As a Support analyst, I take for granted how easy it is to say the words “how can we help you?” But as a software user, I understand answering that question can be difficult. My expertise lies in the enterprise geodatabase, and even with my near decade of experience, I can still get overwhelmed when discussing other technologies.
Esri Support has taught me enough to fill a novel, so for the sake of your time, here are a few rules of thumb I live by when discussing technical details with customers, management, engineers, and development alike…
- Write an accurate and detailed, yet succinct description of the issue.
The subject line on a support case is often the first thing we Support analysts see. A clear and universally understandable subject line can help your case get assigned to the right analyst the first time, and avoid unnecessary transfers.
Hint: Understanding the issue is key. To help formulate a primo subject line by focusing on the heart of your issue you can refer to my blog Understanding Software Issues.
- Use numbers and bullets to list steps in a workflow.
Paragraphs are great for storytelling, but bullets drive home details.
Hint: When reproducing the issue, think of each mouse click as a step in the workflow. If there are 10 mouse clicks to reproduce the issue, then that workflow will have 10 bullet points.
- Ensure the workflow starts at a point that your audience can relate to.
The common ground you start on is relative, and can change depending on your and your audience’s combined experience.
Hint: If the first step in the workflow is to ‘click on the Manage Replicas button to open the replica manager’, then first make sure your audience knows where and how to find the Manage Replicas button.
- Open ArcMap 10.5.1
- Click ‘Customize’ on the menu bar
- Expand ‘toolbars’
- Click on ‘Distributed Geodatabase’ to open the toolbar
- Click on the Manage Replicas tool
- When in doubt about what to call a tool, open the software and call it what the interface calls it.
For example, the terms ‘layer’ and ‘feature class’ are often used interchangeably in conversation, however, a feature class is data stored in a geodatabase, and a feature layer is a representation of that feature class, usually in-memory and often in a map. These two items, while they look and act very similarly, will require different background and experience to troubleshoot.
- Refrain from using pronouns, acronyms or industry specific language, unless they have been previously defined for both you and your audience. Don’t assume that everyone knows what is meant by the “OPI”. One person’s “Oracle Program Interface” is another person’s “Offensive Pass Interference” is another person’s favorite nail polish.
While no one knows everything, we all know something, and if we can clearly communicate ourselves, then combining that knowledge becomes much easier. Ask questions, ask 20 questions if you must, because each question will help determine the most effective triage path to take (See my awesome colleague’s blog that discusses this method in more detail... What Would Tech Support Do?).
Esri Support Analysts practice this approach from day one. I often recall my onsite interview where I was asked to explain to my future manager how to tie her own shoelaces with my back turned to her. I thought “this will be easy. I can tie shoes with my eyes closed.”. After about a minute of giving what I considered an award-winning description of how to tie shoelaces, I turned around to see her shoes did not even have laces! I failed to ask the right questions and find our common ground. That moment has taught me not to shy away from even the most basic questions, and has turned out to be very valuable when needing to describe technical details in a timely manner to people with wide ranges of technical experience.
So, whether you are just getting started, or a GIS guru, give us a call at Esri Support, where our first question will always be “How can we help you?”.