Marc Hughes

I am a developer from a bit west of Boston.

Some advice when asking for support

18 Jul 2016

I've dealt with a lot of support requests for ScrumDo over the years, and have grown to really appreciate a few simple things in those requests and thought I'd share. This isn't targeted at any of my users, but at anyone in general who might want to get better, faster, resolutions to their requests whenever dealing with tech support.

First, you should know that I want to help you. This isn't an adversarial situation. We're not battling. You had a problem, I want to understand the problem and fix it quickly. Maybe the problem is our fault. Maybe you did something wrong. Maybe both. Even if you did something wrong, maybe we should have presented the options better to make it more clear.

The ideal-case for both of us is if you tell me about a problem and my first reply is how to fix your specific problem. There's really three things I need to know to do that.

  1. What did you do?
  2. What did you see?
  3. What did you expect to see?

What did you do?

Let me know what page you were working on, what you clicked on, what input you typed in. If you were in a specific project, let me know which one. If a particular person is having trouble, make sure to tell me who.

For anything I don't know the answer to right off the bat, the first thing I'm going to try and do is reproduce your problem. I want to understand what's happening. So make sure to tell me the steps you took.

What did you see?

Tell me what happened. You'd be surprised in the number of cases I get that skip this step. 'XXX isn't working right' doesn't tell me very much.

Screenshots are great, but give me your whole browser window. From that I can see what browser you're using, the specific URL you were on, if you have certain browser extensions running, and the actual problem you're seeing. A lot of times, the screenshots I get are just a zoomed in portion of a page with no context.

What did you expect to see?

This one might sound a bit odd. Sometimes, it's completely unnecessary. But other times someone will do something, then they'll get the result I expect them to get. To me, everything worked fine and I'm scratching my head on why they're asking. I don't know if I misunderstood their request, if they misunderstood what should happen, or if the system is working in an unpredictable way.

This generally leads to multiple follow up emails.

Don't jump to conclusions

A lot of support requests jump to the reasoning of why something bad happened. That's great. You can tell me that. Many times it is useful. But, sometimes it's not. Sometimes you're wrong. And if you only tell me your guess on what happened, I can't actually evaluate if that's reasonable or not.

Bringing it all together

That might seem like some onerous amount of work to do to ask for help, but it's really not. The three steps can pretty easily be implicitly done. Take a look at a couple examples:

bad: I performed a search and all my cards didn't come up.
good: I searched for 'dog' on page X and card #20 didn't come up.

What you did: searched for dog on page X
What you saw: Card #20 was missing
What you expected: Card #20 should have been there