Hardware and Tools to Offer Effective Support
For the past 3 years, I have been running the Support Desk at Integral and throughout this time I have found both hardware and tools that have helped make the job easier and provide the best service possible. In this post, I am going to share the hardware and tools I believe are required to offer effective support.
Firstly, I am going to discuss the hardware that I cannot work without, which includes:
- Lightweight Laptop
- Mobile Phone For On-Cover
- A Compact Microphone For Travel
- High-Quality Desk Audio
- HD Webcam
- Multiple Screens
This may seem like an obvious entry, but it is by far the most important tool for the job. There are a few key criteria it must meet, which includes:
- Essential specs to run everything you need
- Easily portable
- Comfortable keyboard
As a Technical Support Engineer with a software development background, I am quite often looking at low-level issues by inspecting code and running up reproduction environments, which requires a powerful machine.
Although I generally work at my desk, whether that be in the office or currently at home, I do have to travel for events or to see clients on odd occasions, so a 17” heavy laptop with a 2-hour battery isn’t suitable. For instances like this, you need something easily transportable and doesn’t need charging too frequently.
Finally, a good keyboard is needed, which needs to be comfortable and easy to use for times when not using the mechanical keyboard at my desk.
By taking these 3 factors into account, it led me to purchase a ‘Lenovo X1 Carbon’ laptop, which can be loaded up with hardware, has a 14” screen, and weighs less than a kilo. The keyboard has a heavier keypress compared to other laptops, which is great for me as it should have longer durability.
A part of working in support is being on call, and the good thing about phones these days is most tools you need are already on there so you have access to them all the time. Some people choose to have 2 separate phones, others get one phone with multiple sim cards.
I use a OnePlus as both my personal and work device, but which phone you use is all down to personal preference.
Laptop microphones are fine in general, but when taking customer calls, built-in microphones don’t have the quality required to provide a good service. With having to travel from time to time, I find having a compact microphone or headset is an easy alternative that you can keep in your bag. I use a ModMic for this as my regular headphones can be used as a headset and it takes up little space in my bag.
High-Quality Desk Audio
When working from your desk, it’s important to have either a good quality headset or speaker and microphone setup. Headphones or speakers with good sound quality can make all the difference as you can hear the customer clearly and be able to distinguish from background noise.
Microphones allow the customer to hear you clearly, but can also have features to dull the background noise. I use Sennheiser headphones and a Blue Yeti standing microphone, as they are affordable and reliable.
In my experience, being visible to the customer and being able to see the customer makes calls more productive and makes conversations feel personal. By allowing the customer to see you confirms they are speaking to a real person and makes it easier to convey empathy and understanding. Being presentable and having a clean background/backdrop helps to look professional to the customer too.
Laptops usually have webcams built-in, but having an external webcam can help to position the view and often has a better quality image. Logitech webcams have always been reliable and work well for me.
Some people can work happily with one screen, but I need more screen real estate. I find that 3 monitors allows me to separate different programs I’m using such as team chat, social media channels, meetings, and browsing the web without needing to constantly switch tabs. Having enough screens to see everything you need at once makes multitasking in support easier.
Having all the hardware, but no software to manage the support service would result in poor customer experience, which is why the following software tools and documentation are required to ensure the support process can run smoothly and the team can communicate:
- Internal and External Support Policies
- Customer Service Systems
- Calendars/Scheduling Apps
- Reliable Meeting Software
Internal and External Support Policies
The most critical tool needed by a support team is an agreed policy on how the team will operate. This policy can be defined both internally in terms of how the team will operate and externally in terms of what service will be delivered.
The internal policy is made up of information such as team roles and objectives, supported products and channels, service level objectives, available times, and defined procedures for certain events.
The external policy is typically defined as a matrix and clearly defined when, how, and why the support team can be contacted.
The support policy for Integral was initially defined years ago, and since then has received periodic tweaks as we add channels and change the team structure.
Customer Service Systems
To run an effective support team you need dedicated tools designed to run a support desk, and there are many products to choose from including Freshworks, Intercom, and Hubspot. These systems allow you to receive emails, chats, calls, social media, and many other channels into a single location, where the interactions can be logged, managed, and reported on.
While setting up tooling for support can be time-consuming, it is worth the effort as you have full control and visibility of your support process and most of the work can be automated saving you time in the long run. We use Freshdesk to run our support desk and have it fully configured to meet our policy and alert on any potential issues we may be experiencing.
Calendars and Scheduling Applications
Having a record of all the support appointments as well as any required team meetings in a central calendar is essential. Using an application that syncs to your calendar and allows customers to schedule calls without negotiating available slots, time zones, and assigning who will need to attend can save multiple emails and allow the customer to find the right time for them.
Something like ‘calendly’ is a free tool you can use for this purpose and some customer support systems have this built-in.
Reliable Meeting Software
Recently, more people have started using meeting software, whether it be for working or meeting with friends during lockdown. Being able to meet with multiple people, share videos, screens, and having communal chats is a great way to communicate without having to meet in person.
Having these capabilities for a webinar, internal team meeting, or customer call can reduce the time needed on a call and allows you to view the customer’s screen and in some cases even take control of it. If you have customers with security restrictions it can limit what you can do, but in most cases, they are still able to use screen share and webcams.
Internally we use google meet for communication and offer this to customers, but as a support team, you have to be flexible and be open to using what the customer uses.