Imagine coming down to breakfast one morning to find your partner sitting solemnly at the kitchen table. “This relationship isn’t working,” they say. Then, rising to leave the room they add, “Let me know when you’ve fixed it.”
You’re left dumbfounded. Your mind begins to race, wondering whether it was your habit of humming inane tunes around the house, the collection of Ally McBeal DVDs you watch over and over, or your signature dish of prawn vindaloo you insist on serving at every dinner party that caused this rift in your passions.
But the fact is, without more information from your beloved, you won’t ever know which of your annoying personality traits has caused your partnership to break down, let alone how to fix it.
It is, to an uncanny extent that might seem far fetched at first, almost exactly the same with reporting errors in internet services (if you replace your kitchen with an automated support ticket portal) – if you don’t go into detail, you can’t expect any results.
The only difference is that unlike your irritating partner, most online help desks don’t take offence and flounce off in a huff if you start listing their flaws. Dedicated support staff didn’t build the application, website or technology that is letting you down so won’t take it personally when you tell it’s letting you down, while if you’re contacting a developer directly they will – if they have any sense – see it in their best interest to iron out the bugs of their product.*
Of course, not every support desk operative or web developer will have the abilities and/or inclination to help you, just as some people will never change their annoying habits (I for one will probably never stop explaining things in extended metaphors, no matter how many times partners tell me it drives them mad), but whoever you are dealing with you’ve got to go into specifics to stand a chance of fixing anything.
So, next time you find a broken page on your business website or a nonfunctioning function in a favourite application, make sure the person you want to put it right knows:
- Where you were when it happened (i.e. the page you were looking at, not the room of the house your computer is in, though I can see how my earlier references to kitchens might have confused that point);
- What you were trying to do and how you were trying to do it (it might… might… no offence, like… might… be user error);
- What actually happened when you tried to do the thing you were tying to do (even if that was nothing; there is a subtle technical difference between nothing happening when you click a button and your laptop catching fire, even if it seems tenuous to the layperson).
If possible, provide links, screenshots and copied error messages too. If your relationship is broken you put yourself in the place of your partner to see it from their side, and likewise your tech support will try and recreate your actions and experience leading up to the error. However, empathy only gets you so far and sometimes you just need your lover to spell it out. (What’s that, darling? The extended metaphor is really starting to grate on you now?)
It may seem like a lot of hassle providing all this detail when submitting a support request, but the fact is you’ll probably have to provide it eventually. If a developer could second-guess your issue, it wouldn’t have made it into the code in the first place, so chances are this new error is a mystery to them and they will need all the clues they can get. The more guesswork you leave them with, the longer your issue will take to be resolved, which is especially bad if you are being billed for that time or the bug is costing you sales.
‘Help me to help you’ should be the motto of tech support staff everywhere, if uttering such a glib phrase wouldn’t make them even more reviled by the general public than they already are. Let’s just take it as read, eh?
Ultimately, if you don’t give enough details and can’t follow up your cry for help by answering a few questions, the other party might – in spite of their deep desire to aid you – eventually conclude that you don’t actually need their help all that much.
Or at least that is the conclusion I came to after my last girlfriend left me over the breakfast table, ignoring my pleas for her to outline her gripes in a detailed email, ideally with illustrative attachments and hyperlinks. She just walked out of my life, muttering “…and I bet you’ll turn this into an extended metaphor too.”