What to Do (and Know)
Before Contacting Any Technical Support Team
Oh no! Not again!
Yes, it seems that you have hit yet another technical snag. Once
again, the modern marvel that is your PC has chosen the absolute
worst moment to fail.
Computers have helped put a man on the moon, but your particular PC
refuses to print out your report. All your hard work has now been
reduced to a collection of electromagnetically-coded data on the hard
drive. This is not going to go over well with your boss, professor, etc.
Not to mention all the money you spent on this box of microchips.
You loathe the idea of contacting a Technical Support team and waiting on
hold for half an hour. Worse still is the language barrier you always
encounter when trying to explain your problem to the "tech" on the
other end of the phone. There has to be a way to make this process
easier. Read on to find out what you should do and know before you
pick up the phone.
In this article, we will cover:
Simple fixes for general PC problems
A quick summary of Technical Support
Information you will need to have before making a call to
a Technical Support team
• A Word of Warning
• The Almighty Reboot
• An Ounce of Prevention
• Know Your PC's Limitations
• The Purpose of Technical Support
• What you should know before calling
First: A Word of Warning,
This article is in no way an endorsement for "do-it-yourself" computer
repair. Technical Support offices are made available to you for the
express purpose of helping you resolve problems. If you are unclear or
unsure about the nature of a technical problem, take the safe way
out and call the experts, there are many around. The ramifications of "fiddling" with your
computer can be severe. The advice provided in this article is just
Fix #1: The Almighty Reboot:
Your computer is constantly sending bits of data back and forth
between its devices. Between Hard disks and RAM, CD-ROMs, printers,
disk drives, the monitor, and on and on. Eventually, a time will come
when the data sent from one point will not match what is expected at
the other point. Your computer may not be able to make sense of this
discrepancy and decide to shut down the trouble-making program or
return an error about the device you are trying to use. We live in an
imperfect world and these failures must be expected from time to
In many cases, when that annoying "general protection fault", "illegal
operation", or "unable to print to the specified port" message appears,
you can correct the problem by simply shutting down the computer
and rebooting. Rebooting allows your computer to reset and remove
itself from the trap into which it has fallen. You should always save
your work whenever possible, or be willing to sacrifice your data.
Rebooting should only be used to correct an infrequent problem. If you
notice that your word-processing program always crashes when you
save documents or that your network connection drops out several
times a day, the problem is chronic and demands the attention of
Technical Support staff.
Fix #2: An Ounce of Prevention:
Two common sources for technical problems are virus infection and
hard drive errors. There are several software programs available on
the market that will scan your computer and report possible infection,
allowing you to remove the virus before it can do damage. These
utilities will also monitor Internet downloads and files on diskette,
catching infected files before you access them. See our articles on
viruses (virii) and the leading anti-virus software for further
information. One drawback to running anti-virus software in the
background is that it may interfere with some legitimate computer
Like anti-virus protection, there are utility programs available that will
analyze your computer and give you a fitness report. These programs
can find physical damage and data corruption, repair and recover
damaged files, or optimize the computer's use of your hard drive.
Used properly, these software packages can prevent
problems and save you some aggravation.
Of course, you should ALWAYS back up your data to a safe diskette.
You never know when you'll need it, but eventually, the time will
Fix #3: Know Your PC's Limitations:
The newest programs available for your PC, from office productivity to
games, often have one common element: resource greed. The latest
version of any program invariably requires more memory, hard drive
space, and processing power than its predecessor. I will never forget
the troubled laptop owner who asked my colleague why his computer
was so slow and crashed so often after upgrading Windows 3.1 to
Windows 95. It was soon revealed that he had installed the new
operating system on an aging computer with only four megabytes of
RAM and a minuscule hard drive. The demands of the operating
system were too great for the hardware. The lesson is this: the
System Requirements printed on software packaging should be treated
as bare minimums. The chances for better performance and
error-free operation increase with a newer, more powerful PC.
The Purpose of Technical Support:
Having worked in the tech support field, I feel qualified to defend the
oft-maligned group of technicians who must face these difficult
problems on a daily basis. A few things that need to be stressed
about Technical Support:
It's a two way street. Technical Support cannot help you
without a complete and proper description of the problem.
Simply saying "I can't print," will not produce a solution
Techies are people too. Support staff are there to help and
most enjoy their work. This does not mean they will always have
the answer to your problem. Treat them like human beings and
they will go the extra mile to try to help you out.
The squeaky wheel DOES get the grease. As much as I hate to
admit it, you do sometimes have to take a firm stance with tech
support. Do not be afraid to ask for a supervisor if you feel you
are not receiving proper treatment. This should not be taken as
an invitation to be rude, but don't allow a tech to treat you in a
Do not call for hand-holding. Technical Support staff should not
be expected to walk you through program installations,
formatting a document, installing memory, downloading files,
etc. You can find detailed instructions for most tasks in the Help
menu of an application or other documentation (like Rookies!).
Your calls should be for assistance with specific errors and
problems with hardware or software. If you are unsure about
how to use a computer, see if you can find a training class in
your neighborhood, or even on-line!
Knowledge is Power: What you should know before calling:
You're stumped. There is no obvious reason for the problem you are
experiencing. Like it or not, you will have to call a Technical Support team.
Before you pick up the phone, be sure you know the following:
Error messages. The defaulting program or operating system will
almost always provide an error message to "explain" the problem
you are encountering. It is not important that YOU understand
this techno-babble, but be sure to write the error message
down EXACTLY as it appears on the screen. This message will
provide Technical Support with important clues as to the nature
of the problem.
Be ready to work with Technical Support. Calling the tech
support staff when you are away from your computer or about
to leave makes troubleshooting the problem very difficult. Have
your computer running and be prepared to follow instructions
from the tech.
Know the circumstances. What were you doing when the
problem occurred? You should be able to tell the tech what
programs were running and what activity you were performing at
the time of the error. You should also let the tech know if this is
a recurring problem. Also let the tech know if you have changed
anything recently in your computer. Like detectives, they need
all the information to figure out where the culprit lies.
Know your equipment. The operating system, amount of
memory, processor type, and amount of free disk space of your
computer may all be factors in causing the problem. Have this
Try not to speculate. It is tempting to try and diagnose the
problem yourself, but this can often mislead the tech and turn a
simple problem into a baffling mystery. Providing only the facts
is the best policy.
You don't have to be a computer expert to get expert help. By
following these general guidelines, you will reduce the frustration
associated with calling a Technical Support team. By making the tech's job
easier, you allow them to do their job and they'll reach a resolution
that much faster. And since you have to pay for most technical
support, having the information in front of you BEFORE you call will
save you time and money.