The 3 most effective troubleshooting strategies for hardware product support

Photo of 3 most effective troubleshooting strategies.

Your customers hate calling, emailing or chatting with robots when they have a problem with your hardware product. Use these The 3 most effective troubleshooting strategies for hardware product troubleshooting & support.

Enable your customers to self troubleshoot problems with your product in less than 30 seconds.

Hardware is hard. It is hard to eliminate every customer impacting problem with your hardware before you ship it to the customer. When your customers get their hands on your product they will invariably find a problem with it. This is when your customer support resources will need to save the day in order to make sure your customers do not give unfavorable reviews for your product. Remember, once your product gets associated with bad user reviews, it is going to be difficult for your product to justify the premium price and your margins will get compromised. You don't have to work too hard to find such product on marketplaces like Amazon and Ebay where the product looks great but is selling at a deep discount and it has less than 3 star user ratings with users complaining mostly about the quality of support they received from the seller. In this article we are focusing on a typical hardware product where the customer may need support from time to time, but most of the discussion applies as well to other kinds of products and services.

The challenge with hardware support

Your customer is in panic when they run into a problem with your product. They expect your team to be available 24x7 to help them mitigate the problem. Whether this expectation is justified or not does not matter. More than likely your margins are also increasingly under pressure from unexpected costs of certifications and distribution.

Supporting your hardware product after shipping it to the customer is a significant challenge. The level of support you decide to offer will ultimately affect your bottom line.

Conventional Approaches to Hardware support

Below are the traditional 5 support options in the order of most expensive to the least expensive option:

In-person support

This can get very expensive unless your unit economics support that kind of cost.

Phone support

This requires trained agents in a call center type of environment along with the necessary technology. This is relatively expensive and may be an overkill for some products.

Chat support

Ask yourself this - when was the last time you talked to a chatbot and enjoyed it? You are not the only one who feels that way. This is a relatively recent option and is arguably not yet matured. The most common pattern is that a bot starts the conversation and then hands the customer off to a live person chatting on the other end. So this option also requires trained support agents eventually to chat with the customer. Your costs can be managed, but customers typically hate talking to a bot because the bot will often not understand their concerns.

Email support

Less expensive option, but customers mostly hate to write emails and wait hopelessly for a response from you. It is often frustrating to the customer because the moment of pain and context has passed when they eventually get the response. It is even worse if you send a boiler plate response that does not solve their problem in the first response. The back and forth by emails definitely does not earn your brand any brownie points.

You can restrict the time of day when phone/chat/email support is available and delay responding with an answer, but your customers experience with your product will suffer and that is definitely not what you want.

Self-Help

This option if delivered effectively can be the most effective and the most economical way of providing support because your customer can get your support by just accessing the resources you make available on your website. Unfortunately, in most cases, these resources are not delivered to the customer effectively. Below are the two main types of self-help resources.

A) Text based articles

Traditionally, self-help resources provided to customers are in form of FAQs, Spec-sheets, User Manuals, Forums, Blogs, PDF documents, user generated content or wikis. There is usually a search option to find relevant articles but more often than not the search results are not exactly relevant. Depending on the subject matter, the text can get lengthy, confusing and laborious for your customer.

Basically here you are asking each customer to...

  1. first read a lot of information,
  2. then understand it,
  3. then figure out if their problem is addressed in that documentation,
  4. then just try a few things and
  5. it might just solve the problem.

Again, you are testing the customer’s patience in their moment of panic and generally the experience is not satisfactory.

B) Interactive Flowcharts

It is a logical process of troubleshooting your product just like your team would troubleshoot it themselves. It is presented to the customer in a logical sequence of simple questions to enable them to ‘start peeling the layers of the onion’ and narrow down into any of the several solutions for ‘known issues’ with your product. Once the customer has provided you enough information to identify a known issue, you can present them with the recommendation/solution and the problem could be solved right away. This option is the fastest way for your customer to resolve any known issues with your product.

Interactive Navigable Flowcharts

Photo of a navigable flowchart in the DeciZone platform.

Flowcharts have been around for the longest time and most people are familiar with flowcharts in their simplest forms. They represent our thought process for making certain criteria based decisions.

Often flowcharts for detailed thought process are represented in a big diagram. Sometime these diagrams look too complicated and confusing to people. This is probably the main reason why flowcharts are not as popular as they should have been in hardware troubleshooting self-help support.

Until recently the tools available to create flowcharts were limited to creating nice looking diagrams with very little other functionality. Today, platforms like DeciZone.com enable you to create detailed flowcharts which can be presented to your customer one step at a time in a simple standardized user interface.

DeciZone puts more emphasis on the business logic of your flowchart instead of the formatting - making it easy for your audience to consume your logic in a standard familiar interface.

These are flowcharts in which your customer can literally walk through by clicking on answer choices for your simple questions at each step. By simply clicking on a few answer choices, they reach your solution/recommendation in just a few seconds. For example, it can take your customer less than 20 seconds in reaching a customized recommendation in a typical DeciZone flowchart - making it the most effective way to deliver self-help resources.

