I have written before that support pros should have access to a digital camera as one of their tools. After all, as the adage says, a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes, though, a picture falls far short of an actual recording of the sounds on site.


I have written before that I believe support pros should have access to a digital camera as part of their tool kit. Lots of you agreed with that recommendation, and it’s easy to understand why. Visual representation is one of the fastest means of communicating information. After all, as the adage says, a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes, though, words are simply irreplaceable — words or, more generally, sounds.

When troubleshooting a problem, techs make use of almost the full range of our senses. I say “almost” because I don’t find myself putting a lot of computer components in my mouth to taste them, but every other sense comes into play. The same way that a tech can use a camera to capture pertinent visual information, recording sound can capture vital details of the situation. Grabbing audio doesn’t have to be expensive. You may have a sound recorder on you already. My phone has a “voice note” feature that lets me record audio clips, then e-mail them. That works well enough for the field, and I have an inexpensive digital voice recorder that I keep at the office. Here are some ways I’ve used sound recordings to help me provide a better level of support for my clients.

Try recording a service interview. I’ve found myself in situations where I was so busy trying to take notes about a client’s complaint that I missed an important clue to their problem. Recording their narrative will let you concentrate on what they are saying, and you’ll have a more complete account to refer to later.

Some sounds are symptoms.
Computers usually make some noise during their normal operation, and any changes to the noises they make can indicate that there is a problem. If you can’t immediately identify what a particular sound might indicate, recording it for later research or comparison is very handy. I’ve done this with POST alarms. Another case where sound can give you some clear evidence of a particular problem is when a hard drive is failing. Check out this page at DataCent’s site that demonstrates the wide range of noises failing drives can make. (I’ve never used DataCent for data recovery, so I can’t endorse them. I appreciate this feature of their Web site, though.)
Narrate an account of your work. I don’t know if you watch police procedural shows, but there is a cliché that has the medical examiner recording a running verbal commentary while he or she conducts an autopsy. I don’t know if a coroner would do this in the real world or not, but sometimes it happens at my service bench. I’ve used a recorder to keep an account of the steps I was taking during the disassembly of a sick machine. I found that talking while I worked was easier than jotting notes, and since my hands were free, the job went a little faster. Not having to constantly pick up and put down a pen kept me from mislaying the teeny screws I had to remove.
Produce audio documentation. Just as some people learn visually, some learn aurally. You can use a recorder to create a short voice recording explaining something for your users. If you like, you can use that as a soundtrack for a slide show of still images or in a movie you’ve recorded.

Do you already use sound recording when providing support? Let me know what you think in the comments.