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Software Support: Need it? Get it!

October 1, 2009
by Marlowe Greenberg
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Make the most of your software vendor's help desk

Behavioral Healthcare invites information technology vendors, including members of the Software and Technology Vendors' Association (SATVA), to contribute to this department. Any behavioral healthcare agency that has successfully implemented case management software can tell you what components were key to success as well as how they use the application in meaningful ways. One item often overlooked in these lists, however, is how quickly and easily agency staff can get the technical support they need.

For many social services staff members, issues involving technology can be challenging. Those without an IT background may have difficulty expressing technical questions or could be intimidated by IT experts. Good communication and troubleshooting guidelines can help bridge this gap. Here are some tips from the Help Desk team that supports Foothold Technology's AWARDS case management and client-tracking software.

Tip #1: Think Fast!

As soon as you experience a problem, take notes. Write down the “path” of steps you took in the application before the problem happened and the text of any error messages you received. The information you record now will come in handy moving forward, particularly if you need to communicate with the help desk.

The issue is always very clear when you are the one experiencing it-but for someone who is not there to see it happen, the more details the better!

Tip #2: Always Do Some Basic Troubleshooting

Even when you're convinced that the problem must be the vendor's fault, complete basic troubleshooting. It can help define the problem further and aid you in gathering additional information that will be useful to the help desk.

First, use the information you collected under Tip #1 to make sure the problem wasn't the result of user error. If you can't replicate the problem, it may have been the result of an error on your part, such as accidentally clicking the wrong button at some point in the process you were working to complete. If that's the case, you don't need the help desk.

If you can replicate the problem, continue troubleshooting by ruling out issues not directly related to the application. If the software is Internet-based, for example, and the issue relates to speed or system access, try to connect to other Web sites to rule out a problem with your office or local network. Also rule out hardware issues by attempting to recreate the problem on a different computer. If using a different machine eliminates the problem, you can then investigate any recent changes to settings on your computer and browser, or changes to your office or local network.

Tip #3: Take Advantage of “Super Users”

Another source for assistance can be your agency's “super users.” These knowledgeable users have solid application experience, and are often able to screen questions and resolve issues internally. If your agency doesn't have super users, try asking the person sitting next to you. Even if he or she can't solve your problem, they might be able to confirm that someone else has had or is having a similar issue-a fact that will help provide valuable direction to the help desk.

Tip #4: Learn How You Can Help Yourself

A key component of any good support system is documentation. Typically it is accessible from within the application and provides access to searchable online help, online training movies, or frequently asked questions (FAQs). Take a close look at these resources as they have been designed to help you help yourself. This is usually the fastest way to get answers to your questions.

Tip #5: Take a Team Approach

If you've determined that a problem is application-related and have utilized all available resources without finding an answer, it's time to contact the help desk. When doing so, approach the help desk as you would a member of your team, because in essence they are.

The help desk provides a bridge between you and the development side of your software vendor. This team aims to communicate efficiently with you, to understand your question or problem, and to advocate for you when you need a hand, whether it's a programmer to fix a bug, or a reference in documentation that you find unclear. The help desk team empathizes with your need for assistance. So, using a pleasant tone-even when you're frustrated with a problem-will go a long way as they work with you to solve it.

When reporting an issue, one of the best things you can do is to put yourself in the shoes of the help desk representative. Understand that, in order to give you the exact technical information and guidance you need, the representative must have as much detail as possible regarding your question or problem. This is where the information you collected for Tip #1 comes in handy. The “path” of steps you took is particularly valuable information. In order for a problem to be fixed, it typically needs to be replicated, and the path holds the key.

Tip #6: Be Patient

While most help desks will acknowledge your problem report quickly, it may take some time to reach a final resolution. Be patient and know that even if you haven't heard back on something right away, the help desk team at your software vendor is on the case. It's their goal to make sure your experience with the application is the best it can be, and they'll work as quickly as they can to get you an answer or fix.

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