Being organized when requesting tech support

Since it’s 2014 and you’re reading this on a digital device, I’m assuming you are aware that technology can help keep your work and personal life organized. Occasionally, however, technology can be a problem and prevent you from getting to your organizational tools and resources. When you find yourself in need of tech support and turn to a friend, relative, or technology professional, you’ll be more successful at getting your problem solved (and solved more quickly) if you first do some planning.

The following information is extremely helpful if you can gather it together before requesting tech support. The more you have, the better.

  1. Write out problem in detail. What exactly were you doing when the problem occurred? Composing an email? Visiting a web site? Updating a piece of software? Which one? Be as specific as you can.
  2. Learn to take a screenshot. Often times, problems are accompanied by error messages, which can be cryptic and hard to recall. Getting a screenshot is a great way to preserve the message itself. Here’s how to grab a screenshot: On a Mac, hold down the Shift key, the Command key and the 3 key simultaneously. On a Windows PC, just press the Print Screen key. Windows 7 and above have a program called Snipping Tool that will grab a screenshot for you. Just click Start and begin typing “Snipping Tool.” It’s got options for full screen, the active selection and the active window. If you aren’t comfortable taking a screen shot, write down the error message you received.
  3. Have any relevant passwords, user names or login information on hand. Often times, work cannot continue until this information has been retrieved. To this end, I recommend a piece of software called 1Password. Its job is to create, store, and remember secure passwords for you. It’s fantastic. If you prefer to go old school, get a paper notebook specifically for this purpose. Be sure to keep it in a secure place and do not lose it.
  4. Identify what system and version you are using. Are you on Windows 7 or Mavericks? What hardware and what is the make and model? It’s possible that an issue that exists in version x.0 was corrected in version x.1.
  5. Can you reproduce the error? This is typically the first step a tech support person will do: try to re-create the trouble you experienced. If you can make it happen reliably and consistently, note the steps that trigger the problem.
  6. What have you already done, if anything, to troubleshoot this issue? You could save a lot of time by listing anything you’ve already tried.

Once the work has begun, consider:

  1. Making notes of what IT support says. It may save you a headache in the future.
  2. Keeping an open mind. The answer you receive might not be what you were wishing for or expecting. Try not to be discouraged.

Of course, you might be able to find the answer yourself. Don’t underestimate the power of a good online search or simply turning your device off and turning it back on.

Thanks to Jacki Hollywood Brown and Damien Barrett for contributing to this article.

10 Comments for “Being organized when requesting tech support”

  1. posted by Brad on

    This is a great list. May I add the following:
    1. Is this a brand new problem, or has it happened before – and when did it start?
    2. Have you installed any new hardware or software, or applied any software or OS updates recently?
    3. Who else has access to your machine? A spouse or kids? you’ll need to bring them into the conversation.

  2. posted by Sheila on

    All good suggestions. Especially #2 … I can often not remember the exact error message and I know how important that is, having been a programmer and doing customer support for 25 years. But what do you do if the tech support you are talking with totally ignores what you say you already did? I get so pissed off when I tell them and they start off telling me to do exactly what I already did!!!!!!
    And yes, reboot can solve a lot of problems! 🙂

  3. posted by Kevin Miller on

    After many years in tech support, here’s the question I’m amazed that nobody things to answer up-front:

    “What happens when you try?”

    It’s effectively the same as having a clear description of your issue, but basically here’s the advice: Don’t tell the person “I can’t print.” Rather, tell the person “When I try to print, XYZ happens.”

    Another way to think of it is to differentiate “expected results” (what you thought would happen) from your “actual results” (what actually happened). Describe both in detail to the person helping you.

  4. posted by DavidCaolo on

    Great comments and suggestions, all. Kevin: very good tip. I’m disappointed that I didn’t mention it!

  5. posted by Matt Gibson on

    1: Try to describe the *why*, as well as the what: Why are you actually trying to do this thing that’s causing the problem? What do you actually want to accomplish in the long run? That can give much more scope for alternative solutions—and often “tech support” spends four hours fixing a problem only to find that it doesn’t actually help, because what you really wanted needs a different solution anyway…

    2: I’m with Kevin: Banish the phrase “doesn’t work” from your vocabulary. When describing a problem, *never* say that something doesn’t work. Instead, describe what you expect to happen, and describe what’s happening instead.

  6. posted by Eric West | Rethinking the Dream on

    I work in IT and did tech support for many years. This is a great list of suggestions. Being able to reproduce the problem helps a lot.

    Also, I like to keep an open mind, and I’d add “be patient” to that. You might be asked to reproduce steps you’ve already done. This is ok and is simply part of the troubleshooting process.

  7. posted by liz on

    You should cap and bold the last phrase of your article – turn off the device! I have discovered that turning off the laptop and the printer and restarting will solve most issues. Sutting down and walking away from the desk for a few minutes also reboots your mind so you are calmer and able to try to reproduce the error.

    Since it is very easy to have multiple programs running at the same time, try your task with only the one program running. Turn off the auto-updates of programs that you don’t use as much.

    And get used to the idea that the tech may ask for permission to connect to your computer to check things out for themselves. It helps and may be faster in the long run. And, get into the habit of saving your work as well as backing key files. If it hasn’t been saved, you may have lost a lot of work.

  8. posted by Marie on

    To take a screenshot of the Ipad or IPhone, hold down the Home button, then while still holding Home, push and hold the on/off button simultaneously and wait for a click… It usually works. If not, try again. Then you can send error message like a photo to tech support.

  9. posted by john on

    Two Things:
    #1) Add “be honest” when requesting tech support. I have been doing IT support for over 15 years, and the #1 thing that bugs me is when people don’t tell the whole story. So I spin my wheels looking for possible causes. Then later when I find the cause and relate it to the person, I get “oh, yeah, that.” meaning they knew all along.

    #2) Echo on “be patient” from Eric West: troubleshooting is part science, educated guesses, and wild assumptions, but almost never a straight path to resolution – there are twists and turns, and sometimes there is more than one answer to be had for a given situation.

  10. posted by john on

    OK, one more thing:
    #3) Be prepared to use alternative software. Don’t assume all the software on your machine is good… I have run into many situations where some program downloaded off the internet is not what it seems, conflicts with other software, or is badly coded, and in some cases is actually a virus.

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