Help us help you

Skills aside, communication is the real key to providing great tech support. It’s also the real key to getting great tech support. No matter how good we are at our job, we still can’t read your minds and – contrary to popular belief – we’re not really wizards.


With some plagiarizing from an old, but very relevant Lifehacker post, here are some tips for getting the best from us, which helps us give our best to you.

The more specific, reliable, and reproducible details you can provide the better.

When communicating tech problems, words like “thing”, “crazy”, “weird”, “problem” and “broken” aren’t actually very helpful. It’s ok if you don’t know the right words to use. That’s why you’re looking for help after all. We get that. Still, it’s better to say “I was tapping away on my Mac and suddenly everything on my screen got huge and I can’t work like this. What’s up with that?” instead of “My computer is doing this weird thing and the screen is all crazy. Help!”

Surprisingly, the word “help” is also not very helpful. Asking “Can you help me with a printing problem?” leaves a pretty broad range of responses for us to consider. You know that you need help, specifically, with printing a PDF that crashes every time you try to print it, for example. So tell us that instead of leaving us hanging. Because we’re going to reply back with “Yes, I probably can help, but can you elaborate a bit more on the nature of the problem?” instead of “Sorry you’re having trouble. Can you try printing a different PDF as well as a Word file and tell me if those also crash? Then I can advise further and/or resolve it for you.” The point is: the more specifics we have up front, the faster we can get to the part where we actually help.

When sending an email, PLEASE include a meaningful Subject. Do you know how many messages we have accumulated over the years that have the subject of “Help” or “Hi Laurie” or “Question” or “Problem?” Even worse are the thousands that contain no subject at all. The subject line of an email is a really useful tool. It summarizes the content of the email for the recipient. Sure, we’re going to read the entire email anyway, but that subject line helps us prioritize. It also helps us locate important reference info in the future when you (or someone else) emails us with the same or similar problem. Think of our email archives as a filing cabinet, and all the email we receive as individual file folders. Now imagine that every single folder in the file cabinet is labeled with the word “Documents.” Now go ahead and try to find the one folder that contains your child’s birth certificate. See what I mean?

Always provide more details than you think you need to in your email or voicemail. Background info and context such as: specific make and model (ex: iMac, MacBook Air, iPhone 5s, iPad mini, Epson Workforce 845, etc), specific OS version (ex: iOS 9.0.2, OS X 10.10.5), browser used (ex: Safari, Firefox, Chrome) other relevant software version (ex: Word 2008, Keynote ’09), connectivity type (ex: WiFi at home/hotel/cafe/Jetpack/Hotspot, cellular 3G/4G/LTE, hard-wired/Ethernet) are really important details for us. Don’t be stingy with them!

Show and tell isn’t just for grade school. A picture is worth a thousand keystrokes. If you can show us your actual screen when you’re experiencing a problem, it’s extremely helpful. Since we’re not always available to jump on your system with LogMeIn at the very minute you’re having that problem, an emailed screenshot is the next best thing. Here’s how to take a screenshot. If you’re not able to take a screenshot on your Mac or not able to send email from your Mac, taking a picture of your Mac’s screen with your iPhone or iPad is a good option. Just be sure that you choose “medium” or “large” for the size on the photo on your iPhone or iPad when you’re attaching it to the email. Sending a “small” picture from your phone usually won’t allow us to see the important details in the image.

SMS texts and iMessages are really convenient for chatting with friends and family and for transient info and questions like “I’ll be there in 5 minutes” or “Are you on your way?” or “I’m at Starbucks, can I get you anything?” But it’s a really inefficient way to give or receive tech support. We don’t speak for others, but for us, email is the best and fastest choice for communicating support-related matters.

The above points are just a few examples of how you can help us to help you, but they’re a great start – for us both.


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