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My Favorite Question

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Notes

I want to share with you today my favorite question. And I get it ALL THE TIME.

Ready?

My favorite question is: It Doesn’t Work

I’m sure that’s not what you expected. I mean, it’s not really even a question, is it?

Why’s it my favorite?

Because there’s nothing I can do – nothing for me to answer. And since there’s nothing I can do, I can move on – quickly.

You know when I say that I can’t answer every question? This is one of the questions that, when I get it, gets no response.

Now, you’re probably saying “Leo, no one asks that question”.

Do I get those exact words? No. But I get questions that boil down to that question all the time.

For example:

  • my printer doesn’t work
  • I can’t print
  • Attachments won’t open
  • I can’t log in

I get variations on this theme all the time. Seriously.

Now, I use the word “favorite” somewhat facetiously – in reality they frustrate me because either of two things have to happen:

Either I have to embark on what is usually a frustrating game of 20 questions to get more information on whatever’s going on

or

Who ever asked it just isn’t going to get an answer. They’re not going to hear back from me at all, as a matter of fact.

Since going back and forth trying to tease out more information is frustrating for both parties – whomever asked the question as well as me – and since I’m usually short on time and long on other questions, you can guess which of those two options in more likely to happen.

I click next and move on.

Even though it saves me a lot of time, I guess it’s not really my favorite question at all. I’d rather be able to get you an answer.

So, how do we tip the odds in favor of that happening?

There’s a long list of things I could say, but I’ll prioritize three things – three things that if at least thought about for every question would greatly increase the chances of my being able to answer them.

Heck – it doesn’t even have to be questions asked of me – this applies to asking a question about computers of just about anyone that you hope might be able to help.

So for all of us trying to answer questions, or provide support, help us help you by at least thinking about these three things.

You ready?

First: tell me what software you’re running. What version of Windows? What program are you running that’s giving you difficulty? Is it a program on your PC, or something you’re accessing via a web browser? And if so, which browser?

Second: include the exact text of any error message you get. If you tell me “it said something like …” that’s not good enough. Computers are darned picky, and the devil is in those detailed. “Something like” could mean hundreds of different errors or problems. The exact text of the exact error is a HUGE shortcut to understanding a lot of issues.

Third: What were you doing when you had this problem? More than just running your computer … what actions, what keystrokes, what specifically were you doing when whatever it was didn’t work?

No, sometimes one or more of those things won’t apply to your question, and that’s OK. But at least think about each one in turn, and include the information if it makes sense to you.

I could go on, of course.

  • I know terminology is difficult, but it could be worth the time to learn the right words for things to avoid being misunderstood.
  • I know the world is becoming seamless, but it could be worthwhile to understand the difference between a program running on your computer and visiting a web site.
  • I know Microsoft makes this frustratingly difficult, but it could help to understand the difference between outlook and outlook.com – they are not the same at all – and then use the right name for each.

As I said, I could go on.

Focus on the top three – the software you’re running, the error messages you get, the steps you took – and you’ll be miles head of a lot of questions I see.

Let’s face it … anything’s better than “it doesn’t work”.

27 comments on “My Favorite Question”

  1. you helped me out again Leo. i couldn`t get DBAN to work in windows because windows can`t read a .bzi suffix.
    you reminded me how to get to the boot menu. i didn`t have to change the boot order like you said though.
    there was a button that took me right to my D drive and booted the disk with one click. i`m not sure but i
    think i lost the partition though. its no big deal. it don`t seem to be causing any problems. i just wanted to say
    Thank You. once again Leo to the rescue. i recommend your site to everybody who has problems in my circles.
    keep up the good work bro.

  2. After seeing your video, I wondered if people, when they submit their question, should be forced to give more information when they fill out the form, like what the topic of the question is (having to choose between software and hardware, if it’s software, what type of software, etc, etc.) Or would that making asking the question too complex?

    • My thinking is that it gets too complex. Not all those fields apply to every question, for example. If I *require* answers, then people can’t fill them in for some questions. If I don’t require answers, many people ignore them. I have thought about it though.

      • Leo, the form idea would work if you required mandatory answers such as (a) what operating system, (b) provide the exact error message, if any, (c) what steps have you taken to correct the problem, and/or whatever else you deem necessary. The rest could be optional. Why not try a form to see how it works for both you and “the gang?” No doubt, you would receive good feedback.

        • Consider the common question “How do I find someone by their IP address?” “Exact error text” and Operating system don’t apply, and there are no “steps”. You see what I’m getting at? There are so many different types of common questions that it’s nearly impossible for me to require components that apply in all cases … or even most cases.

          • You’re absolutely right, Leo. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s having to fill out a restrictive online form that demands answers to questions that don’t apply and forces me to categorize an issue that doesn’t fit into any of their pre-made categories. Arrgh!

            I think the better approach is to keep on doing it as you are. Allow your readers broad freedom to posit their questions freely, without the annoying restrictions that forms impose. If their communication skills aren’t up to the job, that’s THEIR problem.

  3. The opposite holds true too. If a user supplies too much info, that is not helpful. I don’t want a 15 minute explanation. I don’t care what you ate for breakfast. I don’t care what shoes you have on. It is a waste of my time and theirs. Leo – Do you receive emails that supply sentence after sentence that don’t apply to the issue, but the end user thinks it is helpful?

    • This is very common in my tech support world – but it’s usually because people don’t have the faintest idea what is causing the problem. If they think it’s their shoes, they are going to mention that in great detail. People will explain in great detail how frustrated they are, how much of their valuable time they have wasted, and fail to mention that they are trying to do some complicated computing on an old Android phone.

