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11 Tips for Better Tech Support

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We’ve all been there. Something’s dreadfully wrong with your trusty computer – you can’t print, you can’t get on the web, you can’t play Bejeweled. For whatever reason, the problem is major enough to warrant one of the most desperate acts you can imagine – a phone call to tech support.

Now, before we dig in, let me tell you that I’ve done my time answering the tech support phone calls. I spent a good 3 years at it, so I have a pretty good idea what I’m talking about. And while I didn’t enjoy it for the most part, it was an enlightening experience. The support calls that were the most pleasant (or least unbearable, it could also be said) were with people who took the time to perform one or more of the steps I’m going to outline here. Trust me folks, this is the real freaking McCoy.

The key to making things work with your tech support representative is to make things easy for them. I know that there are a great many jackasses out there who feel some sense of entitlement and indignation when speaking to people in service roles, but believe me – you want them to be happy.

Before You Call

As you may or may not know, how you act before you even pick up the phone can pay a crucial role in the success or failure of your tech support experience. It can, quite literally, mean the difference between a quick and complete resolution to your problem and a harrowing grudge match that ends in frustration and defeat.

  • For pete’s sake, Reboot – Most people either don’t know to do this or, for some reason, think that their problem is big enough to withstand a restart, so they don’t even try. Anybody who’s worked in support will tell you that a ridiculous number of issues will be resolved by rebooting your computer. So, please, before you pick up the phone, reboot.
  • Know how to reproduce the problem – If you’re getting some cryptic error from within your web browser or something, be able to make the error happen on command before you call. Don’t call in and say “Internet Explorer said there was an error and had a bunch of weird numbers” if you aren’t able to do this, because you can bet your bottom dollar that the tech’s first request will be for you to make the error happen again. So, do yourself a favor and (to the extent that you’re able, obviously) get this process straight before calling.
  • Attempt to fix the problem yourself – Most people seem to have a very strong aversion to this suggestion. Either they don’t feel like they have the know-how to even try to fix it, or they just feel like they’d rather have a pro look at it. I understand all of this, but people who think that way run the risk of wasting both their time (and money, depending on who they’re calling) and the time of the poor schlep on the other end of the phone. See the “reboot” suggestion above for a *classic* example of this.

Assuming you’ve got all of your ducks in a row and the problem is still rearing its ugly head, it’s time to pick up the phone. There are some things you can do while on the phone that should make things easier. But first, there are a couple things that you should bear in mind as you’re talking to the person on the other end.

Things to Remember

  • They (probably) didn’t cause the problem personally – As silly as this sounds, it always amazed me when people got me on the phone to help them fix something and conducted the entire conversation with the tacit belief that I was the one who caused their crap to break and needed to be punished. So, please, don’t forget that the poor a-hole on the other end is just doing his/her job and is probably not directly responsible for your AOL email password not working.
  • They can’t see what you’re doing – In other words, you need to be descriptive. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to know (and use) all of the techie jargon (and unless you know what you’re talking about, I would recommend not even attempting to do so), but avoid using words like “thingie” when you’re talking about a pop-up window or the mouse cursor.
  • They don’t necessarily know the answer right off the bat – Diagnosing a computer problem is just that, an exercise in diagnostics. Trial and error is the name of the game here, so expect to wander down some paths that end up being dead ends. Effective tech support personnel are able to quickly pare down the list of possible causes of a problem, then systematically eliminate the rest until they arrive at the culprit. Just know that the phone call may not be a quick one.

While on the Phone

  • Do exactly what they tell you to do – There’s nothing more infuriating to the tech support guy than some know-it-all, weekend warrior type who managed to install Windows 98 on his own a few years back and is now an expert. These are also the types of people who roll their eyes when the person on the phone asks them to do something they may have already tried (or worse, something they feel isn’t relevant to the issue at hand). Chances are, the person you’re talking to knows more about this stuff than you do. You should operate under this assumption and do precisely what you’re asked. It will make the process go much more smoothly, believe me.
  • Be patient – As I mentioned before, the tech will likely try several candidate solutions to your problem before arriving at the winner.
  • Context is relevant – If you’re calling about a printer problem, it might be worth mentioning that you recently installed a new cartridge. If your computer is making funny noises, you might want to bring up the series of power outages you experienced in the last 24 hours. It’s better to give more information than not enough, so feel free to share any facts that seem like they might be relevant.
  • Don’t lie – The simple fact of the matter is that many, many computer problems are the result of doing things with said computer that you might not want to admit. And I’m not just talking about porn (though, that’s the chief sinner a lot of the time) – it could also be that toolbar you installed for your browser that gives you easy access to pictures of cute cats, or maybe that free Su Doku game. No matter what, if they person asks you if you opened any strange email attachments (or something) recently, just freakin’ fess up, because they’re probably going to figure it out eventually anyway.
  • Don’t be an Ass – One of the quickest ways you can get to the land of the banished is to treat the tech like some peon who’s just “beneath you” or something. Trust me, if you want help, humility is like gold. And if you think that certain tech support people won’t give you the runaround if your attitude is sour, you’re very, very wrong. Very.

Most of us will have to get an expert on the horn at some point in our lives. If your time is drawing near, remember these tips and hopefully your experience will be relatively painless.

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