A+: Client Interviews

The client interview is the all-important first step in solving any computer troubleshooting situation. During the client interview, you need to ask questions to determine the following information:
What hardware or software appears to have a problem?— The user might have an opinion about this, but don’t be unduly swayed by a statement such as “the printer’s broken”; the device or software the user believes to be at fault might simply reflect a problem coming from another source.
What other hardware or software was in use at the time of the problem?— The user probably will answer these types of questions in terms of open applications, but you will also want to look at the taskbar and system tray in Windows for other programs or routines that are running. Pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del will bring up a task list in Windows that has the most complete information about programs and subroutines in memory. To determine the exact version of a Windows-based program in use, click Help, About. View the System properties sheet to determine the version of Windows in use.
What task was the user trying to perform at the time of the problem?— Ask the questions needed to find out the specific issues involved. For example, “Printing” isn’t a sufficient answer. “Printing a five-page brochure from PageMaker to a laser printer” is better, but you’ll probably want the user to re-create the situation in an attempt to get all the information you need. Don’t forget to check the Event Viewer in Windows for details about the software running at the time of the error.  
• Is the hardware or software on the user’s machine or accessed over the network?— If the network was involved, check with the network administrator to see if the network is currently working properly. If the hardware and software are not networked, your scope for troubleshooting is simpler. 
• What were the specific symptoms of the problem?— Some users are very observant, but others might not be able to give you much help. Ask about the approximate time of the failure and about error messages, beeps, and unusual noises. 
• Can the problem be reproduced?— Reproducible problems are easier to find than those that mysteriously “heal” themselves when you show up. Because power and environmental issues at the customer’s site can cause computer problems, try to reproduce the problem at the customer’s site before you move the computer to your test bench, where conditions are different. 
• Does the problem repeat itself with a different combination of hardware and software, or does the problem go away when another combination of hardware and software is used?— For example, if the user can print from Microsoft Word but not from PageMaker, this means that the printer is working, but there might be a problem with configuration or data types used by different applications. If the user can’t print anything, there might be a general problem with the printer hardware or drivers.

Tips for Conducting the Client Interview

Sometimes, the client interview alone will reveal the answer. More often, however, you’ll need to go to the client’s work area and evaluate the hardware and software that are involved.    
During the client interview, you will make an impression on the client. Will it be “this tech knows what’s going on and wants to fix my problem” or “this tech’s a blowhard know-it all that just won’t listen!” If you want to come across as someone who’s competent and caring, and not as a blowhard who won’t listen, follow these guidelines:  
Use clear, concise, and direct statements— Clients appreciate it when you use language they can understand.
Allow the customer to complete statements— Don’t interrupt. You might think you know what they’re going to say next, but you could be wrong. If you don’t allow the customer to complete their statements, you might miss some vital information or clues about the problem.
Clarify customer statements—ask pertinent questions— Whether you think you understand what the customer said or are totally at sea, make sure you ask the questions that will help keep you on the right track. Try rephrasing what they said and ask them to agree or clarify: “If I understand you correctly, what you’re saying is....” 
• Don’t baffle the customer with technobabble— Avoid using jargon, abbreviations, and acronyms. Explain what you mean in plain language. Remember, if you can’t explain a problem or solution in everyday language, you don’t understand it either. 
• Who saw the problem? The customer!— So, listen to your customers; they may be the best way to find the solution, especially if the problem refused to show up when you’re around.