Frontline Tech SupportThe importance of early and correct problem descriptions by frontline technical support

I recently had a ten-hour layover in Amsterdam on a business trip. So I decided to take the train into town. I soon returned to the train station to take the train back to the Amsterdam airport. Now on the train platform, there are two tracks. My chances were 50–50 to get on the right train. More importantly… I also needed to get on the right train, going the right direction. If not, my flight would be missed, my commitment to my client would be disrupted and an important workshop would need to be rescheduled. With participants expected from nine different countries, getting on the wrong train would have huge consequences. Luckily, I boarded the right train in the right direction.

What does this have to do with frontline technical support?

Frontline staff cannot make decisions relying on luck. They cannot afford the risk to send everyone down the ‘wrong track’.

Frontline customer support staff are the “first responders” on technical issues. They are backed up by an army of resources—backline engineers, escalation managers, and more. And everyone, including the customer, relies on them to get the issue correctly and completely. Relying on a 50/50 chance of getting it right is not acceptable.

Consider the consequences of not accurately and completely capturing the customer’s issue:

  • Internal resources would be squandered as time and effort are wasted chasing after a misdiagnosis.
  • Relations between frontline and backline teams can be damaged.
  • The customer could become aggravated if the wrong issue is addressed.
  • Productivity goes down; expenses spike up.
  • Call completion rates degrade; customer satisfaction scores sink.

Unfortunately, the various situations I mentioned play out every day in technical support… The customer’s issue is misunderstood because the problem description is weak, incomplete or inaccurate. Information is always important in technical support; and information is even more critical at the beginning of the case. The entire support organization relies on these entries by the frontline staff.

Fortunately, they are also preventable. Through training, documentation guidelines and coaching, frontline technical support can develop the skills to document the case accurately and completely from the start. This requires asking the right information and then confirming the problem description with the customer.

Getting an early and accurate description of the customer’s issue is critical. A good way to start diagnostic troubleshooting is to build out a problem statement from the customers’ sometimes not-perfectly-articulate description. A challenge? Yes. But with the right training and consistent practice, it will get easier.