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How to avoid IT support issues

IT support can be tough, but we can avoid it, or deal with it constructively by following some key advice.

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As business owners, it’s inevitable that there are going to be departments that we don’t have a comprehensive understanding of. That’s why we hire staff whose skillsets and abilities make them suited to certain tasks. When the shoe doesn’t fit, we can outsource the role altogether. Having these mechanisms in place is key to business efficiency. 

However, certain problems are worse than others. One of the biggest headaches is IT. When systems are down it can greatly hinder productivity, or in extreme cases bring the business to a grinding halt. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t encounter IT issues, but in reality, they will appear at least occasionally. In this article, we learn how to mitigate risks, and how to best deal with problems when they inevitably arise. 

What is IT support and where did it come from? 

a picture of a virtual private network with cords plugged in
Image: Unsplash

The modern concept of IT support started in the 1990s. The proliferation of the IT help desk was accelerated by the dot-com boom, but it often left something to be desired in terms of professionalism. Laid back young men who sat on bean bags and worked under a pile of retro knick-knacks is a common stereotype of the era. Their relaxed attitude towards work was emboldened by the inability of their colleagues to comprehend the complexity of IT. (1)

As personal computers for each employee became the norm, and as technology continued to advance, the demand for technical support increased. The dot-com boom came to a sudden and tumultuous crash around the time of the September 11th attacks in 2001. This partially resulted from expectations of the internet during the September 11th calamity that were too great for a piece of infrastructure still in its infancy. (2)

Nevertheless, coupled with a growing dependence on internet services like e-mail and web browsers, these shortcomings reemphasized the need for IT support, ironically assisting in the growth of the industry. Through this came the advent of huge call center floors providing phone-based IT support. 

As companies profiteered off of the growing need for IT services with standardized processes for unique and technical problems, IT gradually became a realm of horror stories. Contacting the call center was a dreaded task, often delegated to employees of low standing in the company, or used as punishment for under-performers. 

As a result, IT support entered the realm of popular culture through parody and ridicule. Three well-known TV shows include The IT Crowd, which put the shadowy realm of nerdom on display, The Office, that depicted mundane everyday work lives through a comedy lens, and Little Britain, with its signature phrase, “Computer says ‘no.’” 

In the last example, this catchphrase was comically used as a response to even the most reasonable requests. Subsequently, the phrase became shorthand for long-winded and expletive-laden outbursts toward the pervasive sense of unhelpfulness and inefficiency endemic to IT support. (3)

Nowadays, IT support functions much like it did in previous decades, though with some differences. It remains the first point of call for technical, hardware, and software issues, but users can also communicate through a variety of mediums including chat portals, telephone, and over e-mail. 

Memories of the trauma of yesteryear’s IT support are never far behind, and increased automation and dependence on algorithms have raised further questions about ethics and cyber-safety. Despite this, we will never be able to avoid IT issues entirely, but it is possible to mitigate them. (4)

How to keep out of trouble with IT support

IT support
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As many can attest, prevention is often more helpful than the cure. IT is essential to your business, and below are some ideas on how to keep your systems running, minimizing your need for constant IT support:

  • Hire tech savvy staff: This sounds like a no-brainer, but amidst the whirlwind process of hiring new staff, investigating just how deep someone’s tech knowledge runs can easily be overlooked. We all know the feeling of experiencing technical difficulties, only for a bunch of blank faces to look helplessly to one another for support, exposing the mistruths on employee resumés.
  • Keep your software updated: Common emotions people associate with those pesky “system update” warnings include annoyance, confusion, importance, and frustration, which says it all. For many, such messages are designed to be ignored, but that shouldn’t be our response. (5)

    Updates fix bugs, improve security, and address other internal problems that developers have noticed but you may not have. Using a system that is simply “fine” is a sign of complacency that leaves you exposed—one step closer to a lengthy phone call with IT.
  • Continually train staff and nurture top talent: IT, and tech more generally, is in a constant state of development, doubling in speed every 18 months. While it may not always be possible to be ahead of the curve, it’s important to at least know where that curve is. (6)

