Tech Support is a Two-Way Street
[June 2023] At some point, almost any piece of equipment will have problems – even if they have operated perfectly for years and years. Chances are good that you will eventually need some help from “technical support.”
With today’s broadcast engineer ever approaching critical overload, the need for support assistance from manufacturers is greater than ever.
Your author has played the roles of customer, support engineer, and support manager. I can say from experience that being a competent support consumer can make all the difference in the world as far as getting the timely support you need.
METER, SCOPE, OR COMPUTER?
Keep in mind that the majority of modern hardware equipment is, to a greater or lesser degree, a software application.
That said, troubleshooting a hardware device will likely involve a completely different approach than simply making measurements with a scope or meter. There is often a distinct possibility something is configured incorrectly. There is also a definite possibility that the software in question has bugs, both known and unknown to the manufacturer. And any given support technician may or may not be familiar the various bugs, especially in older versions of the product firmware.
Usually, there will be at least one product specialist for the product that may know more of these intricacies, as well as their solutions. That is why sometimes waiting for a call back from that person may be well worth the wait, especially if the problem (or your application) is unusual.
GETTING THE RIGHT VERSION OF INFORMATION
Even hardware may vary considerably version to version over the lifespan of a successful product.
This is especially true in the post supply chain collapse era of the recent couple of years. All of this is to say that what might appear to be a very simple issue to you, may in fact be more complex than it appears. That leads us to my first recommendation:
- Have the model and serial number on hand. If the device has a display also get the firmware version.
In the smart phone era there really is no reason for not having this information, since removing the device from the rack is probably not required to obtain it.
GETTING THE RIGHT SUPPORT
Keep in mind, that especially in the radio market, even the larger companies may be a fraction of the size of a big Sony, Denon, or Panasonic.
That is a mixed bag, but consider the point is that resources are not unlimited. Make the best of them. Therefore, my second recommendation:
- Familiarize yourself with the product in question. In some cases that may not be practical, but you still may be able to include a power user of the device in question on your call to support (or at least discuss the details with him/her beforehand).
Either way, having someone familiar with the product, and how it is used at your facility can speed up the support call.
- If the product is a standalone software product running on a PC, then make sure someone with basic knowledge of that OS is available. If it is a Linux product and you do not know Linux, try to include your Linux person in the support process (same goes for the various versions of other Operating Systems).
The support engineer may be able to walk you through processes involving the OS (the author has walked many a novice through setting up IP addresses and port forwarding) but you will save a lot of time if you do not need special handling. And sadly, not all support techs have the wherewithal to do this type of in-depth assistance.
HOW TROUBLESHOOTING WORKS
Successful troubleshooting should be considered an iterative process.
Generally, there is a pool of possible causes for the problem, be it hardware or software (or both). In the ideal scenario, half the potential reasons can be eliminated at each step. So, odds are there will be at least a few iterations involved in all but the simplest problem.
That leads to my next recommendation.
- Expect the support tech to ask you questions.
If you have already spent time troubleshooting, keep careful notes so you can explain exactly what you have already tried. Next, take the recommended troubleshooting steps and keep careful notes.
If the problem involves complex interactions between the product and a network, OS, or other external factors, realize that your interactive process could involve multiple contacts with support as you investigate. Get the name of the tech and direct contact details such as email address so you can collaborate during the iterative process.
IN THEIR WORDS
I reached out to some industry support contacts for their top support recommendations. Here is what they said:
Paul Cintolo Comrex Tech Support Manager, shared some good tips:
- Before contacting Tech Support try to prepare as many details of your gear that you can. A small bit of preparedness can aid your technician and provide you with assistance more quickly.
- If you are new to using the gear, do not be afraid to inquire about best practices. Comrex Tech Support is happy to suggest the best way to configure your Comrex gear based on your application and workflow. That is true of most manufacturers.
- When speaking with Tech Support let us know immediately if you have an emergency situation. For instance, if you need to go live in five minutes, let us know of your timetable and the gear you are using so you can be routed to an appropriate technician ASAP.
Kris Bobo Specht, Comrex Managing Director adds, only slightly tongue in cheek – Please make sure to answer the phone when we call back!
THE SECRET TO TECH SUCCESS
So there you have it.
Knowing the equipment involved, and being prepared for more than one simple step, will help you get to the bottom of your woes promptly and with minimal hassle.
Let me close with one final observation Steve Church shared with me many years ago: “don’t fall in love with your assumptions. Complex system often are not static and conditions my change during the troubleshooting process. Sometimes you need to double check things during the troubleshooting process.”
May your problems be few, and your troubleshooting go smoothly.
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Rolf Taylor has over 30 years experience in dealing with operation and support issues. He currently is at Rocket Engineering and Consulting in Springfield, VA. You can connect with Rolf at firstname.lastname@example.org
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