Holiday Tech Support Planning

Every year the holidays play out the same way. You show up to your family's gathering for the holidays, and right after you've had one too many pieces of pie, someone asks if you have any idea on how to fix their tech problem. Normally I don't mind helping, but everyone once in a while the problem is too big handle on short notice. Over the last couple of years I've learned a few tricks to make holiday tech support a little less painful.

Be Prepared

Over time you begin to learn that certain family members are going to ask for help over the holidays. Do yourself a favor and call them ahead of time to see if there is something specific they're wanting help with this year. Knowing what Mom, Dad or Uncle Bob is going to ask about will help you know if you need to bring any extra hardware with you or if they have to bring a special dongle or widget with themselves.

When you talk to your family or friend, set the expectation of what you're willing to take on. Setting up Grandma's iPad is one thing, but diagnosing why your cousin's game console can't connect to his family's hobbled together WiFi is another. Asking a few questions now will save on the feelings of frustration or resentment of trying to do something at the last minute.

Pass It Forward

One of the common help requests will be on technology that is probably WAY more out dated than the stuff you use day to day - like your cousin's WiFi. Take a look around and see what you have sitting around that could be re-used by a friend or family member. That "old" router you have sitting in the basement is probably 3x better than the one your being asked to fix. If you don't have anyone who needs these items, look around and see if a local non-profit, school, or STEM program could use them.1 Most of these organizations will take just about anything, as long as it works.

Gather Details

Holidays also mean you're likely going to be asked to help setup a new gadet or device. This probably means helping set up a new user account (iCloud, AppleID, Microsoft, etc) as part of setting up the device. Here's a few points to remember:

  • No matter how passionately your family member says they'll remember the answers to the security questions, they won't. Write down the answers to the security questions you are asked while setting up the new online account. If the device you're setting up can take screenshots, like a tablet or computer, send yourself a snapshot of the answers for future reference.
  • Sometimes an online account will ask for the birthdate as part of its security questions. Make sure you get the correct birthdate when entering. Having all the answers to the security questions doesn't work if you can't verify the person's birthday.2
  • With everything fresh in your mind, setup a recovery account that you, or your relative, can get access too. If you know you're the family tech support person, put in your email address. As a backup option, use your cell number as the recovery contact too.
  • Get the serial/model number of the unit or device you helped setup. Most companies, like Apple for instance, requires a serial number to initiate a support call - including resetting an AppleID.
  • Make sure the password you select is something your friend or family member can rememeber. Unless it's to their bank account or credit card, give them a pass on having to have an 18 character password.

Take a few minutes to collect all the information and store it in a safe place (e.g. 1Password or LastPass).

Explain Features

After you've got the device figured out, take 10 minutes and show them one feature you think they may enjoy. A couple of suggestions:

  • How to setup a shared photostream on an iOS or Mac.
  • Give some suggestions on a few good starter apps.
  • Advanced features of the camera on a mobile phone.
  • Tell them a few things not to do - e.g. upgrade to iCloud Drive.

Advanced Tips

If you happen to be the tech support person for a certain friend or family member, there may be some additional steps you want to take.

  • Setup a free Dropbox account for them and set their default Documents folder to their new Dropbox folder. Remember to use a referral code to our Dropbox account.
  • Install a free version of LogMeIn. This will make things simpler when you get a phone call around Easter about fixing their next problem.
  • Do a scan of any updates or hot fixes that need to be installed. Get their gadgets on the latest software version. This includes other devices like routers, WiFi AP's, etc.
  • Double check on how they're backing up their critical files. Give them that old USB drive you don't use anymore in case backing up isn't happening. It's not a complete three step back up plan, but one step is better than no step.

Tech Support Workbag

When you make your holiday housecall, make sure you have all the needed tools to help fix whatever. Get a small bag and have the following on hand:

  • A small 4 port switch (e.g. Linksys unit).
  • Two extra Ethernet cables (preferably >= 10').
  • Extra USB cables (all three sizes + printer cable).
  • USB hard drive or extra large USB flash drive.
  • URL's for common precautionary software (e.g. Malwarebytes, MS Security Essentials, or Sophos AV.
  • Any special software needed for your support.3

Be Patient

As frustrating as it can be helping a friend or family member, remember they're frustrated too. We sometimes fly through a setup, or whatever steps were needed to fix the problem, because we've done it dozens of times. They just want their gadget to work.

Hope you have a Happy Holidays!

  1. Hint, this would also be a tax deductible dontation. 

  2. I had this exact problem this holiday season. 

  3. Because you called ahead of time, right?