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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, Face­book, news­groups, web-based forums, and mail­ing lists are not the best places 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, ser­i­al num­bers, etc.). That includes your pass­words! There’s no way for a tech­ni­cian to know YOUR pass­words, and it would be bad if she could know them! You have a pass­word for your com­put­er, one for your Wi-Fi router, one for each email account, one for your AppleID/iCloud account, one for your Face­Book account, and so on. You need to keep up with your pass­words and have what­ev­er might be rel­e­vant to the call on hand. I’ll talk about pass­word man­age­ment in anoth­er arti­cle.
  • 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 co-work­ers 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.
  • I can­not empha­size this enough: do not make an inter­net call from the com­put­er that needs help, or chat in from that com­put­er, or call in from a phone for which you need ser­vice. You’re crip­pling the sup­port tech when you do that, because she will just have to ask you to call or chat back in from a dif­fer­ent device, or give her an alter­nate num­ber at which you can be reached (if she can make out­go­ing calls, which some call cen­ters don’t allow).
  • 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!
  • Back up your com­put­er or phone BEFORE get­ting on the line. Seri­ous­ly.
  • 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. Don’t be shy about ask­ing if they have any writ­ten resources they can share with you, because they can often point you to web-based arti­cles that are spe­cif­ic to your issue.
  • 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.