Tiny Code

Tiny Code

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Advice for the family tech support person (or mechanic)

An acquaintance of mine has been roped into providing computer tech support for a family friend and is entirely too polite to complain about the situation to the correct people to prevent a reoccurrence. I've got friends who are mechanics or at least very mechanically inclined who face similar problems in their field.

Hearing about the headaches associated with this has brought back memories of being in similar situations. Once people realize you have expertise in computers, or any other field for that matter, you may find yourself getting pressured into providing computer or car maintenance assistance. It has made me wish there were a tactful way of establishing guidelines for providing help to friends and family members. What better way than an anonymous blog post you can point to as a gentle suggestion of how to behave when asking for help?

1) Use Google to see if you can't solve your own problem or at least narrow down the possible causes. You'd be surprised at how many problems can be solved without intervention from experts.

2) Just because your friend or family member is willing (or at least too polite to refuse) to offer you assistance, don't assume that he or she wants to extend the same courtesy to your friends or coworkers. Don't volunteer them to do so without asking first and take "no" for a answer gracefully. Just because they're good at their job, don't expect them to be thrilled about volunteering extra hours above and beyond their normal work week on related problems.

3) Should your indentured tech support servant be kind enough to agree to help, don't make the imposition any worse by being picky about where or when the service should be offered. No one enjoys being stuck in a cramped back room working on a computer or on a cold, hard driveway working on a car. If they ask you to bring the PC or vehicle to their place, do so cheerfully. If they do agree to come to your house, clean up a bit to make service less painful. I can't tell you how many times I've had to ask for vacuum cleaners to clean off fan vents sufficiently to make disassembly possible without a big mess. No one enjoys working with a jumble of cables or surrounded by so many knick-knacks that it's difficult to get to the computer. Be flexible about time too. Remember, your potential tech support person has a life too. Don't interfere with work or their other commitments.

4) Find a way to reciprocate and make sure it's something of comparable value. If your tech support person has spent 2 hours fixing your computer, don't let a plate of cookies be your only thanks for their efforts. Think about some skill you have that they may need and offer that, be it mowing their lawn or taking them to dinner. Remember how much you would have spent at the local big box electronics store.

5) If the support you're asking for is advice or if advice is offered as a method of preventing future problems, don't blithely ignore it. You've asked this person for help because of their expertise. If you ignore it or instead follow advice from some less experienced friend or coworker or even worse, fall prey to some slick advertising or advice from one of the poorly trained hourly grunts at your local big box electronics store, how likely do you think it is that your tech support person will ever give you meaningful advice again?

6) Do whatever preventive maintenance is recommended to try to prevent future problems. No family tech support person wants to hear your plaintive cries about how you can't afford to lose some valuable file. So do your backups (or oil changes in the case of cars) and don't expect your family tech support to perform miracles on neglected PCs or cars.

Following these steps will help ensure less resentment on the part of the person helping you.

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