Navigable flowcharts are also the simplest and the quickest way for your customer to follow your exact troubleshooting guidelines.

It's important to note that in this flowchart based approach, you are making the correct solution/recommendation present itself to the customer in just a few seconds. If they end up in a flowchart branch where the self-help DeciZone flowchart is not able to resolve the issue, then the DeciZone.com platform will automatically send a notification to any one you want.

Navigable flowcharts enable the 'correct solution present itself' to the customer after a few choices in just a few seconds.

DeciZone has a full featured browser based Flowchart Editor for creating/editing flowcharts even on a mobile device. Your customers from anywhere in the world can access your self-help flowcharts using just a browser.

Your support team can just create a few thoughtful flowcharts for troubleshooting your products and you can deliver the most effective customer support, accessible 24x7 & globally.

DeciZone.com platform will also send you a full transcript of all the steps your customer went through in either your email or in popular ticketing/CRM softwares. You can also attach a document, attach a link, show an image or ask user to type some input at any step in your flowchart.

DeciZone allows you to truly empower and enable your customers to solve most known issues with your product in fast automated fashion.

A navigable flowchart may be the most efficient way to 'deliver' your troubleshooting guidelines, but the overall effectiveness of this option depends on the 'logical approach' used in your flowchart. Below, let's look at the three most common approaches in troubleshooting a hardware device using flowcharts.

Three Best logical approaches to troubleshoot hardware devices using navigable flowcharts

Approach 1 - Narrow-down

Photo of Narrow-down approach.

This is typically what most people think of when talking about flowcharts. You start at the top by asking very high level questions (i.e. Is the product turning ON?) and add a branch for each of the possible answer choices. Then for each answer branch, ask the next logical high level question, rinse and repeat. Platforms like DeciZone.com allow you to add links between two existing boxes so you can converge all your flowchart branches to a single exit branch where you can ask the customer for details like serial numbers, their contact details, etc. This is a simple approach and is suitable for most not so complicated troubleshooting processes - typically for relatively simple hardware devices.

Here is an example flowchart demonstrating the Narrow-Down approach.


Approach 2 - Modular Structure

Photo of Modular approach.

Some hardware products could have many different variations in terms of versions, size, features etc. but they all may still have similar troubleshooting processes because they may all share some common components (i.e. power supply unit, etc.). In such cases, a better approach is to create a separate independent flowchart for detailed troubleshooting of each individual component (i.e. power supply unit, audio unit). Let's call these the Secondary flowcharts for detailed troubleshooting of each of the components. Next you can create one Primary flowchart for each of your product models that will ask simple high level questions in each of its branches to figure out which component needs troubleshooting. These branches of the Primary flowcharts can then be linked to the Secondary flowcharts for a more detailed troubleshooting of the affected component.

So when the customer starts navigating from the top of the Primary flowchart, they will seamlessly enter the appropriate Secondary flowchart and after making a few more choices, they will get your solution/recommendation to solve their problem. Navigating a Primary-Secondary Modular structure of flowcharts in DeciZone will take typically less than 30 seconds. One of the best practices that DeciZone.com recommends is to create another Exit flowchart where all the Secondary flowchart branches are connected. In this Exit flowchart, you are asking the customer for some routine information like their contact information, feedback or the product serial number. This approach is ideal for a family of hardware devices which are not too complicated and share a few common modules.

Here is an example flowchart demonstrating the Modular approach.


Approach 3 - Symptom Codes based

Photo of Symptoms based approach.

The first two approaches are better suitable for hardware devices that are not very complicated in nature. But for devices that are complicated, like for example a laptop computer, you may have to take a much different approach to allow easier troubleshooting. These devices are generally sophisticated enough that they might be able to give you some hints (code, light blink sequence, sound, etc.) to help you identify the nature of the problem. In our example of a laptop computer, the device itself might give you an error code which will point you in the right direction. Without this error code, it might be too difficult for you to troubleshoot the problem. Generally the manufacturer has well documented the troubleshooting process of diagnosing each of these error codes, but that documentation is usually not simple enough for your customers to follow or its just not easily accessible.

For these sophisticated products, your troubleshooting flowchart might present the customer with a simple list of known problems(i.e. error codes) in addition to some high level questions. When the customer selects one of these problems, they get the exact instructions to resolve that specific problem. An advanced platform like DeciZone will allow you to create any troubleshooting logic you need regardless of how complicated your product is.

Here is an example flowchart demonstrating the Symptom Codes based approach.


Those were the three most effective strategies in troubleshooting hardware devices using navigable flowcharts. They are highly effective because it closely resembles a person's thought process and they only need to click on a button few times. Think 'find your own adventure'.

Customer support teams leverage DeciZone.com navigable flowcharts to automate support processes so they can focus on the real problems and their customers can automatically reach their solutions in few seconds.


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