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The Technopeasant's Rules for Tech Support
Jeff Pasternack

"Thank you for calling Webreakyur Computerbutgood's technical support hotline. Your call is very important to us and will be answered in the order it was received. An agent will be with you in the next…47…minutes. In the mean time, we're pleased to provide you with the highest quality of on-hold musical entertainment, Elric and his Soothing Bagpipes playing Barry Manilow's Greatest Hits. Please, do not hang up…an agent will be with you shortly."


47 minutes? 47 minutes? One could order pizza for delivery, take undeveloped film over to a Moto Foto, drop off a shirt at the dry cleaners, return home and eat the pizza, go back out and pickup the film and the shirt and still make it back in time to be told that your call will be answered in 4 minutes. That's why you should make these types of calls on a cell phone so you can be productive while waiting for your chance at technical salvation.

Folks less motivated by the productivity bug might find it easier to have three apoplectic fits. For those of us in the middle ground, however, for whom rampant productivity and debilitating apoplexy are not options, here is a checklist of things to do to make sure your private time with a support specialist is fruitful.

  • Be prepared to take notes with pen and paper as most computer-oriented technical support calls result in rebooting at least once. Have the part or product's serial/model number handy as well as other information like how much RAM you have, processor speed, version of operating software (Windows 95/98/98SE/2000/ME/XP or…Mac).
  • Use all the avenues available to find an answer. Do check their web site and their FAQ. Do use the search tool to check their knowledge base. Send an email to their support team. And use that tech support phone number. This way, you'll have all your bases covered.
  • Try to use Google. The first few searches for a resolution may result in nothing, but what you will learn is how to conduct searches. Many software installation problems can result in a file missing or the application not loading. If there's a specific file listed as missing or failing, use that to narrow your search.
  • Put a happy tone in your voice. Remember, tech support people are often harangued by irate customers and for $8.50-$14 an hour, your happy, patient voice will get you more than anger and sarcasm. It is worth noting that tech support staff may not actually work for the product manufacturer. They may work for a third-party call center armed with a knowledge base. Then the happy, patient voice is even more important.
  • Get a name and the direct dial line or extension to your tech support guru so that you can call back if the suggested changes fail.
  • Unless your issue has to do with connecting to the Internet and you only have one line in your house/office, try keeping them on the line while you implement the fix. Be armed with a joke or two, ask where they are, etc…also know that some tech support operations grade their people on how fast they resolved their calls, so the desire to hang up on you may be high. This desire increases with the level of impatience you communicate.
  • Two words to remember: escalation policy. Not all tech support folks are created equal. If the first two resolutions in the knowledge base don't work, kindly ask if you could be transferred up to the next level. Phrase your request like you're asking for a second opinion and not as a condemnation of your current helper's knowledge or skills.
  • Notes, notes, notes. The directions you're being given are steps along the path to techno-salvation. If your issue involves something you've installed on your computer, you might have to do it again. If the resolution worked, keep your notes for the next time you accidentally reformat your hard drive or upgrade Windows. Also, feel free to ask tech support to email those steps to you for future reference.
  • If you've been given good service, ask for the tech support person's email address and that of the supervisor. Drop a quick note informing her/him of the fine effort.

Technical support is much like the practice of health care. Nurses and physicians know how the body works in general and many practitioners specialize in a particular area of interest. Imagine a patient presenting him or herself on the telephone to your triage nurse with a complaint of low back pain. The nurse runs through the typical questions: sharp or dull pain? Sharp, ok. Were you exercising or lifting a heavy object? No, ok…the nurse learns nothing of value and the call is escalated to you, the physician. You review the questions that produced no results and ask more specialized or technical questions: did you fall down? Were you in a car accident? Twenty minutes later, the patient reveals that they think the source of their back pain is somehow related to the pitchfork that is lodged there.

The problems addressed by technical support folks run the gamut from typical installation woes to the most unanticipated or unintended uses of the product. Truth is, the minute a computer arrives at the end-user's house, it immediately becomes different from what was shipped. It is also different, but should still be within the range, from the technical specifications for which the product was designed. The fact of the matter is that we can't expect product makers to account for every difference or variance.

The great thing about the Internet is the ability to aggregate and disseminate information. So before you make that call, try to find the answer yourself. You'd be surprised at how many people have suffered as you. Even more surprising is how quickly you can find the solution under the threat of having to suffer through 47 minutes of Elric and his Soothing Bagpipes.

Quick Software Review: WebWasher
Are you tired as I of those pesky pop-up and pop-under ads? If so, try out WebWasher. It eliminates advertisements of all types, has a decent control panel and increases the speed at which some pages load. My one complaint to date has to do with web sites that use a pop-up window as the login screen. For example, when I go to Datek to get a good laugh about my portfolio's value, WebWasher blocks that pop-up screen. As I try to avoid that particular site these days, this is not so terrible. It also does a good job of filtering out unwanted tracking scripts and cookies. As you can see from the statistics image, this is a very busy program and the sites I visit, such as CNN, Yahoo, NFL and other corporate sites actively try to pin down my clickstream for future analysis. This program is available for free for non-commercial use.

Quick Anti-Virus News: New Flash Virus
Ever visit a web site with an animated intro screen? Don't'cha hate that? What better way is there to discourage someone from visiting your site by inhibiting them from getting access to the information they were seeking? Anyway, companies sometimes send out nifty animated messages made with a program called Macromedia Flash. The first Flash virus was released in January. While Macromedia has released a patch, please be wary of downloading any Flash animations sent to you via email.

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at