11

Recently, I posted an answer here on meta. In it, I realise that we have a problem with technical support questions - essentially, going on half of our questions are closed, and going on half of those are technical support. This is the answer:

We have a problem with technical support questions.

I'm not just saying that; I went and dug out the stats.

In the last 90 days, we have had:

  • 444 questions asked
  • 200 of those closed (45.05%)
  • 81 of those closed as technical support (40.50% of closed).

That's a problem. Not only is our close rate one of the highest on the network, but going on half of our closed questions are for one reason. It's not a massive issue, but it's certainly pressing and could do with having some resolution. On a purely statistical basis, if we didn't get any technical support questions, just 27% of our questions would be closed, which is far more normal.

When there's an issue like this, something needs fixing. So, what's broken?

  • the users asking these? ❌
  • the people closing them? ❌
  • the guidance we're giving? ✓

OK, it's probably not that clear-cut, but you get the point. Most of the time, it's not the user's fault that they think technical support is on-topic here. To get to the point, perhaps that's partly down to the site's name.

Now that I've dug into all the stats and found this, I'll be posting some more meta questions to see what we can do about this issue - but for now, I'll make it clear that I think the site name might be a problem, and therefore I support changing it to something clearer.

The second half of that is only relevant to the question is was posted to, but the first half is illustrative of my point here. We get a lot of technical support questions, which we then close. That doesn't give our front page a great image, and in the worst case may actually be driving people away from the site.

What can we do about this? Various people have come up with a few options already, which I've still got a few posts to write about. But let's have ideas from the community at large. What can we do to educate users before they ask that technical support is not something we do?

  • Are there common phrases that are appearing in these technical support questions? I can only seem to find 12 on the site right now that are for technical support reasons, so I have a small sample to go off of. If we are seeing a few common phrases, would it be possible to add phrases to the post warnings/blacklists to explain to the user that we aren't here for technical support. – Andy Feb 4 '16 at 4:32
  • To answer my previous question, I've provided updates on my meta answer. TL;DR: No, there aren't useful common phrases. – Andy Feb 4 '16 at 19:10
  • migrate such questions to Super User ? – user2284570 Feb 28 '16 at 15:16
  • @user2284570 Not all of them are suitable for SU. The point of this discussion is more to avoid getting them here at all, rather than taking action after the fact. – ArtOfCode Feb 28 '16 at 15:18
  • The word recommendation is the culprit here, its just how some people (myself included) associate the word. HardwarePlanning? HardwarePurchases? HardwareSuggestions? I think this would help, what % I have no idea. Providing a recommendation is the same as providing advice, and advice is a form of support??? I don't know why, but I have a small hunch this might be a factor. – BigElittles Jan 17 '17 at 18:06
  • ~50% closed questions? Looks like the problem is not with technical support questions but with the moderators... – ysap Feb 14 '17 at 9:56
8

What can we do to educate users before they ask that technical support is not something we do?

Let's create the guidance for what we consider "technical support". We have questions for what we consider to be hardware, what we want for high quality questions and high quality answers. Let's create one for what we consider "technical support".

In this guidance, we should also include a couple example questions and explain why they are technical support and suggestions on how we could fix them to be on topic yet still answer the underlying question. We haven't done a lot of that with our technical support questions so far. If a question can't be fixed (and there are several of those too), we should be able to explain why they can't be made on topic.

If we can pick out 4-5 questions that were closed for this reason, but are different types of support requests, I think we can make a good post on why a direct support question isn't good for the site. We could then add this guidance to the side bar when asking questions.

If you guys like this idea, I can start the process by asking for examples in another meta post.

  • I like this idea :) – ArtOfCode Feb 5 '16 at 18:04
  • Did you ever get around to making that post? No worries if not, I can do it if necessary - but I'm back to looking for solutions and that's my starting point. – ArtOfCode Jul 15 '16 at 19:54
  • meta.hardwarerecs.stackexchange.com/questions/426/… This was the start. It didn't get as far as I had hoped it would – Andy Jul 15 '16 at 20:58
  • Any major reasons that post itself shouldn't be the FAQ? – ArtOfCode Jul 15 '16 at 23:47
  • The first topic on the help center ("what questions to avoid asking") is very broad and generic. More like "how to avoid asking" than "what to avoid asking". You can add the "Support Questions" as an example there. – ysap Feb 14 '17 at 10:14
  • @ysap, In the Tour page, the very first "don't ask about" is "Technical support of any kind" – Andy Feb 14 '17 at 17:28
3

This is indeed problematic. However, from my point of view, the site's purpose is clear... After all we aren't called "Technical support". Is the question really not why do people assume that they can ask for tech support?

Does Software Recommendations SE suffer from the same problem? It would be interesting to find out...

  • That is indeed the question, but it's not a helpful question. We can't change how people think; we can change the information we give them and therefore their perceptions. – ArtOfCode Feb 4 '16 at 19:12
  • @ArtOfCode I think people are interpreting this forum's name as, "What can you recommend to me when this piece of hardware is not working?" Most of such questions seem to come with people having 1 rep on this site... – Alex Nov 9 '18 at 5:20
2

This is a minor thing that probably wouldn't make a huge difference, but might help somewhat--what about changing the icon from "HW" to "HR", or maybe "HWR".

When I see the abbreviation for "HW", my brain IMMEDIATELY thinks of "hardware", so I can imagine a user scrolling through the list of stack exchange sites looking for a place to ask a hardware-related question, seeing an "HW" icon, and immediately thinking, "Oh, a hardware site, perfect!"

  • Honestly I can't see this helping by much, but it's worth a consider. I'll ask the design team how long they could pull us a new logo together in. – ArtOfCode Mar 5 '16 at 0:52
  • I wasn't aware people are actually looking at these (letter-based) icons... They all look very similar in the StackExchange drop-down site list. – ysap Feb 14 '17 at 10:03
  • It's very possible I'm the only one (or at least, one of a small minority of users) who looks at them. – Wowfunhappy Feb 20 '17 at 21:40
  • Definitely the people with 1 rep who are asking these Technical Support questions don't have time to read the Question Guidance-- most likely they are the ones who don't have time to read the full site name either: only the letters that go with it. – Alex Nov 9 '18 at 5:23
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How about something like this. Straight forward and to the point. Of course I may never get the Mashal badge if we change this...

Bonus: They have a link to go straight to Superuser.

enter image description here

-1

I think some people just do not understand how a question comes across as a technical support question when they may intend it as a hardware recommendation question.

Sometimes, a person may be skipping a step or thought process by asking the question. Take this question for example This person is asking for hardware to accomplish a set task.

Yet he has not stated the model of his satellite recorder, nor if it even supports the function he wants a hardware recommendation for. As I stated in a comment, that is where Technical Support would be occurring, as someone would have to look up information on that model, and see if it supports the function he is looking for. Only in the case of the device supporting the function, would the hardware recommendation be warranted.

  • 1
    yay random downvote without explanation (seriously, I would think in Meta, a comment would be a given) – NZKshatriya Jan 31 '17 at 2:15
  • I share your frustration of unexplained downvotes. But from experience, it can be a stray click rather than an intentional one. We gotta live with the doubt, I guess. – ysap Feb 14 '17 at 10:05
  • @ysap I could agree with that, it if weren't for the customary blue box that comes up suggesting a user comment to explain the downvote lol. – NZKshatriya Feb 14 '17 at 14:23

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