NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Tech Troubles? Take A Deep Breath


OK. So, you got that iPod Touch you always wanted for Christmas, the kids got the X-Box, and you're trying to load up pictures on a digital frame for your mom and dad. But today, the iPod won't play the Beatles, the submachine guns on that X-Box game won't fire, and the photo frame is flickering like a Christmas tree. Now, Boxing Day is turning into a nightmare.

Here to help you deal with it is Jeff Tarter. He's the executive director of the Association of Support Professionals. And he's in the studios of WBUR in Boston. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JEFF TARTER (Executive Director, Association of Support Professionals): I'm glad to be here. Merry Christmas.

HANSEN: Merry Christmas. But it's the day after Christmas and we're freaking out. We're trying to get our shiny new gadgets to work. What do we do?

Mr. TARTER: The first thing, I'd say, take a real deep breath. It's hard, I understand, because you feel vulnerable, you feel ripped off by evil companies. But the truth is these things happen. So, I would say take deep breath, find something else to do.

HANSEN: So, we should wait a few days before we jump in and call?

Mr. TARTER: Yes, absolutely. If you call today, you're going to get probably the single worst day of the year for tech support. The call lines are going to be inundated with callers. The people who are on the phones are going to be themselves stressed out and working overtime. They would rather be home with their families, of course. So, you're not going to get an optimum experience.

HANSEN: You suggest instead of the tech support line to go to the company's website.

Mr. TARTER: Yeah, that's absolutely the best place to start these days. For one thing, you're going to be able to get right through. You may have to dig a little but you're going to probably find the same answers they're going to tell you over the phone.

HANSEN: Well, you've calmed me down and I've checked the websites, but the stuff is still isn't working. And so, all right, I won't call tech support today but I'm going to call tech support tomorrow. How should I prepare for that call?

Mr. TARTER: First of all, you do want to register the thing so it's under warranty, and you can do that on the Web. Get your serial number, get, if you got receipts from whoever gave it to you, that helps. If you got error messages on a screen, copy those down. You know, the support people are really trained to go through a diagnostic.

And it sounds insulting sometimes. They'll ask you, is it plugged in, is there a battery in the battery pack, is the on switch on? You feel like they're treating you like idiots. The truth is, these are the issues that more often than not cause the problem. It's simple stuff. I've been that stupid.

HANSEN: Haven't we all? All right, what's the gadget that almost drove you to tears when you were trying to get it to work?

Mr. TARTER: I would say almost any Windows PC. I've owned, god, a scary number of them in my life and they still regularly drive me to tears.

HANSEN: How's their tech support?

Mr. TARTER: Actually, it's pretty good.

HANSEN: But there are probably tech forums. I mean, are there other places you can go online?

Mr. TARTER: Yeah, most of the companies have pretty good forums now. I think it's also good just to go to the forums and see what kinds of problems show up. You'll see in many cases, areas where companies are getting dinged by their customers all the time. It may be, you know, the hinges on a notebook computer, a particular model are breaking all the time. And you'll see a lot of stuff about that. You know, it's a good way to get a large community view.

And you can post questions there. Sometimes the company itself answers them, sometimes experts do.

HANSEN: There's also that old answer to every question, read the manual.

Mr. TARTER: Yeah, but I think everybody's figured out that the manual is in fact unreadable.

HANSEN: OK. Jeff Tarter is executive director of the Association of Support Professionals, and he spoke to us from the studios of WBUR in Boston. Thank you very much and Happy New Year.

Mr. TARTER: Happy New Year to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.