5 Things I’ve Picked Up Working an ISP Help Desk Job

About four months ago, I got hired at a rather large, east coast fiber ISP called Lumos Fiber. After two months of training, I was sent home to set up shop as a remote network support technician, and I’ve learned some interesting things, and gained some perspective when it comes to working the help desk in the tech field.

1. At Times It Seems Like You’re Not Even Working In Tech

Before you go into the tech industry, you have this impression of tech as if it’s going to be a lot of problem solving, a lot of fulfilling interaction with technology, and other things.  However, when you finish training, and you’re actually doing your job, you’re kind of locked into a very narrow and specific domain.

Now, for roles that are more advanced, there might be a lot of room for problem solving and innovation that feels a lot more like what you associated tech with before you started. 

2. Come Up With a Natural Routine For Filling Dead Air

Now, I’m sure some people are natural conversationalists, but I think, more often than not, any tech support person I’ve spoken to is quiet any time they’re not directly addressing my issue.  What I have learned, however, is that you can inject words into an otherwise tense and awkward moment that fit the criteria of being somehow relevant to what you are doing at the moment, as well as serving the purpose of simply breaking the silence.

For instance, whenever I start making a ticket, there’s this long process of inputting certain information in to create the ticket.  Our system has a peculiar way of dealing with phone numbers we enter, so if you enter the wrong number, you have to clear it out, and then tab out and back into the phone number field to change it.  If you try to enter anything more than 10 digits (it doesn’t check for an accurate number) or less than 10 digits, the ticket generates an error.

If the network is running a little slow, this can really draw out the opening process.  This is just an example of how long creating a ticket can be.

However, what I’ve started to do is try and be relevant and friendly without seeming like I’m just filling the silence.  What I do is say, “Okay, give me 3 or 4 minutes to bring up your information, and I’ll see if I can find what’s causing the issue right away.”

I’ve stuck with this particular opening, because it never fails to get the customer comfortable with a few minutes of silence right from the beginning, and truth is, it takes me at most 3 to 4 minutes to bring up someone’s equipment for an initial analysis.  Usually it takes less, but this opening buys me some time from the beginning.

3. Don’t Build Rapport With People, They Will Quickly Become Your Enemies

Well, this is more the customer service side of things, but it’s an important skill that I learned early on.

Back when I was working at a restaurant called Dari-o, my role was to stand at the window, like they do at Chik-Fil-A, and interact with customers.  Sometimes these interactions would be a little extended, but when it comes to fast food, extended means at most 5 minutes.   Yet, I enjoyed these interactions, and to fill the silence, I would often engage people in conversation.  I’d ask them questions about things I noticed in their vehicles, and I knew what would and would not be appreciated.  When you’re working tech support for an ISP, this simply cannot happen.

The main reason behind this, is that you have no idea if the person you’re building that rapport with is going to be the person that you have to say, “Okay, we currently have a turnaround time of 3 days, which means that [assume it’s Wednesday] we can have someone out there Monday or sooner.”  It’s bad enough if the person is without internet for that long, but if someone is a customer who subscribes to our phone, television, AND internet services, that rapport you built goes out the window.  It gets really sour.

So my approach has become one of “respect everyone, be confident, push forward, and only give back the positivity that they give you first.”  Applying this has never put me in that position again.  If they want rapport, I can tell, and I give it.  If they don’t, I don’t, and it makes delivering the bad news a thousand times easier.

5. Be Prepared To Dig Your Heels In and Press Forward

I think one of the toughest aspects of my job, is jumping into a possible solution for something, an optical network device, for example, and realizing that I overlooked a much better troubleshooting approach.  Also, there can be times when I’ll actually guide customers through troubleshooting procedures that are irrelevant given that new information or suddenly realizing that I just forgot to have them “try turning it off and back on again” springs to mind.

I never get the impression that the customer realizes I’ve taken them through a procedure that the didn’t have to perform, however, customers generally don’t like going through a lot of effort themselves to solve problems.

For instance, recently our email hosting service was outsourced to a different provider so we could shift those internal resources elsewhere.  When this happened, a lot of customers had to go into their email clients and change settings.  Given that I don’t have access to their programs and aren’t really familiar with the various email clients (especially iOS, which I am  more familiar with than I ever wanted to be now), I have to go step by step with customers through the task of finding the place where we can set their outgoing and incoming mail servers.  Customers have a sort of limited attention span, and if they get the impression that you are just guessing, or that you don’t really know what you’re doing, that little voice inside of them will start to say, “This is pointless, they could just send someone over here and help me in person”.

That’s where you have to dig in your heels and press forward.  Sometimes, you’ll have to back up with a customer and gather more information. Maybe you just realized they didn’t reseat an Ethernet cable, but just a minute ago we already looked at the modem.  Why didn’t I look at that in the first place?  I get that the customer is trying to figure that out in their head.  And their tone lets this on.  Whatever they’re thinking, they feel they shouldn’t have to go over any ground they’ve already covered, even if there’s something we missed the first time.

Pushback is inevitable, but at the end of it all, whether you’re telling them it’s going to be 4 days til we can get out there, or you’re having them look at a piece of equipment with you for the third time because you just realized the solution is probably something you overlooked, you have to press on.

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