Introducing Actrix Customer Support from the February 2000 Actrix Newsletter

by Rob Zorn

Walid Harach

Walid Harach
The Actrix Customer Support team are, perhaps, the most important interface between Actrix as a company and you, our customer community, so I thought it might be appropriate to write a small article about how it all works. Knowing the mechanisms and procedures yourself might also help you make the most of the contact you have with those at the support desk.

A customer support person for an Internet Service Provider has to be a jack of all trades and few realise just how demanding the position is. Such a wide variety of skills are needed, and so Actrix chooses its support staff very carefully. They have to be knowledgeable, experienced, skilled at technical triage when several things are causing problems at once, and above all capable communicators. They have to be organised, patient and careful thinkers and problem solvers.

We have at least seven full-time staff and four part-timers all from a wide variety of cultural and professional backgrounds. They range from young people who seem to have been born with a silver modem in their mouths to older people who have human resource experience in other industries.

Some have been raised on MacIntosh computers and swear by everything Apple. Some eat, sleep and drink Microsoft products. We have some software tweakers and fiddlers, who have experimented with every nook and cranny of every Windows application. Some are the sorts of people who just have to pull a machine apart and re-assemble it. Some have degrees in computer science, humanities, commerce and/or teaching. Some love Netscape and some prefer Pegasus Mail. They all have a few things in common, however: an almost mystical appreciation for computers, bounding enthusiasm for the Internet, and, above all, a real love of interacting with and helping Actrix people.

Perhaps that last sentence captures the single most pleasant thing about working in Actrix Customer Support. When you are answering phones all day you get to interact with an incredible variety of people, from elderly grandmothers bravely trying to learn how to share email with their grandkids to knowledgeable technicians in government departments who need to keep their networks alive so that the government doesn't topple.

When things aren't madly busy there is time for a little conversation and telephone friendships can develop with regular callers. Sometimes a person at the help desk can truly learn from a customer as well as being able to help them, and this feeling of community can be a real job plus. Lastly there is the challenge and satisfaction of getting to the bottom of a problem and solving it.

So how does it all work? Generally, during the day, there are four customer support staff working, each with their own computer and online toolbox. Calls are put through from reception unless the reception phones are all busy in which case they come straight through to the support room and are answered according to whose phone is free. If you've already made a call that day about the same problem we try to put you back with the person who helped you earlier. That saves time and double work as he or she will have a better understanding of what's been going wrong and what's already been done. When your call is answered, the support person will introduce themselves. It's always a good idea to remember the name so that you can ask for them again if you need to call a second time.

The person who answers your call will do his or her best to help you. Most of the time the problems are variations on common themes, and the answers to a few probing questions will quickly indicate what probably needs to be adjusted or checked. That's why it is really important for you the customer to pay attention to error messages you may be receiving from your computer and to note exactly when they appear, or what you are doing when they come up, so that you can give accurate information to the support person straight away.

Jeremy Fairbrass

Jeremy Fairbrass
If you think about it, you will see that there are many, many variables involved in establishing and maintaining an internet connection. There's your modem and software, Actrix's modems and software, and then there's the phonelines between wherever you are in New Zealand, and Actrix's equipment in Wellington. These phonelines can be the real wildcards, as you may well imagine. We have little control over them, or knowledge about why they may be misbehaving at any given time. Hence it is important to ascertain just where and when the problem is occurring as quickly as possible.

If the support person comes across something unfamiliar, or that doesn't seem to be fitting the pattern, they may ask you to hold while they discuss it with someone else who may have experienced it before.

He or she may even ask to put you through to someone else with specialist knowledge in a certain area. This is done in your interests, of course, to get to the heart of your problem more quickly. Callers with MacIntosh problems will have noticed this, as may have users of out-of-date platforms such as Windows 3.1.

Support staff have tools at their disposal to help them diagnose your problem. They can see whether you're online, which line you're coming in on, your present I.P. address, and they can access a log of your authentication attempts to check why your password doesn't seem to be working (watch that capslock key!). Mostly, though, they use their knowledge of what is supposed to happen, and which erroneous settings or phone numbers tend to cause which patterns of faulty computer behaviour. Support staff also have a database of each customer's account status where they can gain information to help you understand your invoices, the status of your payments, your time online and so forth.

After they have hung up from a call, the support person will enter some brief notes into the database as to what the problem was and what they did to fix it so that a helpful customer history can be built up that might shed light on a future or recurring problem. The trick is to get this done meaningfully before the next call comes through. Certain problems take time to solve and may need the help the mail or web technician, and the support person will often find himself juggling a variety of tasks being halfway through working on one problem with one of these people and still answering calls in between. Sure, this can be stressful, but at Actrix we try to make this more of a challenge than a frustration.

What do we do between calls? Well, we certainly don't have our feet up on the desk. On weekdays there is generally a steady stream of calls. Actrix is presently growing at an incredible rate and many of these new sign-ups are handled by support staff over the phone, so there is often little time between calls. What time there is is usually spent discussing problems, answering e-mail enquiries, proof-reading promotional material and completing other miscellaneous Actrix tasks.


"I was born with a photographic memory. But I ran out of film whan I was four."
      - Norrie
Our aim is to answer e-mail enquiries within half an hour, and this is mostly but not always possible. Usually there is one person in charge of checking for support email. He or she will apportion it out to the rest of the support staff to answer between calls. Again, where possible, it will be given to the person who has already been dealing with you to avoid work repetition. One thing you, the customer, can do to help here is to leave previous emails included when you reply so that your support person has the details at their fingertips, without having to look them up again. Not all of our support team are blessed with photographic memories.
I hope I've been able to provide you with some idea of what goes on when you either call or email Actrix Customer Support. I've also included a few things you can do to speed up and help the process yourself: remembering the name of the person who has been helping you, keeping an accurate record of where and when error messages are received, and quoting previous emails in full when replying.

Support is free to all Actrix customers. You can call us toll free on 0800-228749, or email us at support@actrix.co.nz. We really do enjoy the customer contact.