Dear Lifehacker, I find I'm always fixing my friends' or relatives' computers. I don't mind helping, but I'm getting called out for the same problems over and over. How can I get people to learn how to fix their own problems? Sincerely, Off and On Again
Dear Roy and Moss,
There's an old saying in the tech support world: Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life. Or something like that. While many of us feel useful and valuable when we fix other people's computers, it can create a system of dependency where you get called in every time Windows needs to update itself. Instead of doing everything for your friends, teach them the steps they need to solve problems on their own.
Give Them Common Solutions To Follow First
If you find that you're repeating the same steps over and over with the same person, it may be time to write them down. You can also create a checklist of all the common problems that you find yourself fixing and the easy solutions for them. Create a canned email, add some solutions to your text expanders, or just print off a few copies of a 3x5 index card listing intiial steps. Here are some basic things you can insist someone try before they ask you to come look at their PC:
- Reboot your computer: When a computer exhibits weird behaviour, one of the first steps everyone can take is to restart their PC. If you teach your friends nothing else, this first step can reduce the number of support calls dramatically.
- Unplug your router for 10 seconds: The most common internet service problems can typically be filed into one of two categories: the kind that can be fixed with a simple router restart and the kind that require a call to your ISP. There can be other problems, but these two options will go a long way.
- Perform routine maintenance: Instead of performing a house call every six months just to spend your first two hours running a malware scan because no basic maintenance has been performed. This can even be done while the user is sleeping, so there's no reason not to.
Send Them Basic Computer Education
If you're seen as the computer expert of your social circle, chances are you know a bit more than those around you. Otherwise, they wouldn't be asking for your help. You're not going to be able to transfer all your experience to everyone around you, but you can get them started.
Not everyone needs to understand how to tweak the registry or create custom Autohotkey scripts. However, there are some things that everyone should know. For example:
- 10 simple computer skills everyone should know: Tautologies may be tautological, but from file-sharing to fixing your Wi-Fi, this list of guides can lead your less tech-savvy friends down the road to self-reliance.
- Avoid online scams: In addition to protecting their online identity, knowing how to avoid scams online will go a long way to prevent the kind of malware that causes the kinds of recurring problems you keep getting called to clean up.
- Speed up a slow computer: Few things are more stressful than the complaint that "My computer is slow", because it can have a hundred different causes. Fortunately, there are at least a few things your friends can do before you head over to their place.
Being responsible for educating your friends and family can be a bit overwhelming, particularly if you're sharing the same collection of a dozen links over and over. To make it a little easier on yourself, you can use a URL shortener service like Fur.ly to share multiple information sources with a single link.
Compile Contact Info And Forums They Can Check
No matter how much you know about technology, there are always going to come times when you need to get help. Frequently, when we help out a friend, the solution to the problem can be quickly found via Google, forums or just calling a support line. While you're teaching your friends or family how to use their computer, show them the basic sources of information they can use to find answers.
- Learn the deep magic of Google: Why are so many people unable to use Google to solve simple problems, you ask? Because using Google is a skill. Show others your secret tricks to finding information and watch the number of calls you get drop.
- Get better customer service: Giving your friends a list of tech support numbers they can place on the fridge will make sure they know who to call before you. It couldn't hurt to give them a couple of tips on how to butter up the customer service reps.
The most important thing of all you need to do is just say no. You don't have to be a jerk about it, but once you've given your friends and family the tools they need to figure out how to fix their devices, insist they use them. Say things like "Before I come over, have you run a virus scan/tried rebooting/plugged the dang thing in?" Only, you know, a little more tactfully than that.
Over time, one of two things will happen: either your friends will learn to fix their computers themselves or they will call someone else to do it for them, which means you may lose out on the reputation of being the go-to fixer. But if you're writing in on how to get them to stop, you might not miss that reputation anyway.
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