The Technical Support Project


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The Technical Support Project

  1. 1. The Technical Support ProjectStaffing is the most critical part of creating a winning technical support team. If youmake mistakes with the steps discussed in my first article but excel at hiring andmanaging your people, you will succeed in the end. If, however, you do well with themechanics and make mistakes with staffing, you will certainly fail.Your Staff TodayEven if your current staff is doing a good job, you will still have to bring new people in tohelp you rise from the ashes. I know you don‘t want to fire the people you have today—that can be unpleasant—so give it some time and the problem will probably resolveitself for you. Your current staff will naturally turn over when they get tired of listening tocomplaining and blaming. Your task will then be to hire better than you have in thepast.The Hiring ProcessEach employee comes with their own set of technical skills, personality quirks andattitudes, so give plenty of thought to what your hiring criteria will be before you evenbegin. The easiest way to approach this is to make a list of the minimum technical skillsthat your new team must contain, and then narrow that list down to determine whichskills each individual must have for their specific job.Next, think about which character traits you want in your team. The following are somethat I have found to be incredibly useful.• Quick Learner – It is easy to test potential candidates for how quickly they learnnew concepts. Find a few puzzles that build upon each other in complexity, then showthe candidate the first. Afterwards, ask him/her to solve the second. Under the pressureof a job interview, can this person digest the information and apply it? If not, thiscandidate should be avoided.• Responsible – You can ask specific questions to measure a person‘s sense ofresponsibility. Can they tell you about a time when they made a mistake that hurtsomeone else? Someone who doesn‘t have a strong emotional reaction to telling yousuch a story is not the right person for you.
  2. 2. • Empathetic – Empathy is very important because it guides communication withangry customers. During the interview process, I ask references if they think thecandidate is an empathetic person. You can also ask candidates to take a Meyers-Briggs personality test. ‗F‘ personality types tend to be more empathetic than others, soyou can interpret their results accordingly.• Curious – Technical support is nothing more than a long series of problems to besolved, and a person who is naturally curious is best suited for this type of work. Ininterviews, I ask about hobbies to find out if a person is curious. For example, one of mystaff members was taking a welding class when I interviewed him. I asked him why andhe answered, ―I was curious about how it worked. Since I had some free time, I thoughtI would give it a try.‖ I have never been disappointed with his internal drive to figure outtechnical problems.• Logical – A logical person will approach complex problems and say to themselves,―I can figure this out.‖ For this reason, I actually test for logic during interviews by gettinga few logic puzzles together, making them multiple-choice and giving them to thecandidate. One previous candidate was asked, ―Which is more valuable, a trunk full ofnickels or a trunk full of dimes?‖ The candidate chose nickels, and when I asked why,replied, ―Well, I thought that since nickels are bigger, they must be worth more.‖ Thisperson did not approach problems logically, so I did not hire them.• Trustworthy – You must be able to trust the people on your team, so during thecourse of your interview, imagine that the person sitting before you is a friend of yourswho has volunteered to take care of your personal business while you go on vacation.Ask yourself if you would trust them to collect your mail, feed your pets and take care ofyour house. If not, you shouldn‘t hire them.Managing the TeamWhile hiring is important, some portion of my success comes from my managementstyle. I‘m not perfect, but I have an intentional plan for how I manage and I stick to it asbest I can.1. Train your team wellGood training leads to capable support people. You are going to be hiring people tofigure out problems, so clearly you can‘t train them on precisely what they are going tobe working on. The objective here is to do the best you can. Don‘t, for example, putthem into entirely unfamiliar systems and ask them to demonstrate proficiency rightaway.Your current staff are probably under-trained, so as you work on creating a winning
  3. 3. team, get real product training scheduled for them. You should also make ongoingtraining a priority, especially when it comes to new product releases.2. Set goals and boundariesSetting goals for your staff is easy—simply make them SMART (Specific, Measurable,Achievable, Relevant and Time-Based). Boundaries, however, are slightly morecomplicated. I usually explain them to my people like this: ―That decision requires acontext of information that you don‘t have—for example, you are not tuned in to otherdepartment‘s schedules. It‘s not a matter of trust, but a matter of knowledge andresponsibility. You don‘t have time to know everything and shouldn‘t have to beresponsible for everything. Right up to the boundary, do what is right for the customerand the company. Talk to me when you are asked to cross a boundary or when you feellike it is the right thing to do. I‘ll take the responsibility for making those decisions.‖3. Listen to and help themUnfortunately, many managers treat their staff like servants while the goal ofmanagement is actually the opposite—to help people do their jobs better. I considermyself the one-man technical support team enablement department. Consequently, myteam knows that my door is always open. They have my cell phone number and are notafraid to use it. Allow your team to do the same.4. Review their performanceEverybody needs to know how they are doing, so give your staff their appropriate praiseand correction. As a rule, praise should be public and correction should be private. Youshould also do regular performance reviews and have a job growth plan in place inorder to keep the best people around.Holding periodic meetings will promote communication and let your people know howthey are doing as a team. If there is a problem, you can discuss it without assigningblame to anyone. Tell your team that you want to discuss the process they are havingdifficulty with in order to ensure that it is the best process for them. Take comments andsuggestions on how to improve. This kind of input is priceless.5. Trust your staff
  4. 4. If you have done everything else, the final step is to let your people do their jobs. Unlessyou are a micromanager, this should be the easy part. Give them the self-confidencethey deserve through showing that you trust them.Keeping Your Team HappyIt is always important to focus on boosting morale. Don‘t wait for it to drop before you dosomething about it, or it will be too late. Small things such as buying lunch for your teammore often than other department heads do will go a long way towards keeping themhappy.Long-Term RetentionRetention is much more important in a technical support team than anywhere else.Development, marketing, sales and accounting will all have an easier time training anew employee than you will in technical support. This means that you need to have aplan in place for retaining your best people. It will likely include the management style Ijust described, as well as giving raises, bonuses and promotions.This is why hiring is so important in the first place. You will want to live with theconsequences of your selections for a long time.Reference link: