Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch


November 26, 2004

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I try to do everything I can for my clients, hooking up the occasional DVD player or troubleshooting phone line problems, even if it goes beyond the typical work I am there to do. That said, there are a couple of items I will not touch, if possible. The first is dealing with technical support assistance via phone and the other is providing, or managing, hardware service for the client. Over the years, I have realized that either one of these tasks is liable to drive me screaming into the night. Even worse, when you get involved in these situations, your client might begin to see you as part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

Technical Support

I have been on both sides of the technical support equation for years. I have been the voice at the other end of the phone, trying to figure out why your computer has suddenly started barking like a dog, or emailing all your files to Burma! I know what it is like to do that job, but even I find myself quickly losing patience during my infrequent calls. I am so disappointed with the quality of technical support that I will try nearly any other avenue of assistance before calling.

I especially dislike calling when I am at a client’s site. Sitting on hold or waiting for a response from technical support, while sitting with a client, and my billing clock ticking, can seem like a lifetime. While most clients are ok with the wait, I don’t like billing my clients for waiting.

Additionally, I am finding, increasingly often, that technical support lines will only talk with the actual client. In an effort to save them money, and free myself for more productive work, I always recommend that they contact technical support themselves. I give them all the support information they might need before they call and then extricate myself from the situation. Normally, if I have to call support for a client, I explain that I am a consultant and the client is here with me. Even then, I am sometimes given a “huffy” response that they are only able to deal with the client themselves. Of course, the reason I am probably breaking my own rule and calling for the client is that the issue is significantly technical enough that the clients can’t successfully make the call themselves.


Hardware service, especially when the computer is under warrantee, is quickly becoming a quagmire, as well. As an independent consultant, I am unable to stock the necessary parts, or afford the significant certification training to qualify for most “authorized service” programs. I am also not that interested in performing the more gruesome tasks associated with motherboard swaps and power supply replacement. Unfortunately, trying to convince a hardware manufacturer like Dell or Apple, that a computer has a flaw has become an exercise in futility. They will have you doing the technical equivalent of voodoo before they will accept any responsibility. I understand the costs involved in unnecessary warrantee service, but I also understand that angering a customer probably costs them just as much in lost sales.

Don’t get involved

Despite these issues, the main reason I distance myself from these situations is the fear of becoming associated with these bad experiences. I’m not saying it is fair, only that it happens. Even though placing the call themselves might take the clients a bit longer to solve their problem, my relationship with the client remains steady. Large manufacturers don’t feel the pain when they lose one or two clients, but if I lost a single client due to their mis-guided perception of my role, or perceived lack of loyalty to them, it can hurt…a lot.

Personal reasons and dislikes aside, you might find it in your best interest to avoid confusing your clients. Letting them fight their own service and support battles might be the best way to insure that you still have a client when the problem is solved.


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