    A regular staff training can fill a lot of gaps in people’s knowledge of the systems they are using. Many will likely have little knowledge of the importance of password strength, or even how to troubleshoot basic platform issues. Giving the training job to a tech-savvy employee can promote pride in their work, and the result will likely be that your staff become more self-sufficient at fixing issues that arise.
  • Buy comprehensive packages: When shopping around for platforms, you may be tempted to buy things individually. A server from here, website layouts there, and desktops from Discount Dave’s. Avoid this at all costs, and try to buy complete systems from a single dealer. A platform that’s whole and in sync will lead to less trouble. If problems do occur, the dealer’s familiarity with all corners of the system leaves them well-placed to help you, which is preferable and more efficient than navigating a Frankenstein network of odds and ends.
  • Choose your upgrade timing wisely: Never upgrade your systems in the middle of a major project as this can spell disaster for your workflow. Be strategic and find a time between projects when you can give the task the attention it deserves.
  • Keep on top of “computer hygiene”: This point is two-fold, being both literal and figurative. Computer hygiene may immediately sound like physically cleaning your computer, but the principles of computer hygiene relate to using products and tools that are clean and conducive to cyber security. (7)

    Physically cleaning your tech is important too. Dust can build up in your computers, blocking air passages, which leads to overheating and poor performance. Spilt food or liquid can also be the cause of great problems, even if all seems to be running smoothly.

    Additionally, choose reputable software to run your business. Cheaper or free alternatives may seem appealing, but they often come with the unwanted burden of spyware or data tracking. These malicious actors are a persistent threat, and will send you to IT support faster. 

How to best deal with your IT support experience

You can’t hide from IT support forever. There is going to come a time when you’ll need these services. You’ll be relieved to know that great IT support options do exist. When the time does come, follow this advice to make your experience as seamless as possible. 

  • Try to minimize your anger: Incivility and phone use go hand in hand. Not only is the modern cell phone responsible for reduced social skills and rudeness, but rudeness to strangers on the phone, especially support staff, is all too common. Throw a heavy dose of frustration in the mix and you’d be surprised just how explosive your actions can be. (9)

    Just because you’re upset or confused, that doesn’t give you the right to become aggressive, nor will it help resolve your IT issues. Patience will be a virtue in this situation. Calmly explain your situation, and listen carefully to their response. Implement what they say and ask questions when you’re confused.

    There are, of course, instances when you may have received sub-par service, or you may experience rudeness yourself. Address this when and where you can, either at the completion of the call, or by escalating things with their managers if something’s been especially bad.
  • Make reasonable requests: IT support is a constant journey. There is no carefree tropical island destination waiting for you at the other end, the clouds will always come. For this reason, you need to make rational and constructive requests.

    An expectation of “you fix X and do it now” will not get your systems up and running faster, and will likely frustrate those trying to help you. On the other hand, suggesting that you need to be up to a certain point, by a certain time, to be able to do a particular job will give the IT support person much more to work with.
  • Avoid talking about money or discounts while troubleshooting issues: Money is a very sensitive topic, and can be unhelpful when trying to resolve IT issues. Bringing this up unnecessarily will confuse and complicate the process. This will be compounded by the fact that finances are likely not the “department” of the person you’re speaking to.

    If you have genuine concerns about the cost of the service compared to the support that you receive, then there are appropriate ways to communicate this. Usually writing an email, where you can clearly state your points and have a clear record of your exchange, is a good idea. 

In conclusion

IT support is an industry that is fundamental to the workflows of most businesses. Since its origins in the 1990s, through to its infuriating reputation and subsequent parodying, many have tried to avoid it. Following some of the tips above, about updates and technical knowledge, will help reduce the frequency with which you need IT support. When that need does arise, a bit of civility and respect can make the experience much more constructive. 

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Chris has been blogging since the early days of the internet. He primarily focuses on topics related to tech, business, marketing, and pretty much anything else that revolves around tech. When he's not writing, you can find him noodling around on a guitar or cooking up a mean storm for friends and family.

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