Tackling Troubleshooting in 5 Simple Steps

By Justin Smith

Troubleshooting should be the focus of any customer support interaction. Effective troubleshooting can take the edge off of a reported problem, and help make sure the customer's issue is resolved quickly and accurately. Unfortunately, it is one of the most difficult processes to learn because there are so many approaches. Troubleshooting doesn't have to be complicated. Here are five basic steps that will make problem-solving a successful undertaking for you and your client.

Listen

The first step to effective troubleshooting is one that even seasoned support reps overlook. Listening to the customer is critical. Gather all the information you can about the nature of the problem, and don't assume you know what is happening. More times than not an issue will be similar to something that you have faced before, but you can miss important differences if you start working on it before you have heard everything. Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than having to repeat themselves because someone was not listening. 

Recreate the Problem

Next, try to recreate the problem that is being reported. It is easiest to start by using the steps the customer followed to produce the issue in the first place. If you’re working with anything on the web, it’s important to also replicate specifics like the browser and operating system that the client was using when they experienced the problem. There are cases where a legitimate issue will present itself in a way that you are not able to replicate. However, 9 times out of 10 you'll be able to reproduce the issue. If not, you might need to have a heart to heart with your engineering team!

Attack the Problem

After you have recreated the issue, you can begin to zero in on the cause of the problem. Use comparison as a starting point. Recall previous situations when things worked like they were supposed to for the client, and compare those to the current scenario. It can also be helpful to look for patterns that develop for successful processes, and then go missing in the problematic process. Be patient, and remember that the simplest answer is often the right one. Do not overcomplicate things when looking for a solution. In addition, if you have been at it for a while it can be a good idea to step away for a little bit. Solve a different problem, and then come back and investigate with fresh eyes.

Verify the Solution

After searching for (and hopefully finding) the answer, come back to recreation. You should be able to reproduce the successful process in multiple situations. This is extremely important because many times a potential solution can open the door for a different issue.  Retry the solution and make sure that there are not any problematic side effects. Test your solution in multiple environments and make sure you get consistent results before committing to the answer that you find.

Deliver the Solution

If you are able to arrive at a solution it is time to let the client know that things are all set. If you work for a company that has many tightly integrated components, you should check to make sure that other customers aren't experiencing the same issue. Sadly, sometimes even thorough troubleshooting will turn up an issue that you can't solve yourself.  In those cases, describe the issue, document the recreation steps, and escalate. Getting tough problems in front of your product or engineering team is an important extension of the troubleshooting process.

Following these steps will help you to troubleshoot any issue, no matter what type of organization you work for. Keep in mind that troubleshooting is a skill that takes practice. The more you troubleshoot, the more natural the process will become to you, as long as you practice a consistent method for every issue that comes across your desk. Thorough troubleshooting saves the customer experience and prevents future headaches for your users.

Does your success team need to learn skills like troubleshooting or relationship selling? The Success League is a consulting firm that partners with technical support leaders who want to understand how to build their team into a customer success powerhouse that drives key metrics like retention and revenue. www.TheSuccessLeague.io

Justin Smith - Justin is an enthusiastic and determined customer advocate, who builds and leads award-winning technical support organizations.  For almost a decade, Justin has worked with customer-centric companies like FedEx and VerticalResponse to create exceptional client care experiences. He currently works for Say Media, holds a BA in English from the University of California at Davis, and resides in Oakland, CA.