snarke (snarke) wrote,

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How to Be a Tech-Support Genius

A friend of mine currently has possession of a laptop that was on my desk until recently. I got it from somebody on eBay. The previous owner had dropped it on one of its corners and bent the case a bit, so the keyboard plate doesn't lock snugly in place. Everything works OK, it just isn't held together as tightly as it ought to be.

So, said friend pops a DVD into the drive. It works OK, until it's time to eject it. He sends me a message saying "I was under the impression that you thought the DVD drive worked just fine, but I can't get the disc out. Is there something I should know?" I said "Huh. It was working just fine. Try pressing down on the case gently and see if that'll push the drive back into alignment with the slot in the case."

He wrote back "I tried that before, but it didn't work until you suggested it."

This is a perfect example of Rule #3 for computer tech-support. Many of you reading this already know many of these rules, but when I was the on-call PC tech support guy at Whitman College, my reputation as a Computer Genius was at least 33% from simply knowing and using Rule #1. So I thought I'd spell some of them out. That way, you too can Amaze Your Friends and Dazzle Co-workers with your incredible computer skills.

The very first rule in the book is most applicable to tech support queries that go something like "It won't do X! It worked before, but now it doesn't!" Which are most of them; users get frustrated very quickly when they can't do something they're used to doing.

RULE #1: Quit and relaunch the program.

I cannot count the number of strange behaviors I have banished by relaunching programs. Just be prepared to keep a straight face against the day that somebody goes "OMG! You fixed it! Wow, thanks! You're a genius!"

Sometimes the problem's a little further in. "The printer isn't showing up on my list any more!" "My email is broken!" "The network is down." "The Internet is missing." (No, I'm not kidding about that one.) For these problems, the program you need to relaunch is the operating system. Thus, rule 2.

RULE #2: Reboot the computer.

The next one is most useful with users who aren't totally helpless. "It won't do X. I've tried fixing it by doing Y, but that didn't help. Now what?" And you think "Huh. Y is exactly what I was going to suggest they try. I wonder why it didn't work."

RULE #3: Have the user re-try the obvious solution that they already tried; ideally when the computer knows You are Watching It.

The results go something like this: "When user describes problem, and says they tried X and it didn't resolve the problem, and X *should* have resolved the problem, go stand by the computer and watch them do X again. Computer will be intimidated by presence of support technician. X will work. User will be flustered, expecting you to accuse them of wasting your time because they didn't do X the right way before calling you. Assure user that you have seen this many times before, and that you believe they DID do it right the first time; it's just A Computer Thing."

I usually apply this technique by saying "would you mind doing that thing again? I know it's not fixing the problem, but I might learn something from how it's failing."

The next rule is basically the hardware version of rules 1 and 2. Hardware is inherently less erratic than software. Usually, it's either working fine, or it's obviously toast; the drive is making horrific grinding noises. The computer doesn't even light up. The cable's pins are all bent and twisted. But sometimes The Internet is Missing after you reboot, but only for that one user. Time for rule 4.

RULE #4: Unplug and reconnect the cables.

It's actually kind of funny that this next rule is fifth, since it seems like it ought to be much earlier. So it goes. My support constituents seemed to think that I knew all that Computer Stuff because I was young, or clever, or born knowing Arcane Computer Secrets. In fact, a survey that somebody did back in the late 80s found a very strong correlation between how much somebody in an office was considered "knowledgable" about computers, and how much time they'd spent ( . . . wait for it!) reading the manuals. Astonishing, I know.

RULE #5: RTFM. Read The [obligatory adjective] Manual

There ya go. Well over half of all tech-support issues I've dealt with for other people have been resolved with those rules.
Tags: computer, tech support
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