So You've Decided to Call the Actrix Help Desk

from the December 2003 Newsletter

by Rob Zorn

Oh hai
"Hi there. This is Actrix Support. You're speaking with Norrie. How can I help?"

Actrix Networks Ltd runs a help desk between the hours of 8 a.m. and midnight, seven days a week. Each and every Actrix customer is entitled to e-mail the help desk or phone them as often as they like between those hours.

Our help desk crew are a skilled and likeable lot. They do work according to varying guidelines, but, unlike with many other ISP help desks, we don't require them to follow specific formulas in helping you. They're able to be flexible and friendly. Hopefully they'll help you without making you feel ignorant or guilty for having called them. We want our help desk to come across as human and real, rather than robotic and confined to set procedures. They've been selected according to a number of criteria including outgoing and helpful personalities, their knowledge of computer and Internet related issues, and their problem solving skills.

This last aspect is probably the most important. There are a million and one things that conspire together to produce a successful Internet connection or lack thereof, and problems are often caused by unexpected factors. Getting to a solution is often a more obscure process than it may seem, and so the ability to sort through everything that's going on, eliminating red-herrings, is a real and valuable skill.

You can be of great assistance to the help desk staff by being as prepared as possible when you call them. The more information you can give them, the more able they will be to help you swiftly. I've included some ways you can be best prepared below. Not all of them will be relevant every time, and you shouldn't feel that you have to be on top of each one before you call, but the more of them you can cover the better.

Take note of error messages: Windows (and presumably a Macintosh system) has a limited number of error messages that it can serve up to you at various times when things go wrong. Usually these are relevant to the problem and helpful. If you're striking a problem, and you get an error message, write it down or memorise its main points before you call. That way you can inform the help desk person and they can begin to narrow down the cause of the problem right away. If you aren't sure what the error message said, the help desk may ask you to hang up and go repeat the process so you can get the error message and call back. It saves time if you can get on top of this the first time around.

What were you doing at the time things went belly-up?: As soon as something goes wrong and puts you in a situation where you think you may need help desk assistance, take note as much as possible as to what you were doing when it all turned to custard. What programs were open and which keys did you press? Were you doing anything differently this time around?

Has anything been changed recently?: If recent changes have been made to your computer or its configuration(s), let the helper know right away. This may save him or her having to think down a few blind alleys.  Have programs recently been installed or removed? Has your machine been serviced recently? Have any of the cords been removed or replaced? Has someone else in the house has been making such changes without your knowledge? If at all possible, check into these things before you call.

Is the problem affecting web site browsing, e-mail or both?: If you find web pages aren't loading, do a quick Send and Receive with your e-mail to check that you can connect to the mail servers okay. If e-mail is your problem, have a quick browse on the Internet to see whether web pages load. It's often really helpful if the help desk staff can know the extent of the problem and what it's affecting. That way they can often eliminate red herrings and zero in on the true problem more quickly. 

Know your version of Windows: Finding out about your problem may mean the help desk staff member will want to know what sorts of settings you have. Every time Microsoft releases a new version of its Windows operating software, it seems to want to put settings in different places. It will save time if you can tell them what version of Windows you have (98, 2000, ME, XP etc). Every time you start your machine up, Windows will display what version it is to you quite prominently on a big splash screen. Make a mental note of it next time. If you use a Macintosh, or any other operating system, it would be good to let the help desk person know right away.

Know your user name, e-mail address or customer number: The help desk needs to be able to identify you before they can help you. They need to be sure your account is open and functioning as it should. Establishing which is your account can be problematic if these details aren't able to be given. Also, if you're writing an e-mail to the help desk, make sure you send it from your main Actrix e-mail address. If you have to contact them from a different e-mail address, be sure to tell them what your Actrix user name is.

Have your Windows CD(s) handy: Or at least store it/them where they can be easily found and retrieved. Most of the time these CDs won't be needed, but occasionally they are if a part of your system needs to be re-installed. It will save time if you don't have to go hunt for them and call back.

