PC Hardware

Technical Support

You might ask yourself why you need to get technical support if you are yourself an A+ Technician. The answer is simple: you can never know everything. The ability to use technical support wisely is part of your technical growth and part of staying on top. The unlimited technical support by phone that we once took for granted is rapidly disappearing. It is being replaced by limited technical support transmitted through e-mail and the Web. This means that increasingly we are expected to get the job done without direct support from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Technical support is out there, but it must be used wisely to be cost-effective.

Telephone Support

Many telephone-line support systems are geared toward novice and home users, not to knowledgeable, well-trained technicians, and many try to walk all callers through basic installation procedures. Patience is the rule when talking to someone at this level (who most probably had to complete a basic troubleshooting procedure required by their employers); that person must follow the rules and procedures of their company. Also, don't be blinded by how much you think you know. The individual providing phone support just might cover something that you missed or lead you in another, more fruitful, direction. If the problem remains unresolved, you'll usually have to convince support personnel to send you to the next level of support.

After you get to that next level, always ask the "level 2 technician" to give you the phone number for the direct technical-support line. Some technicians are reluctant to give out that number unless the caller promises not to distribute it and not to call about trivial matters. Every computer technician should build up a collection of technical-support phone numbers, including as many direct numbers that bypass the usual voicemail routing system as possible. The major drawback to technical-support lines is the amount of time callers spend on hold. Hold times of up to several hours are not uncommon. If you are going to rely on telephone support, invest in a speakerphone. You will need it.

It is a good idea to have the problem computer in front of you when you call. Often, you will be asked to follow some basic instructions while you are on the line with the technician. It is more believable to the technician to hear you describe the failure in real time, rather than simply telling the technician that you have already tried the recommended solution to no avail.

Online Support

Online technical support is becoming a better option. Most phone support today is free only to registered owners, and only for a limited time. If you want serious support, you will have to subscribe to a service or use a pay-as-you-go phone line. Checking the vendors' websites or online forums on commercial networks such as MSN often provides a solution without the need to contact the company. Many forums have libraries of technical support questions that have been posed about particular products. By searching these libraries, you can often get immediate answers to your questions. Some sites also have troubleshooting "wizards" that walk you through a diagnosis and solution to your problem. If not, post questions and hope for an answer, either from the OEM or from another user.

Remember, if support is essential to you and your OEM does not provide the level of service you need, you can always change OEMs (if you work in a large company, inform your supervisor of the problem). Before taking that step, tell the OEM you are considering another OEM and why. You could also point out that if the way you've been treated is typical of their service and support, you'll post it as a cautionary tale in a newsgroup or two.

Your Own Technical Support

As an A+ Technician, you will find technical support to be a two-way street. You will often find yourself giving technical support as well as receiving it. In these cases, the best advice is to remember what it is like to be on the other side and-most importantly-listen to your customer.

The Bottom Line

Often computer owners get so caught up in the excitement over new technology that they forget the reason they bought their computer in the first place. Whether it was to increase productivity in the office, provide an educational resource for the kids, play games, or access the Internet-if it is meeting their expectations, the rule should be "if it isn't broken, don't fix it!" Finding ways to get better performance from a computer is fine. But any time changes are made to a system that is already working properly, there is the chance it will not work at all (at least for some period of time).

While there is no reason to discourage customers from upgrading and enhancing the capabilities of their computers, keep in mind what they want their computers to do for them. If they use the family computer only for word processing, then perhaps the 386 will suffice until they have greater need for more complex applications. If the computer or software is too complex for the user, then it might as well be broken; it is not working properly-for that user.

Learning to interact with the people using computers is often underemphasized. Listen carefully to the end user-it's the most important part of the troubleshooting process. Remember, it is end users who determine your success or failure. They must feel that the computer is working for them, not that they are working for the computer.

These rules apply to both workplace and individual computer users. A good computer professional matches the computer with the job and the operator. It might be nice to drive a Ferrari, but does someone whose transportation needs are limited to a 35-mph speed zone, carpooling three kids, or hauling camping gear really need a Ferrari?