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The IT Philosopher, Tips

5 On-The-Job Tips for IT Support Professionals.

Do you want to be the best in your field? Of course you do! The IT Support field is dynamic, challenging, and incredibly satisfying. But to be the best, you need more than just technical knowledge; you need to be a problem-solver. You need to be someone who can help clients overcome obstacles and identify ways in which technology assets can improve productivity.

When you’re doing on-site IT support the right way, you don’t even need a box of donuts to get the office smiling at your arrival. But done the wrong way, IT support becomes a frustrating experience for both users and technicians. How can you make sure that you’re effectively supporting IT needs and helping clients focus on their work? Over my time as a user-facing onsite IT support engineer, I’ve found the following 5 tips incredibly helpful in staying on track:

1. Be Proactive.

It’s easy for an IT support technician to be purely reactive. User complains about problem, technician acknowledges, looks for solution, and applies fix. And indeed, there are some aspects of IT support that will always have to work this way.

But when you’re on-site with the customer, you can go a step further than that. Be proactive and look for issues. Investigate key IT assets and talk to users about their daily experiences with computers, phones, etc. The key is to identify issues in the early stages. Why wait for a problem to get so bad that the user’s productivity is impacted? Do some investigating and nip it in the bud.

At a client site, I one day noticed that the guest wifi wasn’t working. The SSID was up and responding, but connecting to it provided no internet. The client hadn’t complained about it – so I theoretically could’ve saved some sweat and said nothing until it eventually came up.  I instead took the proactive route and worked with the Network Engineer then and there to solve the problem – it just needed some VLAN adjustment.

Don’t just wait for problems to come to you; it pays to go on the offensive when possible.

2. Keep Users Informed.

All IT Support technicians are guilty of this at one time or another: a business-impacting critical outage kicks in, and you get tied up working on it for hours while the client meanwhile has no idea what’s going on. All they know is that their productivity is cut back and they have no clue when to expect recovery, or if anyone from IT even knows about it.

All it takes is an email or phone call. If an enterprise application goes offline, you should absolutely be coordinating an immediate response – and keeping the client informed should be an integral part of that. Let them know that IT is working on it and provide a realistic ETR if possible. Make sure the client knows when to expect followups so they aren’t left wondering when they’ll hear from you again.

3. Don’t Let Up.

Ever heard a really good fish story? Every fisherman can tell you about “the one that got away”. In the field of IT support, it’s not uncommon to find yourself dealing with upwards of 30 distinct IT problems at any given time – 30 cyber-fish tugging on 30 different fishing poles.

If you’re not paying attention, or get complacent, then some of those will start getting away from you. By the time you get back to reel them in, they’re already halfway out to sea and will double the work to resolve – meanwhile, your client is back there with fork in hand and a lobster bib tied on the neck, waiting for their fish fry.

Example: I had a user who needed a hard drive replaced in their laptop. I gave them a loaner laptop, which took care of them for the time being – but it wasn’t well-suited to their needs, so they really needed to get their own laptop back ASAP. I stopped paying close attention to the issue, and suddenly two weeks went by without the drive being ordered. I had simply never stopped to place the order. Then lo and behold, another few weeks passed before I put installed the drive. What could’ve been done within the space of a few days took nearly a month simply because I was letting up on the issue.

Don’t let up – be cognizant of the next steps and be ready to take them.

4. Learn to Multitask.

Closely tied to the last tip – Multitasking is key to keep resolution moving on multiple issues at once. There have been times that I’ve had a remote session going with a user on one screen, a remote session on the other screen with vendor IT support for a critical system, and on a phone call with yet another user for another different issue – all at the same time. That’s a dramatic and uncommon example that I don’t recommend trying in normal circumstances, but the point is to keep reeling in those issues when you can handle it.

Of course, there’s a time and place for sitting down and focusing on a single problem or project for a few hours, depending on the issue – and you certainly never want to bite off more than you can chew. Better to handle a few issues well than a lot of issues poorly. But the bottom line is this: If you want to do really well and quickly solve problems for multiple users, learn to effectively multitask.

5. Will the Solution Cause Problems?

Finally, it’s important to consider how a solution could itself cause another problem down the line. For example: One of the more embarrassing mistakes I’ve made involved dealing with out-of-office replies cluttering a service account inbox. To resolve this, I used an Office 365 network-level mail flow rule designed to delete out-of-office replies with specific text in the body. It seemed to work; the inbox was no longer being inundated with out-of-office replies.

A month went by, me almost entirely forgetting about the issue – until I one day hear users complaining that e-mails are disappearing en route. As it turns out, this rule was deleting a lot more than just out-of-office replies – it was zapping anything that happened to have a certain phrase in the body, which included far more regular business e-mail than I expected. Oops! The rule had to get yanked.

This was something I should’ve thought about ahead of time. “Will deleting anything containing phrases related to ‘out-of-office’ cause other problems?” When devising solutions, be cognizant of what else the solution will impact. It’s not uncommon for a poorly-conceived solution to end up being worse that the original problem.

Follow these guidelines, and you’ll find your ability to support clients increases while their frustration decreases – a win for everybody! 

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