How to talk to tech support

  • TECH
  • Tuesday, 21 Nov 2017

Dealing with tech support ranks right up there with doing your taxes, going to the dentist and having Thanksgiving dinner with relatives of the opposite political persuasion. It is something none of us want to do, but it's something all of us will have to do at some point, even if it's through gritted teeth. 

But tech support need not be an exercise in frustration. If you do due diligence and plan in advance, the process will be a lot less painful. 

Talking to tech support can be broken down into four steps. 

1. Gather information. If your computer, smartphone, TV, printer, or whatever is behaving badly, you'll need to be able to describe in detail what's going on. That means you'll need to know as much as you can about the device in question and be able to give the support technician as much detail as possible about what's gone wrong. 

Make sure you know the particulars about the device. For example, you'll need to know who makes it, as well as what model it is. If it's a PC or a Mac, it helps to know how much memory it has, how much storage and the type of processor or CPU. If it's a smartphone, there's make and model, along with how much storage it has. Gather as many of these details as you can, because at some point a tech will ask. 

You can generate a detailed system report on both Windows and Mac computers which might be useful for a tech. On Windows XP, 7 and 8, enter msinfo32 in the Run box. In Windows 10, search for System Information. Do File > Save As to generate a system report. 

On the Mac, click the Apple icon on the left side of the Menu Bar, then choose About This Mac. Click the System Report button, and after the report app appears, go to File and then Save to generate a report. 

Sadly, smartphones don't have this capability, but you can find a lot of detail in your phone's Settings app, usually in the About category. 

Be just as diligent about detailing what's going wrong. If there's an error message, write down or capture the exact wording, including any numbers. If a certain sequence of tasks causes the error, make notes of the steps. If you made any recent changes to the device – installed software, upgraded the operating system, added hardware – make sure you can provide details about those. 

2. Do research. Before you call tech support, spend time using the details you've gathered to search the web. There's an excellent chance someone else is having the same issue you're having, and a fix may already be out there. 

Remember that detailed error message you captured? Enter it verbatim into your favourite search engine. You're likely to get a wealth of information – stories about the problem, posts to user support forums, or – if your karma's at high tide – a knowledge base article at the manufacturer's website. 

Try some of the fixes you've found, and pay close attention to what they do or don't do. If your problem is fixed, great! You can go do something fun rather than deal with tech support. But if they don't work, be sure you have a list of what you've tried. That may save time when you start talking to a technician who'll want you to duplicate something you've already done. 

Finally, a tip: Techs often will tell you to turn your device on and off, a suggestion that's often derided as simplistic. But there's good reason for doing this – in hardware that has memory, this clears out programs and data that may have become corrupted. It's a good first step and worth doing before you contact support. In fact, it's best to power down completely, then wait a minute before turning the device on again. A restart may not be enough to do the trick. 

3. Get organised. If you decide you do indeed need to contact tech support, prepare yourself. Gather all the notes you've taken. Make sure you're in front of the computer or have the device in hand. (If you're going to make a tech support phone call about your smartphone, do it from another phone so the troubled device is freed up.) 

You can contact technical support for most companies in a variety of ways. 

Email is good in that you have a record of the communication, but be prepared to spend several days going back and forth, particularly if the technician is in a distant time zone. 

Chat also gives you a record, and most chat services will send you a transcript when you're done. You can send links to sites you've found with information you think is valuable via chat, and you won't be distracted by the tech's accented English. 

Also, I've found that technicians on chat often are of a higher quality than those on the phone – or maybe they just feel freer to do research when they're working the chat desk. However, chat can be a painful process for slow typists and thus could take a lot longer than a phone call. 

Phone support can be the most efficient approach but also the most irritating. You may spend a long time on hold before your spot in the support queue comes up. If you have issues with accented English and you're talking to a call centre overseas, your frustration level may rise. And there's no record of the conversation, unless you opt to record it (which you can do in Texas, where legally only one party needs know to know that a call is being recorded). 

You might also want to see if the company you need to talk with has a social media presence for tech support. Many business have taken to Facebook and Twitter as a way to handle support issues, though in the end you may end up communicating via phone or email. 

Finally, make sure you're actually talking to the right company when you initiate tech support. There are a host of third party companies that buy search ads that come up when you search for a company name followed by "support." As an example, trying Googling "hp printer tech support" and look at all the ads for sites that don't have in their web addresses. In the worst case scenario, they'll charge you big bucks for a simple fix you might have been able to do yourself for little or no cost. 

Even better, just go directly to the company's website and start from there. 

4. Time to reach out. Now that you're ready – and if you still need to after your self-help efforts – it's time to make first contact. 

Hopefully, your research and preparations mean you're cool, calm and collected. But if you're feeling frustrated and angry, take step back and find some Zen. Going into a tech support session in a confrontational, contentious mood will not serve you well. Go for a walk, have a glass of wine (if that's your thing), watch a romantic comedy. Get in a collaborative frame of mind. You're going to try to get your technology working again, not marching off to war. 

If you're using the phone, have a glass of water nearby, along with all your notes, something to write with and the product in question. If possible, wear a headset or earbuds to keep your hands free. Be prepared to wait on hold for a while – have a book handy, or stream some video while you wait. Just be sure to be alert when the tech comes on the line and asks, "How may I help you?" 

When you're asked what the issue is, be as specific as possible. Don't say, "My iPhone quit working" and expect the tech to understand. Talk about what is happening in simple, objective terms. Mention error messages and be ready to provide more details. 

The same is true if you're doing a chat session. Give the tech a good feeling for what's happening, but don't try to overwhelm him or her. The support person will ask for what is needed. 

At some point, you'll want to say what steps you have already tried. If a tech wants you to repeat something you've done, say that you've been down that road. If he or she still wants you to repeat it, go ahead. 

If you're talking on the phone, take notes. Write down the name of the tech and any case numbers or instructions you're given. 

If you're using email, begin by outlining the basics in the first paragraph – the make and model of the product and what the issue is in a nutshell. In the second paragraph, provide more detail about the issue and what you have done to try to fix it yourself. 

In the third paragraph, provide any links you may have found online that help (which also can be useful in a chat session). 

Finally, give the full specs of the device, if appropriate. For example, list the amount of memory, the size of storage, what operating system and version you're running. With email, you can attach the system report you generated earlier, or at least mention you can provide one if necessary. Close by providing a phone number if you'd like to have someone call you. 

Regardless of how you're talking to tech support, if you've done your research and you've got the information the tech needs to figure it out, your session should go well. It's important throughout the session to keep your cool and not let frustration get in the way of your goal: getting your device back in working order. 

Eyes on the prize, people. Eyes on the prize. — The Houston Chronicle/Tribune News Service

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