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A+: How to Treat Customers' Property

The old Aretha Franklin song said it best: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” Whether it’s the device you’re servicing (laptop or desktop PC, PDA, printer, monitor, or other peripheral), or the telephone, respect it. Here’s how:
Don’t use customer equipment for personal tasks. Make personal phone calls with your own phone (you do have a cell phone, don’t you?).
Don’t go poking around their hard disk or PDA folders unless it’s necessary to solve the problem.
Don’t “test” the printer by printing personal information. Use your own printer to print your resume or a pinup of your favorite movie star, sports figure, or car. 
If you need to reset the resolution on the display for testing, change it back when you’re done. Ditto with any other changes necessary for troubleshooting. 
• Don’t make the customers sorry they called you or your company for help. Customers who become ex-customers have a way of helping potential customers call somebody else for help.



A+: Professional Behavior

Passing the A+ Certification exams isn’t an end in itself—it is designed to help start (or advance) your Information Technology (IT) career. In most IT careers, how you deal with customers, whether they’re people you see day after day in your company or clients you might see only once or twice, can have as much of an impact on your career progress as your knowledge of hardware, software, firmware, and operating systems. The following sections will help you master the “soft skills” you need to move up in the computing world.

How to Talk to Customers

According to pop-culture references like the Dilbert comic strip and innumerable others, computer techs are incapable of relating to “normal” people in either social or professional situations. Unfortunately, these comic stereotypes are based on a lot of real-world data. Here’s how to reverse the stereotype, one customer interaction at a time:
• No matter how difficult the problem, maintain a positive attitude and tone of voice—Your job is to make possible the seemingly impossible. As discussed earlier in this chapter, there are abundant resources available from Microsoft, hardware vendors, and numerous forums and newsgroups to help you solve problems.
• No matter how tough the problem (or the customer), avoid arguing with customers—and drop the defensive attitude too—Your job is to solve the customer’s problem.To do that, you need to work with the customer. Get it? Got it? Good!  
• No matter how many times you’ve seen the same problem show up, do not minimize customers’ problems—Sure, you might have seen a couple of dozen instances of drive failure, for example, but keep in mind that every person with a dead drive has lost valuable personal or business data—maybe even enough of a loss to wipe out a business. You wouldn’t want your handyman or mechanic acting as if your house or car problems were trivial—don’t act as if your customers’ problems are trivial, either. 
• No matter how incorrect their actions or poor their judgment, avoid being judgmental of your customers—and while you’re at it, drop the insults and name-calling—Declaring “war” on your customers just adds to everyone’s stress level and doesn’t get you any closer to a solution. Even if the customer decides to call your ancestry or intelligence into question, avoid responding in kind. “Fight the real enemy”—the computer problem!  
• Don’t let your cell phone, the big game on the big-screen TV, or the view out the corner office window get between you and a solution: avoid distractions and/or interruptions when talking with customers—Stay focused on what your customer is telling you, and the solution will be easier to find.



A+: Vacuum Cleaners compatible with computers

Vacuum cleaners are great for cleaning homes and offices, but typical models use plastic parts that can build up harmful static electricity. So, instead of using an ordinary office or home vacuum cleaner to clean a computer, purchase a model especially suited for computer use. Computer-compatible vacuum cleaners have features such as
• Small-sized tips and brushes perfect for cleaning keyboards and working around motherboards and add-on cards
• Antistatic construction
• Hand-held with an adjustable neck for easy use inside a system


Use a vacuum cleaner as an alternative to compressed air whenever possible, especially when working at the client’s site because it’s neater—there’s no flying gunk that can land in awkward places.


A+: Cleaning and Maintenance Tools *

Some of these items clean computers and peripherals to help prevent failures and keep systems in top condition. Other items can be used as spares for replacement testing or to replace missing components. 

• Compressed air— Cleans gunk out of cases, fans, and power supplies
• Keyboard key puller— Safely removes keys to allow effective keyboard cleaning
• Computer-rated mini-vacuum cleaner— Cleans gunk out of cases, fans, power supplies, and keyboards and dust off motherboards and add-on cards
• Wire cutter and stripper— Used to build network cable
• Extra case, card, and drive screws (salvage or new)— Used as spares to replace missing or defective screws
• Extra card slot covers (salvage or new)— Used to replace missing covers to maintain proper system cooling
• Extra hard disk and motherboard/card jumper blocks (salvage or new)— Used to replace missing or defective jumper blocks when needed to configure devices
• Antistatic cleaning wipes
• Replacement ATA/IDE (40-wire and 80-wire), floppy, USB, IEEE-1394, Serial ATA,  parallel, SCSI, CAT 5 network, and modem/serial cables— Customize list as needed for your organization
Recommended Equipment Cleaning Products
To clean equipment safely, don’t reach under the kitchen sink and grab the first cleaner you see. Instead, use materials designed especially for electronic and computer use, or general-purpose cleaners proven to work well on electronics and computer equipment. Some useful cleaning materials include
• Antistatic electronic wipes— Use antistatic electronic wipes for monitor cases and glass surfaces, keyboards, LCD screens, and all types of plastic and metal cases for computers and peripherals. This type of product combines effective cleaning and antistatic properties, which protect your computer investment. You can also use these wipes to clean up gunk after it’s been loosened by compressed air.
• Glass and surface cleaners— Glass and surface cleaners can be used on monitor glass and LCD screens and on other surfaces. However, they are not the preferred choice because they usually lack any antistatic properties. Endust for Electronics in pump or aerosol sprays is preferred for this use because it cleans and has antistatic properties.


