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You know your tech support folks love you. We really, really do. But sometimes…. Yes, sometimes we do go back to our offices, close the door gently and weep quietly at the thought of how much more quickly and efficiently we could have helped you if you’d just let us. Other times we close our door not so gently and gnash our teeth in frustration at how just a smidgeon of judicious self-help would have allowed you to get right back to work without waiting for us to swoop in and save the day. Which could have then allowed us to help someone with an issue that couldn’t be resolved without tech assistance.
In the interest of helping us help you, here’s what I hope is a helpful list to print out and tack up somewhere obvious. The next time you’re ready to pick up the phone for tech support (or to heave your computer out the window), review this first. Much may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised.
1. Make sure your system has power. Power buttons are easy to check, but don’t forget your wall plug and power bar! For your wall plug, just plug something into it that you know already works (like a radio). If your wall plug is dead, you need an electrician, not a techie. Now double-check your power bar and make sure the power toggle hasn’t been mysteriously switched off.
2. Ensure all your computer cables are connected. You never know when one of your cables has come loose and needs a gentle jiggle to set it right. Unplug and replug all cables and cords (after powering down, please). And don’t be intimidated by that snake’s nest of cords and cables—just unplug and then immediately replug right back in the same spot.
3. Reboot. You know we’ll just ask you whether you have, right? A reboot resolves an amazing number of issues—don’t know why, but it does, so take advantage of it. Reboot at least once before calling tech support. And make sure you reboot your computer every couple of days at least. A freshly booted system always works best. (Caveat: If there’s an error message, see number 5 before rebooting.)
4. Ensure you’re connecting to the network if you have one. Watch your computer monitor as your computer reboots. Now, if you don’t get your normal network login screen, it means your computer isn’t logging onto the network properly. Check the network cable at your computer and at the wall (unplug and replug at each end). If your computer still can’t see the network or won’t let you log in, a tech call is necessary.
5. Use “Print Screen” for error messages. If you see error messages, please make a screenshot or leave them displayed on your monitor for tech to see. These messages are important to troubleshooting. Errors are often random and difficult to re-create—without the error info, sometimes tech can only advise you to wait until the problem recurs. See that PrtScn key on your keyboard? It really does something: Just click on it (certain laptops also require you to hold down the Fn key at the same time) to take a picture of your monitor display (it won’t look like anything has happened, but it has). Then press Ctrl+V to paste the screenshot into the body of an email or Word doc and email it to tech, along with an explanation of what you were doing leading up to the error. We’ll love you for that!
6. Don’t install anything on your computer. Period. Ask tech to do it for you. We’ll both be glad you did. We’re naturally suspicious, skeptical types and we’re pretty good at sorting out the bad guys from the good, so take advantage of that. Don’t risk malware that can affect an entire network if you inadvertently install something malicious. Malware can result in anything from an annoying message flashing on your monitor to a complete trashing of your hard drive—or your entire network. Theft of confidential client data is a particular worry and must always be guarded against.
7. Don’t save any files to locations that are not backed up. Individual workstations are seldom backed up. Do you really want to chance those important client documents and precedents to your workstation desktop? If it goes kaput, so do those files. Store client data and other important files only on backed-up drives. While you’re at it, speak to your techie about which local program setting files are helpful to have backed up, in case your hard drive takes a dive (and it will). Copy them to a safe location from time to time. You’ll be glad you did.
8. Make sure your printer or photocopier has paper and that it’s not jammed. I almost hesitate to say this, but please check that your printer or copier has paper in it, and that the paper drawer is not jammed. Oh, and that drawer is closed snugly, right?
9. Be concise and precise. Nothing is more frustrating at the techie end than vague requests like “my computer doesn’t work” or “my printer doesn’t print.” We can’t analyze in a vacuum. We need information. We need to know who, where, when, why and how. Don’t write us a book, but—trust me on this—you’ll get help a lot faster when you help us help you by giving us concise, precise information, including any self-help steps you took. We might even give you a hug for that.
10. Ensure your training is up to date. Okay, this one’s self-serving. When you have some spare time (I know, I know) update your training. The more you know about your hardware and software (without turning yourself into a techie), the fewer tech support calls you’ll be making (and waiting for responses to), and the less frustration and downtime you’ll have.
Most, but far from all, computer errors are something techies call “user error.” Reduce those and we’ll all be much, much more productive. And a box of chocolate-covered cherries wouldn’t hurt either.
Vivian Manning is the IT Manager at Barriston Law LLP in Barrie, Bracebridge and Cookstown, Ontario. Prior to moving into IT, Vivian practiced law at Barriston LLP primarily in the area of Municipal Land Development, with a total of 17 years in private practice before switching to the IT side of the law office. She currently indulges her love of teaching tech through her blog Small City Law Firm Tech, where she provides “tips of the day.”
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