Professionalize Tech Support

[ Update, 2007-07-16: Please see my followup post ]

I’m in tech support, and I love my job: I love helping people solve problems, and I love working on the tricky things. I like working on streamlining processes to reduce support effort, I like figuring out how to communicate internally and document our processes. I even get to do a little bit of writing scripts for internal use and to solve customer problems that, strictly speaking, shouldn’t be our problem.

That said, I often feel like I’m making it up. I feel like my management’s making it up. And I don’t think that’s their fault, or mine.

It seems to me that even the biggest players fail to provide adequate tech support, and so when Joel posted Seven steps to remarkable customer service, I nodded my head more than I usually do while looking at blogs.

It sounds like Fog Creek Software solves the problem in a way that only smaller IT shops can; I don’t think their techniques could apply directly to life at Dell, or even where I work. But the ideas are important for all tech support shops.

A number of people have done awesome work on professionalizing systems administration; The Practice of System and Network Administration is an example of that. Where’s the parallel effort to professionalize tech support?

On a technical level, working on troubleshooting techniques or considering a debugger’s-eye view of particular subsystems would make great conference tutorials and presentations. I could certainly use a course on reading SMB packet traces as a means of troubleshooting filesharing issues, or on putting together flowcharts that tier 1 engineers would find useful. (If I’m Mac-less, but have access to Windows and to Linux, is there a better way to do this than Visio? What kinds of notations does experience show are used by Tier 1 folks, and what kinds don’t work as well?)

Figuring out how to communicate across shifts in a 24-hour shop with multiple people on each shift, and how to appropriately schedule people, are things that everyone seems to have figured out in their own way. However, a lot of that seems to be “this worked at my last shop, let’s try it here” and “it’s not great, but I don’t have any better ideas.” Having people present lessons learned from their own projects or shops might improve results for all parties.

Knowledge bases are another great topic; I’d like to see product comparisons and case studies, from search results to see how these tools get used, how to entice engineers to contribute, article templates that produce different levels of responses, and so on.

I’ve done my Google searches, and I’m not seeing the conferences, journals, books, or blogs for professionalization of technical support. Given that support is a huge cost center for many businesses, and given that it’s difficult to determine best practices for the field, it seems to me that someone should probably do something with regard to this.

I’m happy to give of my copious free time toward results in this arena.

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