How To Request Technical Support

I've been in and around computers for many years and so I've seen lots of help requests – both addressed to me and in general programming or other technical forums. While I've seen lots of help requests I've seen very few good help requests. Here are a couple tips to keep in mind when requesting any kind of technical help:

1) Do not assign blame. "Your program does not work" is a bad way to request help because you're assigning blame. It's a request that sets a bad tone for the conversation and will tend to get you dismissed. If you say my program does not work then all I have to do is show you it working in my own environment. That proves that the program does work and even though you can not get it working in your own environment I'm done with you.

2) Describe the problem and not your own guess as to the cause of the problem. "My e-mail is broken" is an underlying cause that's most often not correct. "I'm not able to login to my e-mail" is a description of the problem you have that you'd like me to help solve.

3) Provide relevant details. Even though it's a slight improvement "I'm not able to login to my e-mail" is still a pretty poor way to request help. Much better is to describe in detail what you're doing. "I'm trying to login to the web based e-mail which I've done successfully before. When I enter my username and password I get the error message 'Your account is unavailable'. " That's some relevant detail that gives me something to work with.

4) If something has changed – tell me. I've frequently gotten "Your script used to work but it's not working anymore." When asked further the requester then reveals that the recently changed servers. It's a general principle of engineering that you change one thing at a time and re-test so that if something breaks you know what change caused it to break. If a program stops working when you changed something like the web host, the operating system, which browser you're using to access the site then that is extremely relevant information should be prompt in your request

5) Address your request to the appropriate person. Do not complain to your ISP that you can not get your word processor to work. Do not ask me about how to get someone else's program running. Do not post on a forum asking for "a little help" when what you really want is someone to provide you with a complex solution.

6) Keep your support expectations realistic. Microsoft sells software packages for hundreds of dollars and then charges you another hundred if you want to ask them a question about it. Yet I've seen people expect demand hand holding and free upgrades for life for a $ 10 script. Very little software or online services have enough margin built into the price to provide more than basic support and that will often be limited to pointing you to the documentation.

I can understand the frustrations of being a customer with an issue that you want resolved and really most companies want to provide you with good support. Follow these tips and you'll find you get a faster, better more helpful response out of almost everyone.