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12 tips for online merchants for requesting support from providers

As webmasters and site owners, we are also consumers - we buy advertising and marketing services, software, hosting; in fact, as a group I'd say were are right up there in terms of average dollars spent online.

Even though we're familiar with the ways of the web, many of us still have challenges when requesting support via email from other merchants, suppliers and providers; particular in relation to software or other online services. 

There's nothing worse than waiting hours for support request to be answered, only to receive a response that doesn't solve the problem. It's not always the merchant's fault - often it's a PEBCAK issue on your end (Problem Exists Between Chair and Keyboard) or it's a case of not describing accurately what the actual problem is. Take the time from the outset to get your initial support request right - it may save you much frustration.

1. What is the troublesome product/service?

Often I've seen one-line support requests such as "it doesn't work when I click the link", or "it's broken". Huh? What doesn't work and what link? Just because a web site advertises a single product, it doesn't mean the company behind the product doesn't have others - be specific in which product or service is affected, including the version number.

2. What operating system/browser are you using

It can be of great assistance to a support team to know what type of system you are running. For instance, in relation to web based applications, it's not unusual for certain apps not to work with specific browsers. Provide relevant details regarding any software that interacts with the service or application.

3. When did the problem start occurring

This is an important piece of information, especially when accompanied by a description of any changes you recently made to the system - regardless of whether you think it's related or not. During my servicing/hardware days, I would ask the question - "has anything changed on your system since just prior to this occurring", and get the response "No.". Hours later I'd find that something had changed, but the client didn't mention it because they thought it wouldn't have been related. In short, if you've found it necessary to have someone else try and fix your issue, answer any questions they ask - don't leave stuff out - they are the experts and will discern what's important and what isn't :).

4. How to reproduce the problem

Try to provide details of how the support team might be able to reproduce the error at their end. Computers and software are a little different to physical goods as there's so many more different combinations of things that can go wrong. 

5. What have you done to try and fix the problem?

As we're mostly pretty resourceful people, we'll have a tendency to try and fix a problem ourselves before approaching support. It's a good idea to let the support team know exactly what you've done/checked already for two reasons:

a) It can save them time in trying the same possible solution or suggesting to you the same.
b) By trying to "fix" the problem, you may have actually dug yourself in deeper and they'll need to undo your work :).

6. What is your name/username?

Support teams don't solve issues by osmosis - they need basic information about you and your account. If you send a support request with an abbreviated name or just a first name and you're using a different email address from the one you registered with; you may have instantly created a hurdle that the support team has to jump through. If they can't find your account easily, they will write back to you asking for more details - more time wasted for both parties.

7. Quoting support replies in full

Many companies use support ticket systems which allow them to keep track of all the communications relating to a thread. That being the case, if you receive an autoresponse after initially submitting a ticket - read it. Quite often you'll find that the autoresponse specifically request that you don't reply with the full thread. The reason for this is that it can make a support thread in the merchants system unbelievably long. In instances where a ticketing system is used, you will also be provided with a password to view the full thread.

8. Send your request in plain text

As a security feature, many ticket systems don't allow for the display of HTML or scripting. While the system will strip out HTML code, it can still leave your request looking like a mess. This makes it more difficult for the support team to decipher the message. Wherever possible, just send your support request in plain text.

9. Don't send attachments initially

As another security measure, ticket systems may automatically strip off attachments - it's best to ask the support team that if they require screenshots etc; the email address of where you should send them to. Also, be considerate with your attachments when you do send them. A 30 megabtye screenshot won't win you any friends :).

10. Flagging things as urgent

Be really careful in flagging issues as being urgent - this should only be done when a problem is mission critical. If you continue to submit support requests with urgent flags and they really aren't, sooner or later the support team will give you less priority; usually around the time that you *really* need support urgently.

11. Keep it polite

Speak to a support team the way you would like to be addressed. They are human - by insulting and cursing, you're not setting up a very good environment to have your issues addressed in a timely manner. In many cases, your request will go to the bottom of the pile for a manager to review. That being the case, if the manager decides that your tone is way out of line - you may get a surprise and be told that your business is no longer appreciated. This is a stance that I take with people, and I encourage other managers to do the same. Life is too short to tolerate unnecessary abuse and your patronage will not be missed.

There's nothing wrong with expressing displeasure, just do so tactfully.

12. Lodging a complaint

Not everything will always go well even if you do follow all these guidelines and you're well within your rights to lodge a complaint. Complaints are a good thing as they give a company the opportunity to improve processes and alert management to a possible trend in support processes that can damage a company.

Probably the best way to lodge a complaint is in a response to the support team that you politely, but firmly, demand that the issue to be escalated to a manager, that the manager review the communication exchange to date and that you also be provided with the manager's contact details. If the manager is competent, he will soon identify that you're not just another loony customer threatening to sue, but that you're a logical, reasonable person who has a valid complaint. If he or she doesn't, then really, you don't want to be doing business with that company anyway - it's a sure sign of even worse things to come.

Special note - using "I'll sue"

I don't know how many times I've heard this in the last decade - and it's usually in connection with user error. I know in some parts of the world saying "I'll sue" is a little like saying hello, but my advice is to *never, ever* threaten to sue unless you fully intend to and have the means to. It's a little like the boy who cried wolf and will often backfire. I believe that in all my years online, I have only threatened legal action in regards to a supplier twice, and, yes, my lawyer was standing by ready to act on my behalf in each instance.

If you're finding yourself threatening to sue a provider every other day, you're either the most unluckiest person in the world or perhaps the attitude problem lies with you rather than the merchants you deal with :).

These tips may appear to be a lot to think about before submitting a support request; but if it decreases the amount of time you spend in back and forth overall, then surely the effort is worth it. Less time = less money lost.

As mentioned, following these tips won't ensure an excellent and speedy level of support in every instance and with every company, but they will definitely help towards that goal. 

Think of your own online business and the frustrations you experience with clients - surely you don't wish to inflict the same upon a fellow merchant or provider? It just takes a little thought and a little extra time; but everyone wins and it helps to promote a more friendly online business environment.

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
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____________________________

In the interests of transparency and disclosure, please note that the owner of Taming the Beast.net often receives goods and services mentioned in reviews for free, or may receive payments or affiliate commissions for advertising or referring others to merchants of products and services reviewed.

Copyright information.... This article is not available for reproduction without explicit written permission from Michael Bloch and Taming the Beast.net

 

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