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When You Need to Get Help

  • Do not trust everyone who claims to "know about computers." I cannot tell you how many times I've interviewed people who claimed to have professional technical experience, but who sat in front of me and said unbelievably stupid things in response to simple technical questions. Find someone who really knows his or her stuff, and pay for support if that's what it takes. Don't let the neighbor's kid muck about with your PC because it seems better than doing nothing at all. If you needed stitches, you would go to a doctor and expect to pay for the service. If you need to have your PC repaired, take it to someone qualified to rebuild it and pay her for the service.

  • Learn where to look for help. A needlework newsgroup is not the best place to ask about problems with your web site. Collect resources that are helpful. I'll list some of the ones I recommend shortly. If you need help ASAP, no newsgroup, web-based forum or email list is the best place to ask for it.

  • Use the resources available to you before asking for help: software manuals, the help files in a program, web sites related to whatever you're having trouble with, etc.

  • Have relevant information at hand before you call someone to help you (hardware and software information, etc.).

  • Try to prepare yourself for a productive support experience by removing any distractions in your environment. Get the kids to play in another room if possible and let your partner, roommate or coworkers know that you're on an important phone call. I find it best to call into a support line, put the call on the speakerphone, and amuse myself by watching TV or reading a book. As soon as the tech comes on the line, I switch to the normal handset and mute the TV.

  • Have your computer ready to do whatever the support tech needs you to do to get the information she needs. Don't start downloading a big file or printing a long report while you're waiting in the phone queue. When a tech takes your call you'll probably have to cancel the download or the print job and you'll be just a bit more annoyed because of it. Be ready and willing to shut down the computer, reboot it (several times if necessary), open and close various programs, make changes as requested, etc. Go ahead and close any software that isn't relevant to the problem at hand. If the problem is hardware related, you'll need to be able to get to the piece of hardware in question. If it's inside the case, have the case open and be ready to take the card in question out if you're asked to do so. Don't wait 'til you're on the phone with the support department to start looking for the screwdriver that you know was here just a minute ago so you can start trying to get the case open. Be prepared!

  • When speaking to support people, be very clear and precise with what you say. Try to provide information like "Every time I try to do a mail merge in Word with more than 50 records, my computer crashes after about the first 10 records and I have to reboot and start all over again." That's much more helpful than "Mail merge won't work."

  • Listen very carefully to what the support tech says. Ask for clarification when necessary. If he starts throwing around a lot of technical terms or buzzwords, ask for definitions. Good support people can explain most things in non-technical terms. People who can't or won't explain the jargon they're using probably don't really know what the words mean anyway, and quite possibly don't know diddly about whatever they're supposed to be supporting. If I have reason to believe a support tech is trying to use obscure terms for obfuscation, I get his supervisor on the line.

  • Stay calm. Do not take your frustrations out on the support person. Remember, both of you want whatever it is he or she's supporting to work, so you're on the same team. Don't yell, don't curse, don't get nasty. Those things will not improve the situation at all.

  • Most support techs have a script to follow when they answer the phone. Part of that script is probably the tech's name. Write it down. If the tech is rude or deliberately less than helpful, speak to his or her supervisor. Be persistent. There's almost always someone available who is higher up the ladder than the person who answered the phone initially. Do not, however, get rude. It won't do anyone any good, and the fact that someone else is nasty doesn't justify doing the same yourself.

  • Be reasonable. Don't ask your ISP's support department to help you with a problem with your video card. It isn't their problem, just as it isn't the place of the guy at the video card manufacturer's help desk to get you connected to the internet, even if you do need to connect to download a new driver.

  • Be mindful of the fact that most help desks are constantly monitoring how long each tech takes to resolve each phone call. Those call statistics rule promotions and raises. Take the time you need to explain the problem and understand the tech's suggested solution, but don't expect the tech to chat with you. Stay on topic.

  • Take notes, carefully, especially if the notes are about something you will be doing after you're off the phone and can't ask for clarification. Get the trouble ticket or case number that the supporting organization uses to find the records of your call so that if you need to call again later, you can have the next support tech pull up that record quickly instead of starting back at ground zero.

 

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This file last modified 05/16/06