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Help Us Help You: Communicating Your IT Problems to Support Staff

Supporting our clients will always be our #1 priority—and when they reach out for help, we want to resolve the problem as quickly as possible. In order to solve your problems quickly, your support team needs all the pertinent information and context. Here are 10 steps you can take to ensure the fastest and most thorough resolution of your support tickets:

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1. Describe Both the Problem and Desired Solution

When something isn’t working correctly, the easiest thing to say is “this isn’t working.” For support staff, it’s hard to know what the correct behavior is unless you provide it. For example, say your online donation form’s email notifications aren’t arriving at their desired destination. A helpful way to report this problem might be:

“Our contact form’s email notifications are not being delivered. Please see that the emails are sent to [email protected]

2. Provide Steps to Replicate the Problem

“Not working correctly” is a common phrase we see in bug reports. But what led up to the problem you’re reporting? Maybe you forgot to login first, or maybe you logged in as a user who doesn’t have access to the content you’re not seeing. Perhaps a team member was not logged in or doesn’t have the necessary permissions. Or, maybe your organization just started using a new spam protection service. Context is key. For example:

Instead of: “The homepage slideshow isn’t working.”

Try: “When I visit the homepage and click on the left & right arrows below the slideshow, nothing happens.”

3. When Did The Problem Begin and Has It Happened Before?

Often, there’s a bug after a software or server upgrade. Knowing when a problem begins is extremely helpful, as is knowing if it’s a new problem or an old problem that has just now affected you enough to report. Using the homepage slideshow problem as an example, this would be helpful for your support staff:

“When I visit the homepage and click on the left & right arrows below the slideshow, nothing happens. It worked fine last week but I noticed it was not working this morning.”

4. Are Others Experiencing the Same Issue?

Your organization may have any number of safeguards on its internal network. Sometimes, those network firewalls and other factors are to blame. It always helps to ask someone else if they are having the same problem. It’s far more helpful for us to know if this is an isolated or more widespread problem. For example:

“I cannot access www.our-org.com from my home office in Austin. I’ve checked with coworkers here in Austin and in our Dallas office and they also cannot access it.”

5. Where On The Website Is the Problem Happening?

“The sidebar on our new stories disappeared.”

“The hero images are being cut off.”

Neither of those statements are helpful without knowing where you are seeing the problem. Always include a URL if you see a problem on a particular web page. This goes for both the front-end of a website and in the admin area where content is managed. This saves your support staff the time of hunting around trying to find the problem you just reported.

6. Provide Additional Information & Examples

More often than not, especially with issues affecting your website, there is a visual component to the problem you’re reporting. It is beneficial if you include screenshots and even screen recordings if you can. Supplementing your report with visuals can spare everyone the back-and-forth of trying to replicate the issue. A handy screencast tool is screencast.com. Additionally, popular video call services such as Google Meet and Zoom allow you to record yourself presenting your screen and generate a link that the Support team can easily view.

7. Be Specific

Maybe you’ve noticed that the buttons on your website are blue but should be orange. Reporting to support that the styling of the buttons is off doesn’t tell your support staff which buttons, on what page, what aspect of the styling is ‘off’, and what the styling should be. An effective report here might look like:

“I noticed that the buttons on our-org.com/blog are blue. They have been orange until today. They need to be blue again.”

8. Point to Examples on Other Websites

Sometimes it’s easier to show what’s right rather than trying to define what’s wrong. Providing examples of the desired behavior on other websites is helpful in such situations.

Instead of: “The rotating images should be snappier.”

Try: “I would like the rotating images to rotate more quickly like the ones on another-org.com or your-competition.com.”

9. Share What You Have Already Tried

Maybe you’re trying to upload an image to your site and it’s not working. It’s helpful to know if you’ve tried on multiple browsers or logged in as both an admin user and editor-level user. If you can save support staff time trying the things you’ve tried, the problem might be solved that much quicker.

10. You Know What They Say About Assumptions…

We’re all busy. Resources shift. The person receiving your support request may not be familiar with every aspect of your website. Saying “the reports aren’t downloading again” is only helpful if the reader happens to be the exact person who assisted you last time. And even then, that last ticket could have been two years ago. A more helpful way to report this issue might be:

“Our reports on our-org.com/reports are not downloading. This happened last year and Terry said it was because the amount of data was timing out the site. They were able to change some settings that allowed that amount of data to download.”

Summing up

It’s true: taking screenshots and providing detailed, comprehensive descriptions takes valuable time. But doing so will ultimately save you effort and speed up the solution by cutting down on back-and-forth emails clarifying questions the support team may have. Help the support team help your team and you’ll be able to move on to your next project that much more quickly.

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