Years ago, I recommended specific computers to readers based on the amount of attention each company paid to tech support. My theory was that most of the top brands were similar electronically. It was the level of tech support that set brands apart.
Its still true that theres not a great deal of difference between the top computers. Unfortunately theres not much difference in customer service, either its uniformly lousy.
This lack of after-the-sale customer care isnt confined to computers. Its generally true across the board with makers of software, HDTVs and other electronic gadgets.
Heres a series of actions to take when you have a problem you cant solve. Most apply to computers, HDTVs, programs any gadget you can name. But to make explaining easier, well assume its a problem with your computer. Well also assume its a continuing and serious problem not a one-time glitch (its best to ignore those fixing one-off hiccups can make a small problem into a giant one).
I know from emails I receive that many, maybe most, people do a bad job describing a problem. Ill often get a plea for help based on a note that says my computer often stops working. Thats not much to go on. So write down a specific list of all the symptoms. Include the exact wording of any error messages. If theres a series of events when the computer shuts down describe the sequence of those events.
If the problem most often happens when the computer is first started, write that down. If you hear any beeps or other sounds, make a note.
Describe your system
Write down the make and model number of your computer including the serial number. You also need to list the operating system you use, the amount of RAM, the size of your hard disk and the programs you are running.
A program Ive recommended before Belarc Advisor will provide the level of detail you need. Its available for free download at www.belarc.com. Run the program and then print and save the information.
Do that right now. If some future problem is severe enough, you may not be able to run the program.
Ask for help
Start with the manufacturer. Chances are the company has dealt with your specific problem before. If the company allows such a luxury, call the tech support line rather than sending email.
Even if you have to pay for the call, its the quickest way to solve the problem. Email support usually means exchanging many back-and-forth emails.
Be persistent but polite
A surprising number of otherwise decent people get aggressive and rude when dealing with tech support. Being rude makes things worse, not better. Its important to be persistent but its nuts to act like a jerk.
If first you dont succeed
Lets assume the first person cant help. If thats the case, immediately contact tech support again. As you might guess, competence and communication skills vary wildly from person to person. Maybe youll get lucky and a better tech support person will answer.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Bill Husted writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.