Career Opportunities

Helping to build the career you deserve!

A weekly ComputorEdge Column and Podcast by Douglas E. Welch

Helping users help themselves

June 4, 2004

Listen to this episode

WelchWrite Reader/Listener Line

One of your main goals as a high-tech worker is to insure that the people you help – your freelance clients, in-house staff or fellow high-tech workers – have the tools they need to help themselves. Whether they are dealing with common computer problems themselves or calling a technical support line for help, you need to give them the tools they need to insure they don’t create bigger problems than the one they are trying to solve.

Both sides now

Having been on both sides of the support equation, I can’t blame support technicians for sometimes having trouble. Figuring out computer problems remotely is difficult for even the smallest problems. Trying to visualize the look and feel of different screens and different versions, is more of an art than a craft, especially when the user the on the other end isn’t the best at describing what they are seeing or even what seems to have gone wrong.

That said as a high-tech worker you need to insure that your users know exactly what might result from a drastic troubleshooting method. Secondly, you should never give a “pat” answer, like “re-install Windows/AOL/MS Office unless you truly believe it will solve their problem. Too often, I have to deal with the results of another support tech’s lack of time, or inclination, to offer a true solution. While it doesn’t happen all the time, I am sadly disappointed when I am faced with the clean up of another tech’s “solution.” Do unto your fellow high-tech workers as you would like them to do unto you.


To make the best of a bad situation; users should be schooled in appropriate responses to typical support technician requests. They should know where the Control Panel is located. They should be able to find the version of Windows they are using, as well as the amount of hard disk space and memory available. Whenever I can, I make a point of demonstrating these procedures, so that they become ingrained in the user’s mind.

Second, users should understand that some problems are transient and may solve themselves. Every week I get calls about non-functional DSL and cable modem connections. In almost every situation, they are suffering a short-term outage that restores itself within 10-30 minutes. They need to know that if their computer was working fine, and they haven’t changed anything recently, it is probably a problem that will solve itself. Fiddling with the system before you have all the information often leads to larger, more expensive problems.
Unfortunately, some clients call their ISP before they call me. I have had clients re-install their software, alter network settings and generally mess up their system in order to fix a connection problem. All this when one simple question, “Are you currently having an outage in my area?” would have saved them hours of headaches. Make sure your clients know to ask this question first, before they are pushed into more dramatic troubleshooting procedures.

Push Back

Third, I try to teach my clients to “push back”, gently, if they feel they are not getting the whole story from a support technician. If someone suggests a full install of AOL software, they should (again, gently) probe for other alternatives. Could this be an outage on my line? Are there any other procedures I could try first? These simple questions can often avoid hours of busy work, when something simpler would have solved the problem.

Along with this “push back” approach, I instruct my clients to inform support technicians of various, important information about their particular system. This is especially important if they have a router installed on their broadband connection, or are using a particular VPN (Virtual Private Network) client. Perhaps they are using software or hardware to compensate for vision, hearing or mobility problems. There is no way for the support technician to know this information, even though it might have direct bearing on the problem at hand.

I do warn users not to simply dump all their information on the technician, either. I know how frustrating it can be when you have a caller who insists on telling you every last thing about their computer system, instead of simply that which might be non-standard or new.
Finally, I encourage my users to make notes about the installation of new software or hardware, error messages they might have received or other odd behavior. I know that if I am facing a particularly odd problem, I need to know if anything has changed recently. This information alone, can solve many problems.

If you want to make your computer life, and that of your clients, easier, take every opportunity to instill these basic concepts. Armed with this information, they will be able to intelligently deal with support personnel, discover when a problem might not be a “real” problem, and allow you to spend your time helping them do neat things with their computer, instead of constantly putting it back together.

Comments, Questions, Reviews?

If you find this column and podcast helpful, please leave a donation for the author.




Receive each new episode automatically

Subscribe or