Technical services, please hold

My mom called me the other day with a new computer problem. I'm her tekkie guru so I get these calls fairly often. Over the years, I too have had to make a few calls to so-called experts with various hardware or software problems. I once had the memorable experience of going through not one, not two, not even three, but four new computers before I found one that worked. (Talk about hangovers on the assembly line!)

During that insane two months, I met quite a few people via the telephone, who are employed by Technical Services. Often as I waited on the phone while the computer performed obscure functions that the Tekkie programmed via my hesitant shaking fingers on the keyboard, we chatted to pass the time.

I thought maybe it would be a good thing to share some of what I learned. After all, no experience should be wasted. Right?

Tekkies love to tell stories on the poor pleading people who call the help lines, especially when those people have done really goofy things. Some of these have been written up in articles containing anecdotes gathered by help-line personnel. The people I talked to swore the stories were all true. As Dave Barry, would say: "This is true, folks, I'm not making this up."

A frustrated caller couldn't get her new computer to power up. After determining that it really was plugged in, the technician asked the woman what happened when she pushed the power button.

Woman caller: "I've pushed and pushed this foot pedal and nothing happens."

Technician: "Foot pedal?"

Woman: "Yes, this little white foot pedal with the two buttons." You guessed it. The foot pedal was the computer mouse.

Even simple computer features puzzle some users. Many people have called in to ask where the "any" key is when "press any key" flashes on the screen. So many have asked this question that some manufacturers think changing the command to "press return key" would be a good idea.

Another customer called in to say he couldn't get his computer to fax anything. After a half hour of troubleshooting, the technician discovered that the man was trying to fax a piece of paper by holding it in front of the monitor screen and hitting the send key.

Seriously, if you think you need to call a software or hardware help line, do this: make sure the power is turned on and that you have followed instructions, item by item.

If you aren't certain what the instructions mean, ask a friend who may have a little more technical expertise.

If that doesn't fix the problem, do this first:

1. write down the problem, then edit what you have written down until it's easy to understand

2. write down the name of the hardware or software that is giving you a problem, complete with serial number, model number, version number, or any other number you might need to relate to the Technical Services representative

3. write down when you purchased it, where, and how much you paid for it

4. set aside a block of time for calling when you can stay at the phone or have someone take over if you need a restroom break

5. get a beverage of your choice, a snack, a note pad, and all the previous information mentioned above and sit down at the phone, take a deep breath, dial for help, and be prepared to wait anywhere from a minute to an hour before you hear anything other than recorded messages and/or music.

6. If you get voice prompts where you have to select a number, write down the numbers to form a trail. This will save time next time in case you get bumped off or have to call again for any reason.

By the way, if you have call waiting, you might want to disable it by dialing *70 then the number. That way, you avoid taking another incoming call only to find yourself bumped off when you try to get back to Technical Services.

That's ALL it takes to get Technical Help when you have a computer problem. Of course, you've figured out the most important element in this equation, haven't you? Make sure the hardware or software you buy has a toll-free Technical Help line which is becoming increasingly rare in today's world.

When you finally get connected, tell them I said, “Hi.”

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