Download our software support decision tree to keep your help desk on track

Making the best use of your time on a software support call requires a systematic approach. Check out the process used at TechRepublic and then download our software troubleshooting decision tree.

When end users call the help desk with a problem with an application, it is tempting to try to solve the problem quickly by making a few assumptions about what could be wrong.

But that method is not the best way to attack the problem, according to TechRepublic's Ted Laun, who supports a variety of applications used throughout TechRepublic.

Whenever Laun has to respond to a "My program isn't working right" call, he runs through a list of procedures:
  • Relaunch the program
  • Reboot the computer
  • Reconfigure the program
  • Reinstall the program
  • Uninstall and reinstall the program

Each of these responses requires more time to complete than the response before it on the list, but Laun said that doing them in order until the problem is solved is faster than skipping a step or two and then having to start all over from the top.

To help you train new help desk personnel or to help you remember to follow the steps, download TechRepublic’s software troubleshooting decision tree.

Follow the yellow-brick road
Laun's years of experience in supporting end users tells him that most malfunctioning programs will have faulty Registry entries as a root cause, but there are a number of other possibilities that cannot be overlooked.

Use the decision tree for a quick and easy way to eliminate simple, transient problems a program might have by getting the user to first quit the program and relaunch it. If that fails to fix the problem, rebooting the computer is a good next step. Rebooting ensures that the RAM is clear when the program is relaunched.

Both of these steps can be handled over the phone with even the most inexperienced users, and sometimes relaunching or rebooting will fix a problem when the program has loaded into RAM incorrectly, Laun said.

More often than not, the problem will persist.

"It's on the hard drive, as opposed to not being loaded into RAM properly," Laun said. That means the Registry entry or an executable or .dll file is to blame.

More than skin deep
When a user saves preferences to a program, those preferences are stored as entries in the computer's Registry.

Listening to the user's description of when the program fails may give you a clue as to the type of preference that is being affected.

For example, if users complain that they can’t find the usual templates when they try to open a new file using a template in Microsoft Word. When you go to Tools | Options | File Locations, everything looks fine. If you go ahead and modify the template locations, even back to where they are already listed as being, you can overwrite corrupted data with good data in the Registry.

If that doesn't solve the user's problem, and you have Internet access and the chance to check, you might go to the online support page for the affected software. This strategy can save you lots of time if there are documented problems like the one you are facing. There might be a patch to download that will fix the problem.

If that isn't the case, then you may have to go to the next step: Reinstall over the application or run a repair utility for that program if it exists.

"One of the first things I do is talk to the user to make sure there hasn't been extensive configuration of this program at some point," Laun said.

Typically when you reinstall the program over the existing version, the installation program replaces .dll and executable files but ignores the user's preferences. If there has been extensive configuration of the program, you will want to make sure you copy all the preferences down before you complete this step or any steps that follow.

If the problem continues to exist at this point, then the next step is to completely uninstall the problem program and reinstall it. This process should make a clean sweep of all appropriate Registry settings and .dll and executable files.

After this step, solving the problem is going to become even more time-consuming. The importance of the program to the user's job function should be determined, and if it is important, then the time you spend fixing the problem is justified.

Weighing the wait factor
If the program is a necessity, the software company's support desk needs to be contacted. When you reach the support desk, describe the steps you have already taken and you will often be bumped up to the second tier or level of support, Laun said.

Be prepared to explain what operating system release and programs are being used at the same time as the problem program because there may be compatibility issues that are undocumented.

If the problem is an incompatibility or a bug that affects a limited number of computer users, the software company support staff may be able to suggest a workaround. Sometimes there may be a specific patch for your situation.

Finally, if everything else fails to solve the problem, it may be time to back up all the data on the computer and reimage the computer's hard drive with the appropriate disk image.

Download our help desk helper
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Download TechRepublic’s software troubleshooting decision tree for a step-by-step strategy for diagnosing and fixing software problems. The download includes two files zipped together: a Visio file you can use to modify for your own purposes or a PDF file you can print out.


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