Posts Tagged 'Technician'

June 10, 2015

Work Life of a Customer Support Technician

My day as a customer support technician begins very early. I leave home at 6 a.m. to start my shift at 7 a.m., relieving the overnight shift. Customers start calling, opening tickets, and chat sessions almost immediately after I log into one of our systems, either LivePerson Agent Console, Cisco Phone Agent, or SoftLayer’s ticket management system, which is dependent on employee scheduling, specialty, or customer traffic.

Should our customers ever need help, we are prepared and up-to-date as possible on what’s going on with our internal systems. Every morning I check for any notices received via email from different internal teams about updates to the network, server upgrades, or emergency maintenances that could be relevant to the tickets and questions of the day. Besides current update notifications we use to address customer questions and concerns, we also use our external wikis (also known as the KnowledgeLayer) for existing information should we need it. As customer support technicians, we also have unprecedented access to troubleshooting, managing, and restoring customers’ various services to the peak of their performance.

Thank you for calling SoftLayer. How can I help you?
At the beginning of the week, the phone starts ringing around 7:30 a.m., and then it starts to pick up—Monday’s are usually the busiest.

When a phone call comes in, I verify the caller and then try to get a grasp on the nature of the situation. Sometimes, for example, it’s a customer needing help troubleshooting an eVault backup solution. In most situations, I ask if they have checked the official tutorials posted by SoftLayer on how to set up eVault (or other topic at hand). Whether they have or not, I then walk the customer through the steps. Some topics can be a little confusing, and depending on the level of technical difficulty and the customer’s knowledge, I sometimes take care of the job for them. Some issues can be difficult, but that’s why we’re here. In regards to the eVault solution, thankfully, it comes with a help file containing screenshots to help customers of any technical level grasp the configuration process.

We also receive calls that aren’t one-on-one, but rather from an entire IT department of a company. In one particular instance, I received a call asking for help to change the boot order on a couple of production servers. Rebooting without permission can have catastrophic effects on any live data being written to servers. We need permission first. After receiving approval via ticket, I worked with the IT team as they turned off applications safely on their respective servers so that I could in turn reboot one-by-one and change the boot order from the BIOS as needed. (SoftLayer's customer support technicians change the boot order because the BIOS on servers are protected to prevent manual tampering with server hardware.)

One last example—hard-pressed system administrators working against the clock to deploy their load balancers need VIPs set up as soon as possible, so they can handle the traffic to their blooming social media website. In this case, depending on the type of load balancer, I first check with sales on the pricing. Then I open a ticket to get customer approval for the costs of the IPs. If it’s a Netscaler VPX load balancer, we inform the customer to order portable IPs within the same VLAN as their load balancer. Once confirmed, I get to work. Thankfully, Citrix Netscaler has a very easy to use interface that allows migrating portable IPs for use plus they take effect almost immediately.

No matter the customer or the situation, we always practice working in a professional demeanor to make sure we efficiently address the problem. Once I finish helping a customer, I follow up with a summary of what had been done and then make sure everything is working as needed. A summary of my actions is also posted on the ticket for customer future reference.

Opening a Ticket
We aim to give an initial response within 15 minutes of each ticket being opened. Tickets not only provide a great way to follow up with a customer, but they also provide a platform for directly sending the customer helpful guides, steps, screenshots, and explanations that would have not have sufficed over the phone call.

Tickets allow customers to specify the queue and title of the ticket, which narrows the issue to the department they feel would best answer their question. For example, if a customer opens a ticket saying they can't see all their devices in their device list with a title “devices not listed,” it gives us clues about the nature of the problem. By opening a ticket with the support group, instead of, say, the sales group, we know that this isn't an issue with ordering servers or ordered servers.

To troubleshoot the devices-not-listed above, I would check if the user who opened the ticket is a master user for the account. If not, then it is without a doubt a permissions issue or limited permissions set by the master user. To resolve an issue like this, the master user on the account would need to update permissions.

But that’s not always the case. If it’s not a permissions issue, then as customer support technician I'd be limited in the support I can offer. The issue for the devices not being listed could potentially be an internal bug, which is a job for SoftLayer’s development team. Once escalated to them, they would oversee the problem. During the escalation, the customer support team keeps the customer informed. We also work as the “go-to" between SoftLayer’s internal teams and customer.

Once the devices-not-listed issue has been resolved, SoftLayer’s development team would mark the escalation resolved. My team would then follow up with the customer to verify that the issue is resolved. This multi-step, inter-department interaction (depending on the severity of the problem) can take as little as a couple of hours to sometimes days. Regardless of the length of time, the customer is always kept in the loop of any changes or updates.

