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Web Work 101: Be Your Own Tech Support

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Hammered phone I’m not suggesting you crack open your computer to fix it, but with a few of the tactics outlined in this post you can solve many of your computer problems on your own.

Besides, wouldn’t you rather solve your problems instead of waiting for a live support person to pick up the phone and sweeten you up, telling you how important you are and how the company wants to provide you with the very best service possible. Yadda yadda … just ask me what my problem is already!

Here are 10 steps to becoming your own Mr. or Ms. Fix-it:

  1. Reboot or power off/on. This applies to computers, mobile devices, printers, routers and other electronics. It even works on my DVR when it freezes. For PCs, shut them down before rebooting, if you can. If the computer freezes and won’t budge after enough time passes, turn it off for a few minutes before turning it back on.
  2. Run anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and keep it up to date. For some of you, this is probably a no-brainer. Sadly, I’ve heard stories of people with problems who were many updates behind, or they forgot they turned off the software and never turned it back on. Most standard anti-virus apps can run a full-system scan at least once a week. Make sure yours does.
  3. Check cables and switches. Just last week, my son told me his laptop wouldn’t work. I checked the adapter and it was fine. It turned out the surge protector wasn’t switched on.
  4. Know how to save and import files in different formats. When Office 2007 (s msft) was released, people in my community emailed me because they couldn’t open the .docx, .pptx and .xlsx files it uses. Easy fix: download the free Office Compatibility Pack from Microsoft. Those with Office 2007 can change the default save file format back to .doc, .ppt and .xls. There are some fairly standard formats, like vCard and CSV files, that you can import and export into many different applications: Outlook, Gmail, Apple Address Book, Excel and more. Make “File > Save as” your friend. You can almost never go wrong in converting files to Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) (s adbe) format as virtually everyone can open and view them. Many free sites and apps can covert your files.
  5. Visit manufacturer and developer web sites. Software not behaving? Hardware acting wonky? Go to the web site of the developer or manufacturer to search the knowledge base or support pages. You can often find the answers here without having to call support. Or if you can’t find the answers, email support. It’s often less time consuming (if you don’t need an immediate answer) because you don’t wait on anyone or sit through long questions. But before you do that, try #6.
  6. Search the web for a solution. Bloggers often receive emails from people asking for help with a problem, just because they once blogged about the product or service — don’t be tempted to go down this route! Save yourself a step and go straight to the resource or an already published answer. If the manufacturer or developer web site doesn’t have the answer, search the web. I’ve found many solutions on other web sites. Make your search as specific as possible. If you receive an error message, copy/paste the error text (if possible) or write it down (or take a screen shot), and use it in your search query, along with the name of the application or other relevant information.
  7. Rule out other possibilities. Tech support people and programmers do this all the time. Let’s say you keep receiving a pop-up message that your USB drive could perform faster on a USB 2.0 port, as happened to me recently. A few things come to mind: The USB drive is broken; the USB port is broken; the drivers need updating. Now, I could still open the files on the USB drive, so I didn’t think it was broken. For this same reason, I knew the USB port wasn’t broken. Before trying complicated debugging, I located another USB drive and plugged it in; the error message didn’t show up. Problem solved: it was theĀ  cheap USB drive causing the problem. I switched to a newer one and haven’t had a problem since.
  8. Watch Wi-Fi use. Keep your credit card and other personal information off public Wi-Fi connections, which have little security. Limit what you log into while on Wi-Fi. In other words, checking your bank account can wait until you find a more secure connection.
  9. Uninstall and reinstall the application. Sometimes an application can become corrupted. After exhausting all other options, re-install the app.
  10. Sync and backup everything. I recently lost a file (yes, just lost it). Luckily, I had a back-up on an external drive, so I just copied it back to my computer. I sync my personal information manager with Google Calendar (s goog) and Contacts and my BlackBerry (s rimm). When someone’s contact information disappears from one of the resources, I had it on another. With many syncing tools and options available, you can make sure never lose any data. Not only do I have an external drive, but also I use an online backup services.

While a phone call to tech support sounds faster than finding the answers yourself, it doesn’t always work out that way. You can solve many problems within a few minutes using these steps. The best parts? There’s no waiting, no working through someone’s idea of a script, no redoing the steps you’ve already done, and no listening to awful hold music. You’re your best tech support person.

What tech support tricks do you use?

Photo credit: Joe Zlomek

12 Responses to “Web Work 101: Be Your Own Tech Support”

  1. As Jeff Yablon stated, 95% of problems are handled with simplistic answers. Fixing a TV in the old days, probably still the same, always started with your suggestion #3 and that fixed it 95% of the time.

    But be careful with syncing the calendar and contacts databases. Good syncing will quickly remove the regrettable deletion before you have a chance to stop it from disappearing.

  2. I’ve always been a proponent of fixing what you can BEFORE calling for tech support! Many MANY things can be solved just by doing a simple Google search and finding someone else who has already had the same problem and has written about the solution.

    There are also sites out there dedicated to helping those with the DIY spirit!