What questions should I ask my customers? The importance of “tell me more” in automation projects

Sometimes, mistakes happen, and technology doesn’t work the way it’s intended to. When such problems arise in businesses, the response is to turn to the IT team.

Some software, however, is easier for the IT team to support than others. With its highly customised configuration, automation software is one technology that can be difficult to troubleshoot.

The end user, after all, will have deployed completely bespoke automated workflows. They may have any number of integrations across their tech stack, passing data in any number of formats, against any number of conditions. Perhaps they’re running custom scripts, or they’ve programmed custom actions.

What this means, then, is that it’s not always easy for IT teams to immediately proffer support for automation issues. They need to gain an in-depth understanding of not only the issue, but the context too.

And that understanding means asking questions. As such, many IT team members have found themselves wondering: “What questions should I ask my customers?”

The answer starts with “Tell me more.”

The call for help

It’s a quiet day in the IT department, when you get a ticket from someone trying to build a new automated workflow. They need you to help them figure out why their effort isn’t bearing fruit; why is this workflow or process not working for them?

Any number of answers — and questions — pop into your head…

Processes can be broken, and if they are, automation won’t work. Is there a broken process involved?

There could be an undiagnosed integration issue. Are they using the right APIs, or is another program blocking the automation from working?

Perhaps an IF-statement hasn’t been configured quite right. Has the customer double-checked their work yet?

Troubleshooting automation builds requires you to know more than how automation works. You need to know what systems your customer is working with, what they’ve done, what they know, and all manner of other contextual factors to diagnose the problem.

Assumptions vs understanding

As with any kind of technical support, you can’t help customers without first gaining an in-depth understanding. The pitfall, however, is that instead of asking questions, you make assumptions.

You assume the customer hasn’t already run any troubleshooting of their own. That they won’t understand integration issues. That they’ve done something wrong while setting up the rules for the software to follow.

And this results in a problem unsolved and a frustrated customer.

Remember: most automation users aren’t tech illiterate. They’ll typically be used to working with automation software. They likely know how to build complex and simple workflows alike. They’re going to be well versed in the programs and interfaces they work with — possibly even more than any IT team member that they’re reaching out to for help.

This means that rather than assuming anything about the problem, you need to start by gaining understanding. And the way to do that is by asking the right questions.

It’s in this context that you start wondering, ‘What questions should I ask my customers?’

“Tell me more.”

Finding the right questions to ask customers isn’t always easy. You can’t assume they know the same things as you, nor can you assume they don’t. You need a way to get an understanding of their tech knowledge, as well as the issue at hand.

Enter the phrase “tell me more”.

“Tell me more” is a great way to get customers providing the details you need, as well as a clear view of their understanding of the issue. It opens up the conversation to them and demonstrates respect for their knowledge, too.

For example:

Tell me more…

… about the process or workflow you’re trying to automate.

Asking the customer to tell you more about the process or workflow causing problems is a good way to get an insight into whether the process itself is broken. Or if the workflow isn’t suitable for automation, or if it’s a complex process with lots of steps to configure.

… about the integrated systems and APIs involved

One of the most important answers to “what questions should I ask my customers” revolves around the related systems, programs, and APIs in their IT environment. This is because the customer is going to have more information than you about these systems. They use them all the time, and until you know which systems are involved, you can’t start to rule out things like integration problems.

… about what you have done so far to address the issue

There are all sorts of work the customer could have done to get started automating, and to try and solve the problem themselves. You want an understanding of this so that you don’t recommend fixes they’ve already tried.

What troubleshooting has the customer done? Have they conducted process reengineering?

… about any suspicions you have regarding the cause of the error

If the customer has told you about the troubleshooting they’ve already done, or of any suspicions they have, don’t be afraid to ask them more about it. This can provide a good insight into what they know, as well as a starting point for your problem-solving efforts.

What questions should I ask my customers?

When supporting end user automation issues, you’re working together, not swooping in to save the day with a simple solution. It’s important to work with the person that’s reaching out.

So, with the right questions asked, you and your customer work together and find the cause of the automation problem. The new workflow is no longer broken, and the customer moves on to automate their next automatable process.

You lean back in your chair, taking a moment before you move on to your next task for the day, rewarding yourself for a job well done, and questions well asked.

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