With any spray cleaner, always spray the product onto the cleaning cloth, and never on the product to be cleaned. Spraying any kind of cleaner directly onto a keyboard or monitor can damage or destroy the device

• Isopropyl alcohol— Isopropyl alcohol can be used along with foam (not cotton!) cleaning swabs to clean tape drive heads, floppy disk drive heads, and some keyboards. Some cleaning swabs are pre-moistened for convenience. 
• Specialized device cleaning kits for mechanical mice, tape drives, floppy disk drives, inkjet and laser printers, and CD/DVD cleaning discs—Specialized device cleaning kits, as I have recommended in other chapters, are good ways to clean the devices they are built for. These device cleaning kits enabled me to avoid repairing or replacing at least one floppy disk drive and one inkjet printer 
• Compressed air— Compressed air is a powerful but “brainless” cleaner. Unlike the cleaners mentioned previously, compressed air cannot trap dirt and dust. Instead, dirt, dust, grit, and assorted fuzz are expelled violently out of their hiding places. If you use compressed air, put plenty of old newspapers under and around the device you are cleaning to catch the gunk compressed air expels from the device being cleaned. Use liquid cleaners or cleaning wipes to pick up residue left behind after using compressed air 
• Stabilant-22a— Stabilant-22a (sold by D. W. Electrochemicals) is often recommended for use when assembling or reassembling a system for use in memory module sockets and expansion slots. It cleans the socketsand provides a more effective electrical connection.


A+: Useful Hardware and Software Tools

Troubleshooting best methods expect you to know the use of basic diagnostic devices, so a review of this section will be useful before your A+ exam. The following list of items also provides you with a handy reference for what you should bring on service calls.

Hardware Diagnostics

Hardware diagnostics tools can help you determine what components inside of a bootable system are not working correctly. Testing software used as part of the diagnostic process can also be used to perform burn-in tests on new hardware to help find problems before systems are put into service.Some typical products include a blank CD-R and DVD-R, bootable antivirus disc, blank floppy, POST card for PCI slots, and diagnostic/testing software such as QuickTech Pro and its loopback plug set which link transmit to receive lines for diagnostics.. 
Also, acquire testing software such as Burnin Test Professional (www.passmark.com), CheckIt Professional Edition (www.smithmicro.com), AMIDiag Suite (www.amidiag.com), or Ultra-X QuickTech Personal or PRO (www.ultra-x.com)—Tests RAM, hardware configuration, motherboards, serial ports, parallel ports, and drives; some also check USB ports. 
If the testing software you choose doesn’t include the loopback plugs you need, make sure you use compatible loopback plugs (these can be ordered from the software vendor or various online or mail-order hardware vendors). Mixing and matching serial and parallel loopback plugs and testing software can provide inaccurate results because different brands of testing programs use various wiring designs for their loopback plugs.
USB 2.0 loopback plugs (also compatible with USB 1.1 plugs) are available from PassMark Software (www.passmark.com); they are compatible with PassMark’s USB2Test and BurnIn Test Professional programs.
SuperLooper loopback plugs for various Ethernet and telecom interfaces are available from the Smartronix Store (www.smartronixstore.com).

Other useful items include:
POST card— Displays hex POST codes during system startup to find boot errors that don’t have matching beep codes. To display POST codes on systems that don’t have PCI, PCI Express, or ISA expansion slots but have parallel ports, use a parallel-port based POST code displayer, such as Ultra-X’s MicroPost.
Blank media (floppy disk, USB flash drive, recordable CD and DVD media)— These can be used to transfer drivers from a working machine to a similar machine that is not working. Note that you must use a floppy disk to provide a mass storage (RAID, SCSI, or SATA) driver for Windows XP during installation.
A preinstalled Windows environment on CD or DVD matching the Windows version in use— The most famous of these is BartPE (www.nu2.nu/pebuilder/). A BartPE disc can be used to recover files, perform maintenance, and other rescue tasks on a system running Windows XP; it is created from a licensed Windows XP CD with the PE Builder program.
Virus/malware scanning software— An up-to-date copy of a major anti-virus and anti-malware program helps find and remove viruses and Trojan Horse programs that affect systems. If you don’t have a licensed anti-virus program available to scan a system, but it has a working Internet connection, use free online scanning services, such as Trend Micro’s HouseCall (housecall.trendmicro.com), Symantec’s Security Scan (part of Google Pack; http://pack.google.com), Panda’s ActiveScan (www.pandasecurity.com), BitDefender Online Scanner (www.bitdefender.com), or others to scan the system. 
Although many anti-virus programs are shipped on bootable CDs, most of these bootable CDs cannot scan NTFS-based file systems used by many installations of Windows 2000/XP. If you need a bootable CD with anti-virus and other tools that works on NTFS-based installations, check out avast! BART CD (Bootable Antivirus and Recovery Tools for Windows Server and Workstation) from Alwil Software (www.avast.com), makers of avast! 4 antivirus. Do not confuse avast! BART CD with BartPE.