Ask Leo! #636 – How Do I Find Good Local Computer Help?

How Do I Find Good Local Computer Help?

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My computer has a problem that I've not been able to figure out. I don't even know how to ask the question. What I'd like to do is take it to someone local, but I don't know who to trust. Should I go to one of the chain stores? Office supply stores? If not, how do I find someone that I can actually trust with my time, my money and my data?

It's true – sometimes someone needs to physically look at your machine to diagnose whatever's ailing it. There's only so much that can be done over email or phone, and even remote access – with someone you trust – can't handle every situation.

Sometimes, there's simply no substitute for what I facetiously refer to as "laying hands" on a machine.

Finding hands you can trust is hard. Really, really hard.

It comes back to reputation

In many ways, we're struggling with the same types of issues we encounter when trying to find a reputable online resource, except this time, there's even more at stake.

Hands-on professional technical support can be expensive; it can even surpass the cost of the computer itself. You're also putting your security and privacy at risk when giving a technician the unfettered access to your computer he or she will need to do the job.

Start by looking for local advice

Particularly when it comes to local tech support, I'd start by asking around. Specifically:

  • Ask your friends with computers who they use and what their experience has been.
  • Look for local computer help groups – often libraries and senior centers have something. Attend, and ask for recommendations from attendees.
  • Go to a local computer store – ideally also a local store, not a chain – that does not provide service themselves, and ask to whom they refer people.

What you may find is that some of those free resources might be enough to help you right then and there, without going any further. For example, my local senior center has a computer lab with specific hours during which volunteers are ready and willing to help anyone – not just members, and not just seniors – with their computer problems. If they can't help, they'll have recommendations of where to go locally for your next steps.

Computer Repair Shop

Looking online for local help

I advise against a generic online search with terms like "computer repair" for your location. The problem is that search results, and specifically the order of search results, has nothing to do with quality of service. We've seen this too often lately: fake news and other questionable sites and sources can still rank highly.

Instead, I'd look into services like Yelp, Angie's List, or their equivalent. What's important here are the service ratings provided by other users. This approach isn't perfect by any means, but it can provide a lot of valuable data you can review to make a more informed choice, particularly if you're in a hurry. While this doesn't guarantee success, I see it as a way to stack the odds in your favor.

Use generic searches only as a last resort, and with a healthy dose of skepticism. If you can, vet what you find against the recommendations and experiences of others who've used the service you're considering.

The chains

Speaking of odds, computer services offered by the larger chains – both specific computer support chains, as well as office supply and related stores – seem to be a coin toss. Some are excellent and aboveboard; others, not so much. There are periodic allegations that the big chains are more about charging you for things you don't need, rather than actually helping you solve the issues you may or may not have.

Since the quality varies so dramatically, all I can recommend, if the chains are something that you want to consider, is that you go back to step one and look for local advice. Ask local folks who've used that chain store for computer-related issues what their experience was like. Were they treated well, and did they feel they received good value?

Personally, because it's such an unknown, I've stopped recommending the major chains, and favor working to find someone local you can trust.

What I do

Personally, I'm in a unique position. I rarely need the type of help I'm talking about here. When I do have issues, I typically deal directly with whomever I got the computer from – these days, Apple or Dell. Naturally, that's not "local" support at all.

This article exists because someone local asked me the question, and to be blunt, I had no answer. I have no specific recommendation for a good local computer service and repair resource, and that frustrated me. Not that they don't exist here; I'm certain they do. It's just I have no one to point people to. When it came down to it, I relied on Yelp and Angie's List to at least come up with some semi-qualified recommendations.

I asked to be informed after the fact how it all turned out, so I'll have some more direct, qualified experience to be base future judgment on.

A word about cost

Not only is good help hard to find, but good help costs money; sometimes quite a bit.

That's a dilemma. When your computer might cost more to fix than to replace, things get frustrating, particularly when the problem being fixed is in software, implying that no new computer hardware is required at all.

There's no blanket recommendation I can make here, either.

All I can say is that:

  • Good support is worth good money.
  • Replacing a machine brings with it its own set of issues, including transferring your data, getting used to a new version of the operating system, reconfiguring settings, and installing or replacing all your applications. These "hidden costs" come from somewhere – either the person you pay, or in the form of your own time to perform the tasks.

Like a good car mechanic, taking the time and perhaps paying a little more money to establish a relationship with a good local computer repair technician can have lasting benefits.

What do you do?

In many ways, I still feel I don't have a truly qualified answer. "Ask around", while valuable, seems insufficient.

Have you found a qualified local source for help? How did you find them?

Please note: I'm explicitly not asking for specific recommendations. Any links to specific computer service and repair recommendations will be removed. Unfortunately, it's an invitation for spammers, particularly since we have no way to vet them all. Besides, since any recommendation you might make would be local to you, it would help only a small portion of the global Ask Leo! audience.

But the techniques you use to find qualified local help – that will help everyone. Post a comment with your experience and tips.

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