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Thoughts for New Support People


Watching new people start working in technical support positions, especially when they are not in "classic" support roles, is a difficult experience. I can see their frustrations with people asking the same questions just answered. I can see the increased amount of documentation "to solve all the problems." I can see the exasperation oozing out of the screen from the new support people.

I want to give each them a (totally professional) hug and tell them,

Look, people asking for help are not going to read the pinned messages in that support channel. They are not going to search the archives or the help channels for their question. They most likely won't try to figure out the problem at all before they ask for help. They will not read the documentation.

People will show up with a "doesn't work" message. They will ask the same question you just answered last month, last week, yesterday. They will not know what version they were using, or if they are logged in, or what steps they took to be in this werid space, asking for help.

They will be in a hurry. They will want an answer now. They may not be kind.

This is not about you. You are not the technical problem.

Listen to their problem. Ask more questions to understand the root of their help request. Confirm you understand the problem correctly by repeating back to them your understanding of their problem. If they say no, that isn't what is wrong, start over and listen to them. When you understand the problem, then, and only then, help.

Go head and copy and repeat the answer you gave yesterday, last week. Link to the answer in the documentation. Give them the easy answers. Keep your tone light. Add lots of happy emojis.

If you cannot solve their problem, be clear about when someone will follow up with the solution, and actually find someone to solve their problem.
If the problem cannot be solved, be clear about the insolvability of the problem, and let them know that, yes, it does indeed suck.
If you solved the problem, thank them for bringing the issue up. Repeated requests for the same issue indicates a problem with the product or process and THAT is what needs to be fixed.

What won't work is posting "LOOK OVER HERE!" messages to documentation that is 10 pages long, tiny font, on a wiki that no one can access. Neither will posting "SEARCH FOR YOUR PROBLEM BEFORE ASKING" messages. Nor will a dozen pinned messages. People want help, they want to be unblocked.

Find some level of serenity that this is how people are, and have been since forever. Your posts with capital letters are not going to change that behavior. Tolerate the repetitive questions, and take A LOT of joy when someone arrives with a new question, a new problem to solve, a puzzle to figure out.

And maybe take some solace in Marcus' thoughts from 1900 years ago:

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own - not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”

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