If a clown answers...
When all else fails to cure your cranky technology, it's time to pick up the telephone and call tech support, a chore that falls somewhere between going to the dentist and filing taxes. But no matter how much the sometimes frustrating conversations might lead you to think otherwise, that support staff--whether located here or in India--is there to help you fix the problem. Here's some advice that can take a little of the pain out of the process.
Who ya gonna call?
With gadgets, the manufacturer's help line is generally the place to go. But with PC s, it's not always so clear. For Windows systems, using the Task Manager feature--triggered by pressing the control, alt, and delete keys simultaneously--can help you identify which software program is the culprit. Calling the right company first can save a lot of hassle.
Avoid rush hour
Midday is generally the best time to call: After 5 p.m., the amount of time you're stuck listening to Muzak increases considerably, sometimes from mere seconds to many minutes. Mornings--or as early as the phone lines open--are also a good time to get quick service.
Have your papers ready
If the product is still under warranty, have those materials handy. But tech support people also generally will ask for other information like the product ID or serial number. It's worth looking on the device for those numbers before you call, or you could get put on hold again. And for PC-assistance calls, they may ask for the technical specifications of your computer. The System Information feature (in the Start menu under Programs, Accessories, then System Tools) can give you these details, if the computer has not crashed severely.
Ask for your ID number
In some cases, the moment you begin to describe the problem with that Wi-Fi network or digital music player, the assistant taking your call assigns an ID number to your complaint. Getting that ID and writing it down can spare you the hassle of having to replay your misfortune every time you get switched to a different attendant or (heaven forbid) disconnected.
Don't be afraid to escalate
You know that situation when you get so mad at the person who's helping you that you demand to talk to his supervisor? Turns out it's not such a bad thing and happens enough in the tech support business that they have a word for it: escalating. Give that first attendant a fair chance to help, then politely ask to speak with someone higher. You might actually get a product engineer instead of someone whose gadget knowledge comes from a script, not experience. If you have to call for help, why not aim for someone who has shared your pain? -Kenneth Terrell
This story appears in the March 14, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.