Answers to questions about technical support.

Q: I have many pieces of “high-tech” equipment including a servo-driven total station, a digital level, GPS receivers and many software programs. Why does it take so long to get technical support from the manufacturers of these products? Often, the wait to talk to someone on the phone doesn’t take long. But getting the final answer that solves our problem often takes many calls. Are the products of today just too complex for even the manufacturers to support?

A: Much of today’s equipment, including software is highly complex, and thus more difficult to support. When you call in with a problem, there may be a large variety of potential causes, many of them interrelated in complex ways. There is a way to reduce your time to get a solution: knowing the product and preparing before the call. First, ensure that you really do have a problem and not some normal behavior of the product due to the circumstances. This is best determined by reviewing the pertinent sections of the manual that may address the problem. Most manuals have a trouble-shooting guide. It is well worth the time to peruse it. If you haven’t found a solution, your next step is to assemble the pertinent information that a support specialist will need to understand the problem you are experiencing. This includes details of how the equipment is being used. If it is a software problem, some of the details could include the type of operating system used, whether it is on a network, the sequence of keys or operations used immediately prior to having the problem and any ancillary equipment attached to the PC. With hardware, it could include actual data collected immediately prior to and during the troublesome operation, error messages displayed, details of time of day, weather and other equipment being used with the equipment having the problem. Next, it is worth checking relatively simple but often unchecked items. Is there power to the outlet? Is it actually plugged in? If it runs on batteries, are they charged or capable of holding a charge? Are all the other cables plugged in properly? Are the cables damaged? If possible, can the cable be swapped to eliminate it as the problem? Quite often, users neglect to mention critical information such as: the instrument was being used in a downpour when it failed, or the instrument was taken to the local electronic shop for repair or the software was being run on a machine with an operating system not mentioned as one of the system requirements. Many times, when the user contacts support personnel, simple questions of the user that assume knowledge of the technology and ability to use it are met with silence. Being familiar with how to operate the software or equipment is essential. These simple guidelines, while they may appear to be time-consuming, can help reduce the time to a final answer. They can also help you become a better user of the product.

Have a question for the GIAA Mailbag? Please E-mail your questions to Diana Brown at brownd@bnp.com. Your questions, and their responses from qualified professionals, will help others. You may also ask your questions or continue the discussion at www.rpls.com.