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If computer failure confounds you, it’s best to call in experts

By Bill Husted

The dark ages often return to your home at the most inconvenient time.

Don’t think of it as surrender; it’s merely a temporary retreat. The day will
come when your computer will have problems beyond your skills. The smart
among you will recognize that and call in an RE –– real expert.

Being smart enough to quit fixing before you get into a fix is one of the most
important computer repair skills I know.

Sure, you’ll have to pay for the services of a real expert at a repair shop.
But you’ll pay twice if your efforts to fix the computer make a bad
situation worse. The shop will charge you to straighten out the mess you
made as well as to fix the original problem.

That’s why it’s smart to know your limitations and live within them.

But even after you’ve decided to get professional help, your part of the job
isn’t over. Today we’ll talk about the smart way to put your computer into
the hands of a competent repair shop.

Make a list

It will save time and perhaps money to assemble a clear and precise list of
the symptoms your computer is displaying.

If there are error messages, write them down. If the computer makes an odd
sound, note it. If the problem started after you installed a new bit of
hardware or software, add that fact to your list.

Armed with specific and detailed information the professional will have a
better idea of what he faces and the job should go faster. And that may mean
you pay less.

Who will repair?

This is the most difficult part of the equation. After all, there are all
sorts of choices. By far the best way to find a competent shop is by asking
for recommendations from your friends.

Many shops, including good ones, will have testimonials from satisfied
customers. You shouldn’t discount that, but give it much less weight than
what your friends say. Think for a moment. If you were a computer shop
assembling testimonials, would you include reviews from past customers who
had a bad experience?

You can also ask a computer professional at your workplace to recommend
someone. And you can Google the name of prospective shops and repair
technicians to see if there are online comments about their work. And it
isn’t a crazy idea to check with the Better Business Bureau.

When you evaluate complaints keep in mind that almost every business has a few
dissatisfied customers. And even great repair technicians make the
occasional mistake. So look for clusters of problems.

Repair facilities

There’s no one right answer in deciding between a large repair facility and a
small shop. But there are things to keep in mind.

First, I’d follow any solid recommendation from a friend whether it’s to a
large place or a one-man show. Small repair shops are often run by a person
with a real passion for the work.

However, without a good recommendation, taking your PC to a large shop can
also make sense. Often the same stores that sell computers have a repair
facility. That means someone has checked the credentials of the technicians
who do the actual work. And if there are problems, large companies often
have set procedures for handling complaints. I’m not saying you are
guaranteed a problem-free experience. I’ve seen reasonable complaints from
readers who used a large facility.

Repair to go

There also is the option of contacting one of the large firms that send a
repair person directly to your home. If convenience is important to you,
it’s worth considering. And as I said earlier, large firms check out the
people they hire.

The downside of getting the repair done at home is that you’ll pay more than
you would if you had dropped the computer off at a repair facility. Besides,
a large shop is likely to have every tool and part imaginable at hand. If an
at-home technician runs into an unexpected problem, that person may need to
return with the needed parts or tools.

Questions, questions

Don’t be shy about asking pointed questions before making a final decision.
You’ll want to know the work is backed with a warranty –– a 30-day warranty
is OK, but 90 days is better.

Also, find out if the shop charges by the hour or the job. Ask how long the
work is likely to take. Make sure you can get an estimate of the final bill
before any expensive repairs are undertaken. Keep in mind that the shop will
need to find out what’s wrong before it can make a meaningful estimate. And
you’ll pay for that evaluation whether or not you decide to go ahead with
the work.

Pay attention to the way the shop handles your questions –– after all, if you
aren’t offered respectful consideration as a potential customer, it’s likely
things will be even worse if a disagreement develops later.

Here’s the good news: Most repair shops, large and small, do good work. For
one thing, the rocky economy hurt bad shops more than good ones.

It’s likely you’ll have a good experience with the shop. And good or bad, be
sure to tell your friends about your experience. Good work should be
rewarded and bad work should be punished. Finally, give yourself a pat on
the back –– when it comes to fixing a computer, sometimes it pays to pay.

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