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Top Ten Tips For Productive Tech Support Calls

Apr 2, 2008
You've exhausted your own technical knowledge and resources, you've reviewed manuals, Google'd your brains out, your friendly neighborhood guru is no longer even speaking to you--and your computer problem continues to be more annoying than Britney, Lindsay and Paris combined. The moment you've been dreading has arrived, my friend: It's time to call tech support.

As a professional technical support person--okay, a geek with nerdish tendencies--the following tips are provided in the spirit of making your tech support calls faster, more productive, and less traumatic--for both parties:

1. Be nice! I receive several hundred emails every week from readers who have questions about some aspect of their computer or the Internet. Most people are very nice; others communicate when they're highly agitated, frustrated and annoyed--not an ideal time to initiate a discussion. From the perspective of tech support, it's not their fault that you're having a problem, so don't alienate the very person who is trying to help you. If you're emailing or calling a support service to vent your spleen (or other organ of your choosing), my best suggestion would be to stand outside your home or office and shout at traffic first. Get it out of your system, then call or email somebody who is going to do their best to assist you.

2. If you call for support and find yourself speaking to "Mike" in Bangalore, and Mike's accent is making it difficult for you to understand him, don't get angry with Mike. He's doing the best he can and it's probably as difficult for him trying to understand you. For what it's worth, speaking louder isn't going to help, either. Sure, it's frustrating and I wish all tech support representatives spoke fluent English, but they don't. If you want to complain to anybody, complain to the company that's providing the support service, not the individual support person. "Mike" is just doing his job.

If I encounter language compatibility issues when placing that type of call, I explain that we've got a bad connection and that I'll call back. It may require several attempts, but sooner or later I'll connect with somebody who speaks comprehensible English. It shouldn't be this way, but it is. You can get angry, frustrated and irritated, or you can try to work around it in hopes of resolving your technical problems. The choice is yours.

3. Place your phone near your computer, and turn your system on before you place your call. Don't waste your tech support person's time while you amble over to your computer, start it, or struggle to relocate the telephone. And if you're calling about an online problem and you're using dial-up with one phone line, for heaven's sake don't try to log on in the middle of your phone call thereby disconnecting from tech support. Use your cell phone to place the call, so you can use your dial-up line to go online, if necessary, during the call.

4. Have your serial number, registration code or other appropriate identification handy. While you're at it, gather up any customer ID numbers, warranties, service agreements, or repair orders relating to your troublesome product or service. If you're calling a fee-based support line, have your credit card with you, not across the room or in your wallet or purse in another part of the house.

5. Know the name and version of your operating system (i.e. Windows XP, Vista Ultimate, etc.), be familiar with the other programs you're using, and your computer's configuration. Hint: Right-click My Computer and select Properties to view your system information. Be prepared to provide a list of any peripheral devices attached to your computer and any programs running in the background.

6. Details are crucial. Copy the precise wording of any error message received while experiencing the problem in question or have it displayed on screen. Though cryptic error messages may not make much sense to you, they are often written to help techie types figure out exactly what's going on. Don't try to summarize an error message and avoid uttering the phrase, "It was something like..."

7. Document or explain what you were doing when, or shortly before, the problem occurred and be as specific as possible. For example, can you associate it with the installation or removal of any hardware or software; did you update anything (including Windows); did you make any changes to any settings? Did anybody else use your computer?

Don't expect a positive response from a tech support person if you start out by demanding, "My computer won't work. Tell me what to do." Depending on the level of irritation you provoke in your support person, you may be advised to reformat your hard drive and reinstall all your software again.

An appropriate inquiry is, "Every time I try to print using my Blog-O-Matic software, Version 72.c and my HP Turbo FontoMagic printer, I get an error message that says xyz. Is this a problem you're familiar with, and what do you suggest?" That type of question has a much greater chance of eliciting a helpful response.

8. Reformatting a drive should be a last-ditch, last-resort, "Hail Mary" option, so if that's the first suggestion you receive from your tech support person, I would suggest thanking them for their time, then call back and speak with another tech support representative or seek another source of support.

9. Let your support person know everything you already tried to resolve the problem. Don't wait for him or her to suggest and explain possible remedies only to respond repeatedly with, "I already tried that and it didn't work." That will inevitably lead to a recommendation to reformat your hard drive.

10. To minimize the amount of time you'll have to spend on hold listening to an endless loop of the Captain and Tennille's Muskrat Love, try to avoid high-traffic hours. Weekends and late nights are generally best; Monday mornings are generally the worst.

Obtaining and providing technical support is an art and a science on both ends of the conversation. It is not an adversarial situation, so extend a friendly hand to your tech support person and you'll receive much better support than if you choose to vent your frustrations instead.
About the Author
Mr. Modem (MrModem.com) is an author, syndicated columnist, radio host, and publisher of the wildly popular, always entertaining, Pulitzer-lacking weekly "Ask Mr. Modem" computer-help newsletter. Mr. Modem's columns appear in more than 300 publications and each month in "Smart Computing" magazine. Visit MrModem.com for additional information, to view a sample issue, or to subscribe.
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