Tech Support: How to Draw the Line

Is a difficult client ringing your phone off the hook? Try some advice from Slashdot readers on how to deal with users with excessive support demands.

A poster on Ask Slashdot on May 8 requested advice on how to reduce or turn down requests for technical support requests, especially from users who arent necessarily clients.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about the conflicts and miscommunications that can arise between users and IT help providers.

The resulting responses—421 and counting—responses ranged from predictably snarky ("Implement a long-winded touch-tone system that doesnt work … thats what works for my bank anyway") to some practical recommendations that could be enlisted by any IT professional overwhelmed by a clients demands.

  • Set a deadline as to when your tech support will terminate, and stick to it.

"[Tell them] I can support you for two more weeks, and then thats it. This is important. Tie the deadline to some milestone so that he wont push you to change it: I start my night classes in two weeks, so thats why I cant do this any more after two weeks. (It is irrelevant whether this is the true reason; you just dont want the client to say, Aww, how bout 3 weeks? How bout 4?)" wrote a poster under the name KWTm.

  • Increase your rates until your clients value your time as much as you do.

"The only way to get rid of the support people was to start raising the rates so they would find someone else. I dont know what you charge now, but start upping it fast. Increments of 25 [percent are] a good way to wean people off stupid calls," loftwyr wrote.

"Give em some reasonable number of requests, and after that charge them $55-65 per incident," blackcoot wrote.

  • Send the client elsewhere, either to a colleague or to buy a care package from a software company.

"You might try pointing them gently toward other resources," wrote eonlabs.

"Theres nothing wrong with dumping a customer, but the correct way to do it is to 1) Be truthful with them, and 2) If possible, refer them to another professional who can help them … Its also a good opportunity to throw a colleague some work," TheMCP wrote.

"Recommend [to] end users [that they] buy professional systems … I found the best way to deter friends and family was by giving them recommendations to buy expensive complete systems with support contracts. Everyone is looking for a FREEBE or a deal. As soon as I recommended people to buy Mac with Apple care or Dell systems with support contracts they stopped calling," ryanw said.

  • The most common piece of advice from those who answered the request was that an IT professional should never, ever work for free.

"I always charge everyone," wrote spacecowboy420. "Now maybe I only charge a 12 pack or dinner or some trivial token, but they always know that my services are not free."

"The bottom line, however, is that you need to learn to say no. It really is OK to not give out free customer support to people, even if theyre friends or family," said Reality Master 101.

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