5 Things Tech Support Won't Tell You

Here are five "secrets" tech support agents would never admit to

Being a Tech Support Agent isn't an easy job. I should know—I've been one at several companies, at different levels, and it can be rough.

Working in tech support means taking calls, emails, or chat sessions from people who aren't happy. It's a lot like a retail customer support job, only without the benefit of body language, eye contact, and other things that make human interaction easier. It's a unique career with unique challenges.

Our How to Talk to Tech Support piece was written to help make your overall experience working with them easier, but I think knowing some of this insider information might help too.

These five "secrets" are a mix of things tech support folks would like to tell you but can't, and a few they'd probably rather me not share at all. The last one certainly falls in that second bucket.

Photo of a silhouette of person using laptop behind glass
© Fang Zhou / Cultura / Getty Images

"We're Often Working From a Script, Not Experience"

Unfortunately, many of the people that answer the phone or chat request, or reply to the email you send, aren't at all personally experienced with what they're about to help you with, especially in very large support groups like those that operate in big technology companies.

There's a good chance he or she hasn't used the router you can't get to work, ever interacted with the software you're chatting about, or gone through even the most basic tasks involved in the service that isn't working as expected.

The "Level 1" or "Tier 1" support agent you're working with is probably following a flowchart. They ask you to check on or do something and then decide what to talk to you about next based on how you responded.

No doubt, some of you may have already guessed this one based on the quality of help you sometimes get, but don't be too hard on the person on the other end. They haven't used the product or service you're talking to them about because the company they work for didn't think it was important, not because they lack drive or enthusiasm.

All that said, if you're having trouble getting the help you need from the person that you first interact with, you do have options.

"We Can Escalate Your Ticket if You Ask Us To"

While it might seem like the person you first talk to in tech support is your first and last option, that's almost never the case.

Sure, you can ask to talk to a manager if you're running into an issue where someone isn't cooperating with you professionally, but they're not likely to help out much more with your actual technical issue.

There is, however, another group you can talk to with more skills, and probably more experience, with the thing you need help with. It's called "Level 2" or "Layer 2" support.

The members of this group usually don't follow a flow chart or predetermined list of questions. These men and women are usually experienced with the product and may have even be involved in the design or development of it, meaning they're more likely to have specific advice for your situation.

Don't take this new information as license to interrupt a Level 1 tech before she starts talking and ask for Level 2. That first layer of support exists in part to not waste the time of higher trained support agents with easy-to-fix problems.

Keep the "Level 2" option in your back pocket for situations where you're more knowledgeable than the Level 1 person (be honest with yourself about that one, please) or when you're frustrated with the level of troubleshooting that's being provided.

"We Have a Number-of-Calls Goal But Also a Strong Incentive To Fix Your Problem Right Now"

Tech support folks sometimes find themselves between a rock and a hard place. They often have goals to meet on a daily basis—usually a number of calls. The more calls they take, the closer they get to their goals, and the happier their managers are.

On the other hand, the company pushes something called first call resolution—fixing your problem the first time you call—to save on overall costs. A tech support department doesn't make a company money. Every call incurs labor and infrastructure costs, so solving your problem quickly and efficiently saves them money.

You can use this knowledge to your advantage, especially if you're having a particularly tough time or the issue is clearly with the company's product or service.

Knowing that they want you in and out quickly, and satisfied, don't hesitate to ask for replacement hardware, a coupon or discount, or some appropriate upgrade. Ask too early and there's no incentive on their part, but time it right, and you could walk away better off than before the problem started. Most companies have learned that keeping you happy, even at a short term cost, pays off for them in the long run.

Beware of the tech support upsell, a relatively common practice these days where tech support agents act also as salespeople, pitching you a higher tier service or an upgraded product, at a cost of course, during your call. Most of the time this is clear and easy to opt out of, but a few companies use this tactic as a way around giving you support—an "upgrade and this problem goes away" sort of thing.

"Sometimes We Have the Answer You Need But Aren't Allowed to Tell You"

I remember being in this situation myself, as a tech support guy, on more than one occasion. Someone calls, has a need the product I supported couldn't satisfy, and I wasn't allowed to do the right thing and send them elsewhere.

Luckily, more and more companies are realizing that "doing the right thing" isn't just the right thing but is also good karma, in a very measurable way. Providing a positive experience, even if it means losing that person as a customer, is something we remember next time we're in the market for something that company provides.

The lesson for you, then, as a "user" of technical support, is to remember that you may have other options, even if the person on the phone or the other end of the email chain doesn't let you in on that.

Remember, again, this isn't some cult of cruel tech support folks that decided they didn't want to help you the right way—these are company policies the agents have little choice but to follow.

"We Have Some Not-So-Nice Code Words We Use When We're Frustrated"

Last, but certainly not least, is a "secret" that few outside the tech support world know: you're sometimes being made fun of, right to your face.

Ever been told that the issue you had was an ID-10T error, or that the root of the problem was a Layer 8 issue? If so, you've been directly insulted and you didn't even know it. Those are two of many "code words" that imply that the user (that's you) are lacking basic knowledge of the issue at hand.

While it's certainly no excuse, and none of these "jokes" are ever truly deserved, they do offer some frustration relief for some people in a very demanding profession.

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