How to Call a Tech Support Helpdesk

At one time or another, all of us have to deal with malfunctioning equipment or services, which means a call to the helpdesk. For many of us, it can equate to a painful process involving long waits, frustrating attempts at using jargon we feel unfamiliar with, and solving the problem by trial-and-error. However, there are steps you can take before speaking to the helpdesk to simplify the procedure and make it painless for you.


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    Write down the error message (if one is shown). Many errors are timed and will vanish before you have time to call through to the helpdesk. It is important to know exactly what the error said because in most cases this will accurately pinpoint the cause of the problem. Calling it the "screen thingy that went out" is not very helpful...
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    Include the exact Software application Version number when you call. Many applications have sub-version numbers and those numbers matter to the help desk. This problem may have be resolved in version x.0.2
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    Try to document the problem by printing the image on the screen, and let the helpdesk agent know you have the screen print. (See related article.)
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    Search for the error if you can. If you have an Internet connection, search the error in a search engine such as Google. You might get the solution to your problem.
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    Shut down the computer. Leave it off for a minute or so, then reboot the computer. Restarting is a simple action that solves a lot of random problems, and may save you the trouble of calling the Help desk to begin with.
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    Find your account number. It is on your bill. Most tech support operators have to maintain an average call length, so if they spend the first few minutes hunting for your customer records, the part of the call where you receive the actual help may be rushed.
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    Find the number. If you're not sure of the Helpdesk phone number, check the documentation the company gave you (you kept it, right?). Alternatively, you could contact the vendor you bought the hardware from to find the number.
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    Check that you have the time. Most help desks have just enough staff to keep customers from going elsewhere, and not one person more. Always remember that it is not the operators' fault; they're working as hard as they can. If you can't be seated in front of your computer for ten or fifteen minutes of troubleshooting, it might be best to put off calling until you can. It's very rare for a helpdesk to solve a problem without your involvement.
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    Calm down. The support staff is there to help you. It is very difficult to help when someone is irrational and angry. If you are upset, walk away and call once you have calmed down.
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    Make the call. The operator will ask you for the information gathered in the first few steps, and take you through the process of identifying the cause of the problem, and finding a solution.


  • When the call ends, ask for a ticket or reference number. This can be used in the future to refer back to case notes related to the problem, or to identify your account.
  • Be polite. If you're a pleasant person to talk to, the operator is likely to spend longer on your issue instead of just going through the basics. And keep in mind that most Help desks record incoming calls - don't make threats or use abusive language, because there will be a record of it. Besides it's not the operator's fault if it's not working properly, they are trying to help you.
  • If you want to make a complaint, ask to speak to the operator's supervisor. You may be asked to hold, or provide a contact number where the supervisor can reach you once they're available. Many help desks have a policy of not providing full names of staff for personal safety reasons, but the operator should be able to give you an employee number, a phone extension or a case reference for a complaint.
  • Be aware that many helpdesk/technical support centers require basic troubleshooting steps before moving on to the more "advanced" troubleshooting steps. This is not because they think the problem is basic or that you "Don't know what you're doing". It's because many problems that seem difficult can be resolved by simple means. It's also because just because someone says they did something, it doesn't necessarily mean they did it, or that they did it properly, or in the correct order. The first rule in any troubleshooting scenario is "Assume nothing" and the second is "Start simple, then go up." Most basic troubleshooting measures take less than 5-10 minutes (at the longest) so just bear with the technician.
  • Hit CTRL-C (for "copy") while the error dialog shows. That copies the displayed message into the clipboard, which you can then paste (CTRL-V) into a plain text file, or email to the support helpdesk.
  • It is also helpful, when emailing tech support, to include a ScreenShot of the error. Sometimes, it is difficult to describe it, or the error code is unable to be copied. You should have a "PrntScr" button on your keyboard, press that, then paste into your "Paint" program, save and email.

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Categories: Maintenance and Repair