you.

Provide ample information from the first e-mail or post you send:

- Who are you? Make sure to leave enough info so you can be contacted. Provide an alternate e-mail address. Provide a phone number.
- What is it about? Make sure you explain what the name of the software or tool is you're having trouble with.
- What is the problem? Describe in detail what steps you are taking and where it goes wrong (e.g. something like "I then try to select the File - Open... menu but it is greyed out")
- Which platform are you on: Mac/Windows? What version of the OS? XP, Server 2008, Vista, Vista 64, Win7, Win7 64, OS X 10.4.x, OS X 10.5.x,...
- What version of the creative suite are you using: CS, CS2, CS3, CS4, CS5?
- Do you know how to create a system profile on Mac? (Go to the 'Apple - About this Mac' menu then click 'More Info...' and use 'File - Save As...' to save a system profile. Attach it to your e-mail).
- What version of InDesign are you using? CS4 has a whole range: 6.0, 6.0.1,... 6.0.5?
- Can you make one or more screenshots of the problem? If so, please do
- Can you provide a sample document? If you can, please do (but don't send a 1GB sample - try to make it as small as possible)
- Did something crash? If so, can you get the crash logs and e-mail them? If you don't know what those are, can you find someone to help you with that?

Finally, answer all questions you get in return to the best of your capacity.

Just sayin'