After ensuring the issue is resolved, we inform the customer that if there are no more replies within four days, the ticket automatically closes. This provides ample time for the customer to review the conversation and join in later if need be.

Quitting Time
As a customer support technician, I never know what question or concern might arise, but we try our best to always help the customer as best we can.

My shift begins to wind down around 3 p.m. when the next shift takes over. Our customer support technicians work late into the night and into the morning, 24x7x365.


May 16, 2011

A Well-Deserved Retirement

On a normal day at home, the hum inside a personal computer would seem very inaudible. In contrast, if you find yourself inside a data center, you're constantly surrounded by the inescapable whir of workhorse machines. This whir is the sound of thousands and thousands of fans pushing cold air and keeping everything in top working order.

Netwon's Third Law of Motion states that "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction," and the most common "reaction" to buzzing of these fans would normally be a gradual slip into madness after exposing human ears to the sound for an extended period of time. That same constant sound of enterprise cooling wreaks havoc on the ears of anyone working nearby due to its specific frequencies. As a result, ear protection is a must for any Server Build Technician.

Recently, a comrade with a special knack for ear protection reached a long overdue retirement from service.

My now-retired friend actually only began work in the SoftLayer Washington, D.C., data center two years ago, and this worker's career was a shining tribute to workplace professionalism. Always silent and steadfast ... You would rarely spend time at work without seeing him. Coworkers would often comment, "Does he ever sleep?" and, "Wow! You're still here?" Despite all these implicit praises, this friend always remained humble and accepting, even during the rough times. I can't remember how many times we may have thrown this poor coworker across the room or the amount of feet that he was dropped from (on a pretty large number of occasions). When abused, he just wrapped himself in duct tape or mended his broken body parts with zip-ties. This may seem an unusual fix for most things, but he never demanded more than that.

Anyone from the WDC location reading this article already knows the comrade I'm speaking of, but the rest of you might be a little lost (and shocked) as I mention the injuries that he suffered and possibly even very upset at how the treatment was handled afterwards. Luckily, the worker I have been describing to you is in fact not a person but an invaluable electronic device that has served me and essentially SoftLayer well through the years: To help combat the noise in our server rooms, I have always relied on this pair of headphones made by Koss to fill my ears with sweet music.

Any of our WDC staff will agree that I am rarely ever seen riding into battle (walking into our server room) without my partner at my side. As they say, you never fully appreciate the value of something until it is gone, so I was clearly reminded of this one day when I happened to misplace my headphones. I was overwhelmed with grief as I searched high and low until I found him dangling in one of our storage rooms and yelled out "TONTO!!" From personal experience, I can see clearly that the devices one picks for use are very important ... Which might explain the careful process SoftLayer undergoes to ensure our customers are provided with the very best equipment.


September 10, 2010

Who is Your IT Guy?

In any environment where the need for quick transfer and access of information is required, an “IT guy” is a must. Most people have a bit of a preconceived notion as to what a tech should look like. Most think of large glasses, pocket protectors, and a social anxiety that is idiosyncratic to that particular group. Fans of Saturday Night Live will recall Nick Burns, the condescending technician who fixed the computers in his little corner of TV Land.

SNL IT Guy Nick Burns

While popular culture seems to think that the standard IT Guy fits the above criteria, allow me to be the first to dispel that rumor. For living proof, I submit to you, the SoftLayer NOC.

The technicians here are more exceptions to this seemingly universally accepted rule of what an IT Technician should be. While we possess a large wealth of knowledge, our technicians are all but condescending. To those who don’t know, we’re here to teach you. Being a server administrator has it’s challenges, but our technicians can be your eyes and ears in the datacenter, and instead of replying with “was that so hard?!”, we’ll provide as much information and assistance as we can to get you back on your feet. Our technicians are not just the geeky typecasts that one would expect. Our techs come from all walks of life. Some are self taught, some were taught in a university, while others learned their skills in the Military. Our hobbies run the gamut, including the piloting of aircraft, gaming, sports, outdoor activities, and music – Heck, we even have some former rock stars in our ranks.

Just remember, don’t be afraid to ping your IT Guy for information. A lot of us like to share some of the ninja tricks, war stories, and other anecdotes about our times in battle with hardware, software, and everything in between. Not only do we like to share our technical knowledge, but our individual stories, interests, and fun facts as well. Remember: IT guys are people too!

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