How do I talk to tech support?

Your computer's not working. There's e-mail to read, work to be done, and fun to be had, but for whatever reason you're not able to get online. You want to get this fixed, but you know nothing about computers. Here are some tips on how to communicate with technical support agents to get your system working again.

  1  Be specific.
Be as precise as you can be when describing your problem. “My computer isn't doing anything” or “I can't get on the Internet” doesn't tell us very much—either one could mean a hundred different things. “My screen has been stuck on ‘Welcome to Windows’ for five minutes” or “The connection icon down in the corner says I'm connected, but Internet Explorer is saying it can't display the webpage” tells us much more.

  2  Get that error message!
Think of this advice as an especially important part of “being specific.” If something goes wrong with your Internet connection, your e-mail session, or a program on your computer, you will often see an error message. It might not mean much to you, but it may provide a technical support agent with crucial information to fix your problem. Whenever possible leave the error message on screen when you call. Those messages can be long, difficult to understand, and less helpful than we would like—but they're very rarely wrong.


  3  Tell us if you've changed anything.
If your computer starts giving you problems right after something has changed, the two are most likely connected. Tell the technical support person, “I think you should know that I recently installed some new software / moved the computer to a different room / saw some kind of warning from my video card flash on the screen for a second.”

  4  Tell us what you've already tried.
Maybe you've run into a problem like this before and you remember what fixed it: you've already tried restarting your computer, deleting and retyping an e-mail, or cycling power on the router. Tell us what steps you've already taken; it could save everyone's time.

  5  Trust us when we ask you to do something.
If we ask you to perform a procedure, even if it's something you already tried, please please do so. We may need to verify that things are done in a certain order, we may need to monitor your connection remotely, and we may even need you to do something a certain way because we'll get in trouble otherwise.

  6  Be polite.
Please remember that technical support workers are paid to help you, and we're usually happy to do so. Tough problems almost never bother me; rude customers always do. Remember that there's a person on the other end of that phone line, and even if your computer has a problem it's almost certainly not their fault.