knows the trouble I've seen
business of troubleshooting can be tricky. There are tips, hints,
guidebooks and articles about various aspects of troubleshooting
by the score, but they all seem to miss a key point.
is: "What does the customer mean by their complaint?"
This is the part that technical folks often despair over because
the vocabulary that the end user uses often sounds the same as
the technical folks use, but the chances are great (bordering
on certainty at times) that the meaning is completely different.
you are dealing with colleagues whose technical background you
are familiar with and can automatically adjust for, dealing with
end users (customers -- whether or not any money changes hands)
can be very frustrating for many technical folk who have not
taken the time to learn how to properly handle them.
a customer starts out explaining a problem, let him or her finish.
Don't interrupt. It's frustrating to be treated like a kindergartener.
If you are unfortunate enough to get a rambler (who starts out
on a computer problem, and somehow moves to why his sister now
lives in Poughkeepsie), then you will have to interrupt carefully.
"Excuse me sir/ma'am" until you have their attention,
and then ask them to get back on track with respect to the problem.
As long as they are sticking to the problem, though, let them
finish. You may be lucky enough to have them identify the actual
problem as they struggle to explain it. Think of it as being
a guest in someone else's house -- they get to make the definitions
and rules. And it's good public relations. As sick as we techies
are of dealing with the clueless, they are just as sick or more
so, of being treated like blithering idiots.
the process of listening, you may discover what you suspect the
real problem to be. Don't jump in, let them finish. Their continuing
on gives you two things:
can better gauge their level of technical knowledge to assess
the accuracy of what they are telling you
can think of the best way to ask the questions that may elicit
better information from them -- in terms they can understand
and relate to.
had some embarrassing moments where I assumed that the customer
was ignorant and wrong and jumped in with my estimation of their
situation. I was half right and half wrong; they were
ignorant, but they were right. After bumping my nose into
that particular wall a few times, I learned to hear them out.
They may well be ignorant and wrong, but they do know their everyday
environment, and they know when it doesn't match their perception
of reality -- otherwise they wouldn't have called you in.
Get used to asking extentional questions in their area of competence
-- their personal universe.
did the problem start?
there ever a time when it didn't do this?
it always do this? (Clouds of smoke and the fire engines aside.)
there any events you can think of that might be related to the
you or anyone else tried to fix this problem? (I can hear you
so, what did you or they do?
you don't know what they did, would you give me their contact
there any other odd behavior that might be related to this?
anyone else have this problem?
to this point, I've stuck with the completely non-technical,
primarily because diving into the technical is what most of us
do best, and extracting useful information from non-technical
people is not what we do best, but it's much of the purpose of
of the key factors in solving any problem is getting the right
information to set you on the right track toward solving it.
Truth be told, I'm a certifiable tool fanatic. It doesn't matter
if it's wrenches, screwdrivers, woodworking tools (my hobby),
test equipment, software tools, etc., if there is something made
to solve a particular problem more easily, I'll buy it or build
it if it helps me (unless the cure costs more than the disease).
this case, we'll stick to tools that provide information relevant
to solving computer and network problems. Some of these tools
are free, some are shareware, some cost money, some are built
into the operating system or part of the overall environment.
What they have in common is that they provide some sort of information
to help you narrow your search for the solution to the problem
you are facing. If you choose not to use them because you're
sure that they would not be helpful, then you're being just as
ignorant (and arrogant) as some of your customers.
here is a simple list -- there are multiple tools available for
many of these, but I'll just list one or two.
or system logs -- comes with the respective operating systems
messages -- teach your customers to write down the entire message
before they dismiss it
information -- Task Manager on Windows, ps on Unix/Linux systems,
listening status -- Vision (Foundstone/McAfee), TcpView (SysInternals.com)
traffic -- Network General Sniffer, Ethereal, WinDump/TcpDump
activity -- Regmon (SysInternals.com)
system activity - Filemon (SysInternals.com)
drive status (error counters, temperature, etc.) -- DriveLED
/ fsck (Unix/Linux)
info (Windows) -- HijackThis (Safer-Networking), Auto-Runs (SysInternals.com)
scanner -- Spybot Search & Destroy, Ad-Aware, Pest Patrol,
CounterSpy, Microsoft Anti-Spyware, WinPatrol, etc.
from possibly related systems and services -- name servers, firewalls,
intrusion detection systems, routers, switches
tester(s) -- Intermittent cables have caused me a fair number
of problems. I happen to like the Fluke product line, but there
are many other brands out there that also do a fine job.
is FAR from being a complete list. Note that there are NO scanners
in the list. I love scanners, but they are not all that effective
or relevant for solving an individual problem. The key point
here is that all of those listed can provide you with information
that is much harder to see with your bare eyes and which have
all led to solving problems.
other objective here is for you to think of your jobs (whatever
they might be) in a wider sense than what's right in front of
your nose. When you widen your horizons and breadth of knowledge,
your value and number of opportunities will tend to widen as
well. When you show an implied attitude of caring (brought on
by deliberately chosen behavior and speech) about your users/customers
and treat them with respect, their opinion of you goes up considerably
I mentioned in an earlier blog, none of this happens overnight,
but all of this will enhance your skills and your attitude and
will hopefully have a positive impact on your professional life.