Have your machine switched on and ready, and be at the machine when you call: It is not very likely that the help desk staff member will be able to get very far in diagnosing your problem if the misbehaving machine is not nearby and ready to be looked into. If at all possible, get your phone near the computer (or vice-versa), as talking with you about the problem while you shout instructions down the hall to someone in another room is really going to make things difficult for all concerned. The computer uses a phone line to connect to the Internet, so there should be a phone plug handy and nearby.

If things have frozen, try a re-boot: Often the Internet stops working for you because there is a temporary problem with your operating system that a simple re-boot will fix. If one program gets hung, it can affect your computer's other resources resulting in a general paralysis where nothing works or only some things work. It happens. It's nothing to be alarmed about (unless it is happening regularly). Try shutting down and re-starting. See if things are now okay before you call the help desk.

Call from a landline: You can't call our support line from a cell phone, and you shouldn't really need to. You don't need to be online to have most problems fixed, though this is a common misconception. 

Passwords and 691 Error Messages: Password problems would probably be the most common reason for customer calls. It is true that occasionally our authentication equipment may be temporarily down, but in 99% of cases, the reason is an input error at the user end. Check that capslock key before you call. Passwords are case-sensitive, so if your capslock key is on when you're typing in your password, you're going to get a 691 error.

Use the opportunity to ask questions: Being able to talk to someone in a one-to-one situation is often really helpful. If you can, why not make the most of it? Ask questions about what the help desk person is telling you to do. If you don't understand why you're changing a setting ask! I can remember from my own days back on the help desk. What a breath of fresh air it was to talk with someone who was interested in their own problem and was taking whatever steps they could to understand better so they could help themselves the next time it occurred!

Contact the Actrix Help Desk


Their bark is worse than their bite: Don't be intimidated by the help desk staff. They can deal with most customer problems in their sleep, and though they shouldn't, sometimes they can talk above your head without really meaning to. These guys (and girls sometimes) build computers, tinker with them in their leisure time, and read about them online when they have nothing to do. They can forget that Mr or Ms Customer has a different kind of life that doesn't revolve around motherboards, modems and megabytes. Politely ask them to slow down and give you the story in bite-sized pieces of real English. They really can do it if they try.

While you're at it, get the help desk staff member's name: The person helping you will tell you their name pretty much as soon as you call, but a lot of customers miss it, or don't take note. It's a good idea. Not only does it enable you to interact with your helper on a more friendly (and therefore productive) basis, but it often makes things easier afterwards. If you need to complain (heaven forbid, but it has happened on the odd occasion) then things will be more easily dealt with if you can tell us who you were working with. Also, some problems need more calls to the help desk than others. If you can ask for the same person again it will save a lot of time avoiding going over ground already covered. Notes will usually be kept on your previous call, but not everything can be noted in detail, and it's always best to get back to whomever you were dealing with.

Limit your calls to Internet-related matters: Actrix is an Internet Service Provider. We're not the local branch of Microsoft, and we have no business advising you on stuff that doesn't relate to the Internet. Problems with your connection or your Internet software are fine, and, though out help desk staff have a wide spectrum of computer knowledge, they don't have any official expertise in matters regarding your printer or the reasons why Microsoft Word is committing illegal operations. You're best off going to your hardware vendor for that sort of assistance.

Check our state-of-the-network messages: Often you can save your own time and ours by checking our state of the network messages. If we are experiencing technical difficulties, we'll usually put a message on our web page stating what the problem is and when we expect it fixed. If you're experiencing a problem, but you can still browse, have a look at our home page ( You may find the answer there and not need to call. Also, when and if you do call, our auto-attendant phone greeting message will allow you to press the "1" button to hear a recorded message about a current problem and its estimated time of fix. Hearing this may help you understand that the problem is not yours, and that things should return to normal at a given time. It will mean less time wasted waiting in a phone queue because lots of other customers are calling about the same problem at the same time. 

Okay, that will do for now. Please do make use of the help desk. It's free (although, of course, you pay for it in your connection fees) and we don't want our guys to get bored. Make it a positive experience as much as you can. I hope that the points above will help that be possible. And don't forget that they're there on the weekends. There's no need to wait until Monday to make a call or write them an e-mail.