My 12/23/07 Missoulian column
Just about everyone is going to get some sort of high-tech gift this Christmas, and yes, there will be problems with that new personal computer or iPod: it won’t do what it’s supposed to do, or it just won’t work. That’s the time to think about technical support, which means reading the owner’s manual, or worse, calling that customer support help line.
When confronted with a seemingly dead or malfunctioning device, try these tips first.
First, look in the product’s box for the Quick Start or Read Me First guide. These days, every manufacturer includes a sheet or pamphlet with the most common and important operating details – probably due to howls of dismay over thick instruction manuals that no one ever reads anyway.
Any Quick Start or Read Me guide will walk you through a fast setup for the device, including how to power it up, change basic settings such as personalization or the time, set the preferences, register the product and more. Work your way through the guide; that’s what it’s there for.
After that, is the device still only partly working or not working at all? Try checking the power, rebooting or a power cycle. Any of those will solve some problems.
• Checking the power: If the device is not working at all, be sure it’s plugged in. (I know, but it does happen.) Check the batteries. Does it have the correct size batteries and are they in the correct way? (Oftentimes, many newer lithium and NiCad batteries will only go in the correct way.) Plug in the USB cable or power adapter so the batteries can charge, and let it charge up all the way. If it still doesn’t work, try a power cycle (see below).
• Rebooting: Restart the device. A reboot clears out memory and loads fresh copies of the operating system and drivers and provides a clean start. A reboot is always the first step in solving PC problems. Of course, if your PC is frozen and won’t respond to the keyboard or mouse, you’ll have to force it to reboot. For laptops, try holding down the power button for five seconds to force a shutdown. Don’t worry if the computer takes a little longer to reboot; sometimes that happens after a software update or a freeze-up. If the PC is still not working, it might be time to call tech support. If it’s kind of working, try updating the software or uninstalling and reinstalling the program that’s giving you trouble.
• Power cycle: Game systems, iPods, wireless routers, printers, cordless mice and other devices sometimes like to be power cycled, which is technically the same as rebooting a PC. Just turn it off, wait 30 seconds to a minute or so, then turn it back on. The delay will drain any capacitors or other components that are still holding juice and preventing a full cycling from on to off and back on again.
Still not working?
Try resetting the device. There are reset key combinations or buttons on many products; check the Quick Start or Read Me guide. IPods often need to be reset; check the guide or go to Apple’siPod Support and look for your iPod. For wireless routers, locate and hold in the reset button. That will return it to its factory defaults, allowing you to reconfigure it for your network.
Try updating the software. Brand-new Macs and Windows PCs (along with any anti-virus programs) will often want to update software after their first start, so have patience and let the updates run without interruption. And don’t work on something else on the computer while software update runs; that’s asking for trouble. See if the update fixes the problem.
Still not working? The next step is to check the manufacturer’s Web site, which is usually set up for easy support. Type in the model number of your product and find the Frequently Asked Questions page, which will offer more tips. Many times there are also Q&A forums.
Of course, there is always the last resort: phoning for help. But don’t even try to call a tech support line on Christmas Day; wait a day for the requests for help to thin out. When you call, have ready the serial number, model number and version number. And be patient – many companies have outsourced their tech support to other countries, and in the Christmas crush you might get someone whose command of English isn’t perfect.
Want to cut through the automated voice menus and get to a human quickly? Try dialing “0” at each prompt, or mumbling when the voice asks for a response. That might get you quickly connected to a human. Go to Gethuman for tips on the “secrets” on getting a human fast for hundreds of customer support lines for computer manufacturers, car companies, banks and government agencies.
Finally, do you need a last-minute gift idea? Charity gift cards are a great option; buy a gift card from this Seattle-based Tisbest.org and the recipient gets to choose which charity the contribution goes to.