Tech Support: Troubleshooting Motherboards by Phone

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The Most Common Complaint

The number one complaint that a first level technician hears from a new Do-It-Yourself assembler is that the brand new motherboard you shipped doesn’t work. The call usually starts with the caller insisting that all of the necessary precautions have been taken, that the manual has been double-checked, all of the troubleshooting has been done, and nothing works.

The worst call will come from someone who says that the manufacturer simply blew off his/her call or e-mail by saying that the supplier should replace the board. A double dose of trouble comes from a caller boasting of experience. Be careful.

After working with over 50,000 different components and configurations, I can assure you that we all make mistakes. Therefore, this article is written for the technicians who receive these types of calls. Hopefully, we can turn these articles into a series for technical support personnel. Let us know what you think.

While we can’t do anything for improving your telephone skills in this article, we can provide the basic steps to troubleshooting a motherboard issue over the telephone.

Slow Down and Get All the Facts.

Before you can provide your client with an RMA number for returning the board, you must make sure that the motherboard is really bad. This will take time, so don’t rush the call.

A typical technical support call of this nature will average 20 minutes. Since you know the board probably works, it is important for you to step the individual through the sequences to determine if the board is actually bad.

Don’t forget to ask the obvious questions. Also, it is important to ask the same question different ways. This will take tact on your part. For example, rather than asking if the customer broke something, ask if there is anything unusual about the board. This shows that you are interested and not trying to attack him or her. It also gives you time to figure out what is happening. After all, shipping damages do occur and motherboards do fail.

More importantly asking the question in this manner gives you more clues as to the configuration that the system is sitting. It also convinces the individual that all is well and the problem will be fixed.

First, listen to the caller. Never interrupt and always take notes while the customer is speaking. Make sure you get the person’s name so that you can always address him/her with it. I use notepad to take notes while people are talking. I use the ‘Advanced Editor’ in Linux if that happens to be the machine in front of me. The customer hears the typing and will be comforted by a relaxed tone that says, ‘I’m going to help you.’

The person’s name is placed at the top of the note so that I can always refer to it quickly when I start concentrating on the trouble. I’m terrible with names – so any prompts help me not look foolish.

After the individual stops speaking, and you have plenty of notes (because you will usually get barraged with information overload), you must determine where the system sits in the troubleshooting steps.

It is important to concentrate on the system. Is it all built? Is it stripped down to a few components? Is it mounted in a case? Is it all in pieces?

In order to slow the call down and buy time to think, ask for the motherboard manufacturer and model number. If you cannot picture the board in your head – then pull a sample from your stock. Refresh your memory by flipping through the manual. If you work for a company that doesn’t stock product, then use your Internet connection to visit the manufacturer’s web site.

Whenever you put one a caller on hold, make sure that you explain what you are doing. A simple statement should be, ‘OK, Mr(s). X, I’m going to place the phone on hold so that I can do XYZ.’

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