    • I have to disagree Jon. It is much easier to filter out the details that don’t apply, than it is to play 20 questions to get the details you need. I had a case once where it took 2 days to figure out that static electricity zapped the handset microphone on a users VoIP phone, when the ticket was simply people cannot hear me when I call them. Thankfully a vendor gave me a tip after it took them 3 months and 6 phones to figure out a warehouse worker was building up too much static electricity and zapping their phone on a regular basis. Once I narrowed down the problem, I said, I imagine you ran to the phone in your fluffy slippers and got shocked. The user was surprised that I guessed what happened and that the phone shocked her on the chin. Had original details included, I ran to the phone in my pink fluffy slippers and got zapped when I picket it up, now people can’t hear me, it would have saved both of us a lot of time.

      • I think it is a balance. Too little is frustrating, like Leo states. Too much can be a waste. Connie’s statement is a good example. I think my issue is where the user supplies TOO MUCH info on what THEY think is important and then they supply TOO LITTLE on what actually happened.

  4. Nothing to do with Microsoft.. Am using Firefox for browser, and Thunderbird as mail handler. I loaded a new update 31.6.0. Now when on incoming msg screen, have lost inbox, sent file, archive, spam ect. These where down the left side of screen before. Any idea how to get these back.?? Have tried to contact Mozella but they are harder to contact than a bunny rabbit on roller skates.. Worked on this problem all day yesterday… Thanks for any help you can suggest..

  5. I enjoyed the video and can understand your frustration at your “favorite question.” The video got me thinking and wondering what other information would also be helpful to those who are trying to help us less than tech savy people.
    Have you entertained the idea of making a post of your Top Ten helpful info bits? A lot along the lines of David Letterman’s Top Ten, without the snarkiness. Just a thought.

    Joe
    P.S. Thank you for all you do.

    • Actually the related article “why won’t you answer my question” discusses that a bit, but what you suggest would be helpful.

  6. Very well done video. I have seen many times in various discusion forums on subjects other than computers, just what you are saying. It makes you shake your head and start asking questions. In your case, you just do not have the time to do that and must move on.

  7. Hi. No questions. I’m an old . an retired , computer Tec. from the ” Main frame days. I read your e-mails and Ask Bob mostly to attempt to keep up with the world of computers as best I can. In ” My day” the thing was is it a ” Hardware ” or “Software” problem. Every system’s software was Written for that system.
    Today its all software? Not always so, but mostly. Hard for an 81 year old to keep up. Even my younger computer friends have problems. Glad to have someone
    to read to help. Enjoy your articles. Keep up the good work. ELS X-CDC tech. ( Control Data Corp. )

  8. Very relevant post Leo, thank you. Your video kept reminding me of when I hear the dreaded “they said” or “they told me”. I always feel like an owl. Who? Who? Who are “they”? I have to give credit to anyone who works in technical support. It is inconceivable to most how a seemingly simple problem can be incredibly complex in nature.

  9. As mentioned, many of us are not absolutely clear as to terminology…..because we’re not totally sure what to call “it”. Whole new language for many. Synonyms might be confusing. Glossary of top 100 terms likely on google.

  10. Hi Leo!
    Having spent most of the last 30 years or so building, configuring, supporting and troubleshooting PCs, I know exactly what you mean “It’s not working!”
    Most of the problems come to me in a vague sentence that requires more troubleshooting than the actual issue.
    Another thing is users trying to make themselves sound smarter than they really are. Only if they would keep it simple.
    Thanks Leo!, for all that you do! It’s a lot of work, and It’s priceless! It’s entertaining AND helps keep us up to date on things.

    PS. The thingy that was on my computer before isn’t. What do I do? 🙂

  11. Hi Leo,
    Thanks for being a great resource (I also bought all your books). While you deal with the “printed word”, I work mostly on the phone with the added dimension of hearing the irate (or panicked customer). Here’s a scenario many of your readers will identify with:
    Customer: (Panicked) “NOTHING WORKS!”
    Me: (Calmly) “OK lets take it one thing at a time: Do you see anything on the monitor?”
    Customer: “Why, of course. What do you want me to tell you?”
    Me: “OK, well at least we know the Monitor works, Now how about the Mouse: can you see the cursor move when you move the Mouse?”
    The smart one catch on pretty quick and get down to describing the problem, and I rarely have to ask another STUPID question to get them to focus.

  12. This is not a new favorite question. I used to get it all the time, even from “computer professionals.”

    People expect computer geeks to just wave a magic wand and fix it. (I actually used to keep a magic wand at my desk for just that purpose. It was a toy; black plastic with white tips. But it made my point.)

    These same people would not call their car mechanic and say “My car won’t run. What’s wrong with it?” But that doesn’t mean they won’t expect miracles from you and me.

    I feel for ya, Leo.

  13. “It Just doesn’t Work!” – What: Clicking on the header link in your “Best of Ask Leo!” newsletter emails. How: Received email in the Outlook 2010 client under Windows 7 or the Verizon.net web interface with Firefox. Outlook 2010 Error: Nothing happens. What should happen: Default Browser should open and display that page on askleo.com. Verizon error: “The address isn’t valid. The URL is not valid and cannot be loaded.”
    What’s really wrong: The link is *incorrect*, it is pointing at: “<http://askleo.com/how_do_i_get_wireless_internet/&quot; (sic) Note the first character of the link is "<" which apparently breaks it.
    Your usual newsletters are ok (like this one), it's just the 'Best of' series that has the error – I suspect something is wrong your your template.

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