Help Line

Web Support

More and more vendors are increasing the scope of their Web sites to include some form of technical support. Ask your vendor what it has available, or get the company's Web address and check it out for yourself.

In most cases, you won't be able to get personal answers to specific questions--although there are some notable exceptions. Compaq (http://www.compaq.com), for example, lets you send questions directly to technical support professionals and receive responses by the end of the next business day. And Apple (http://www.apple.com) has a discussion forum where you can post questions publicly and exchange ideas with other users and Apple engineers, who provide expert help.

More frequently, vendors' Web sites provide extensive product specifications, price information, announcements and contact information. You may also be able to download drivers and other software files for your PC. Some vendors let you e-mail their technical support staff from the Web site. Some even put extensive technical information up for your perusal.

Some vendors (such as Compaq and Apple) provide a keyword- searchable database to help you find answers to your questions. Or you can look through postings of common problems and frequently asked questions from other vendors. For example, Microsoft's online support (http://www.microsoft.com/support) lets you call up files of frequently asked questions or general information about the product of your choice. With this information, you're likely to be able to solve a large percentage of problems yourself.

If you have a problem that isn't answered in any of the literature at the vendor's Web site, you can also look to third-party sources. Yahoo!, the Web's most popular search engine, is a great way to find these third-party sources. And if Yahoo! doesn't have a link to the site you want, it brings up a menu that automatically runs the same search in any of a half-dozen other search engines.

One such source is Usenet newsgroups. These discussion forums are open to the general Internet user population and are often frequented by serious users. You can post a question on a newsgroup, and one or more sophisticated users will probably post a solution.

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the February 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Help Line.

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