Let’s face it, our businesses probably wouldn’t function without a computer or two, yet we do things every day that leave us vulnerable should things go wrong. So let’s assume your software is broken, or you can’t do something and you need help — well here’s how to make the most of your software and solve those problems.
Finding the right software resources
First up, I’m not going to explain how to use this or that piece of software. What I am going to do is explain how to ask the right question to the right people in the right places.
Bookmarks and Favourites
So you’ve bought some new software. Good for you! Now go to the website of the company you just bought it from and bookmark their:
- home page for your country;
- their blog, perhaps subscribing to their feed;
- their support section, and;
- their support forums.
I’m using Apple’s Safari as my main web browser to manage all of my bookmarks, which I’ve organized into folders. I use Safari because I can synchronize all of my important data with my iPhone, so I’m always connected.
Important data — that’d be like passwords, right? Here’s my 7 security tips for your computer and the web.
So instead of groping around, wondering what the hell to do, you have instant access to the web resources you’re going to need to solve those problems.
All good software vendors will be as connected as possible, not just hiding behind a premium rate telephone number, or some Byzantine and labyrinth-like support structure, to wear you out before you’ve found the help you need. And those vendors that are really connected will be socially networked…
Twitter and Facebook
While hooking up with your software vendors via a social network might not smack of support, it is in so far as paying attention to their messages, which are often hints, tips and notifications of security patches and upgrades. Also, with Twitter, you get to message them directly and stand a good chance of getting a reply to your question.
If they have a Page on Facebook, then you’ll see much the same as you will on Twitter, but more in depth, with comments from other users and what their thoughts are.
Sometimes, you might get more help from the user comments than from the vendor themselves; especially if you’re considering an upgrade but it turns out to be problematic for some.
Why not read my beginner’s guide to social networking?
When software goes wrong
First of all, don’t panic! Write down your problem, try to re-create that problem and then make some notes. Sometimes, major problems can result in a loss of data, so get into the habit of saving; make that thumb and forefinger save shortcut an instinctive reflex!
Once you’ve got your notes, write them out as a series of 1, 2, 3 style steps, explaining what you did, right up to (and perhaps beyond) the problem you encountered.
Next, go to the support section for the vendor of the software and look for a support contact form, where you get to add your details and your notes. This is urgent, so follow up with a call.
Why bother with the support contact form if this is urgent? Because this will be the basis of your support query, which they will then work from. Also, this offers you some redress, should they have problems dealing with your support query.
The next steps are crucial, because we can’t assume you’re dealing with the right people first off. Most support calls will lead you to the front line of support, often called level one, which are people who’re often reading from scripts and might not be technically familiar with the software. If you know you have a genuine problem and it is urgent, ask to speak to someone senior to them.
Next, make more notes! Seriously, take names, mark down the time and make complete notes of what they’re telling you. Because if things go wrong here, you’re going to need those notes.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced problems with support personnel and used my notes because they simply haven’t even bothered following their own support tickets, or even making any support tickets in the first place.
Dazed and confused?
Well, you may be as well posting your problem into their support forums, for other users to help you with. In most cases, you’ll need to create an account before you can post (unless you’ve not already done so as part of the registration / sign-up process), but it’ll be worth the effort, believe me.
Some of the people you’ll meet on their are as or more knowledgeable about the software than the people who wrote it. Also, the people who maintain the forums — the moderators — will often assist, too. These people are the ones you’re really going to benefit from most.
But, before you post anything, use their search engine first, to see if anyone else as had the same problem as you. Sometimes, you’ll find a whole stream of similar problems, with solutions already provided.
Sometimes, their search tool isn’t the best, so what do you do? Why, use Google, of course! Google is often much better at finding things on forums than the forums themselves.
So your problem is small, mildly annoying, but otherwise not a show stopper. Try messaging them on Twitter to get an answer. Or, you can just Tweet a message with their @name in it, to get their attention.
Some people confuse being rude with asking for support, by posting borderline abusive messages with their @name in them, for effect more than anything else. I suppose it goes without saying that you shouldn’t do this!
Aside from the vendors themselves, there are plenty of unofficial resources out there, many of which are well maintained and very, very popular. Mostly run by fans, these places can be abuzz with tips, tricks and solutions. So be on the look out!
If you can’t explain what happened, don’t expect much more than a fake frown and a shrug of the shoulders from the support people. So there are no software tricks and keyboard shortcuts when it comes to getting the help you need — you have to be calm, methodical and have the right resources just a few clicks away.