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Comp/Tech: Keep Your Face Out There

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With the speed and freedom afforded by e-mail and Web sites, your employees may become isolated, focusing on the technology instead of the humans on the other end. And your customers may know you only through a Web address or periodic e-mails.

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Technology has changed the way we do business, but nothing happens in business without personal contact.

Internally, e-mail-reliant employees could lose touch with the rest of your company, and its culture, teamwork and unity. They become human islands, even if they’re in the office next door.

And farflung employees at branch locations are at the highest risk of losing that interpersonal touch. Especially with home office management.

With customers, the danger can be even greater. First, e-mails are considered less formal than paper-and-ink correspondence or even a phone call. The shorthand nature of e-mail makes it easier for misinterpretation to hamper otherwise good relationships.

Additionally, customers want to deal with people, not computer screens. Without at least a voice to represent your company, customers will gravitate to companies that have a “face.”

And don’t expect your Web site to be the one-and-only way for customers to see and deal with you. Make it easy for them to start the communications ball rolling, but get it off the screen and into at least voice communication as soon as practical.

Repair or Replace?
Every part of a computer serves a function, but much like a car, some parts do more than others. To provide the longest, most reliable service, high use, high wear components like monitors, printers, keyboards, CD-ROM drives, and removable drives all require timely maintenance.

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  • Monitors exhibit specific symptoms when they start to fail. When they do, the decision to repair or replace depends on the initial cost of the monitor. Unless you have an extended warranty, it’s cheaper in the long run to just replace a less expensive or older monitor. Before you push the panic button, though, make sure you’re not suffering from poor cable connections or that the problem doesn’t actually exist with your computer.
  • Streaks appear on printed pages, frequent paper jams, unusual noise during operation, or when the equipment becomes extremely hot during use – these are all signs your printer is malfunctioning. Again, the repair/replace decision should be based on initial cost. A high-end printer can be cost-effectively repaired by a local technician. Regular servicing and cleaning will keep expensive printers running right.
  • While keyboards usually aren’t associated with system failure, internal keyboard problems can cause problems with your entire system. Keep small metal objects – staples or paper clips – and liquids away from the keyboard. Both will fry keyboards quickly. Because they are extremely inexpensive, troublesome keyboards are best replaced. If it’s acting up, your mouse may just need a good cleaning. If it still doesn’t function right, get a new one.
  • When CD-ROMs and removable drives start failing, your computer may not be able to recognize them. Or they may be unable to read or save data, or they destroy data or spin for long periods between actual activities. Most technicians recommend replacing troublesome CD-ROM and removable drives as it is almost always cheaper than repairing them.

When it comes to high tech electronic equipment, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of repair. Always disconnect power source and phone lines in lightning storms. Clean and maintain your printer often. And have computer problems examined at the earliest signs of difficulty. One faulty component can cause widespread problems throughout the entire hardware system.

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Netiquette
Proper etiquette drives all person-to-person social and business interaction. And it’s no different on the Internet. In fact, the Internet has developed its own behavior standards – Netiquette – that helps keep the cyberspace community functioning efficiently. With Netiquette, there is one baseline rule: information is vastly more important than promotion. Stepping over that line will get you ostracized from the Internet community, and possibly branded for life as an Internet abuser.

Despite its massive commercialization over the past few years, the Internet – Web sites, bulletin boards, news groups, e-mail – is still information based. People use the Internet to gather information, not commercials. Here are a few tips that will make you a solid Netizen:

  • Web site content should be about 85% information and 15% sales pitch, if that.
  • Offer Web site users a viable, useful benefit. Studies show that the more information a site offers about its particular field, the more people will visit your site and the longer they will stay.
  • If you are involved in online discussion groups or bulletin boards, promote your business only if such promotion is considered a normal part of the group’s activities. People are turned off by unsolicited promotion in discussions groups, and some may respond angrily and actively, bringing negative attention to your efforts.
  • Some newsgroups do accept active self-promotion, like alt.business.misc and biz.misc.
  • When participating in a chat group, don’t be commercial. You can give out a lot of information in your messages, but save mentions of your Web site until you sign your message.
  • Unsolicited mass e-mailing – referred to as spamming – is considered extremely poor Netiquette. Not only will spamming turn off recipients, it may also cause you trouble with your Internet service provider.
  • Don’t forget that your Web site should also follow Netiquette rules. It should be attractive, quick, functional and informative. If it takes a long time for graphics to load, or if your site is nothing more than a commercial, visitors will leave fast. And not come back.
  • Read and respond to e-mails regularly. At least daily, if not more often. Don’t treat e-mail like many treat phone messages – prompt responses are expected. Besides, you might miss something important.
  • Don’t send unsolicited jokes, letters or other such material to people who have not given you permission to do so.
  • If you’re sending attached files with an e-mail, don’t forget to attach the attachments. This happens often, and can be annoying to recipients.
Shopping for Computers

Shopping around for business-use computers can be time consuming and frustrating. Balancing desired features and prices – along with technical support and warranties – has only been complicated by the proliferation of makes, models and options, and by the endless stream of technology advances. And many dealers find themselves paying for expensive upgrades after the fact because the “package deal” they got couldn’t accommodate needed software or functions.

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First step is to decide what features you need and software you want to use. This will give you a base to work from in gathering quotes from potential suppliers. With your base established, meet with at least four possible vendors. Use these meetings to gather additional information and consider other possible hardware and software needs, as well as other outside costs – like Internet connection fees – you may incur.

In selecting possible vendors, remember that some companies sell computers and others make their living selling computer solutions. Big boxers like Best Buy and Circuit City are okay if you know exactly what you want, and how to make it all work together. Dedicated computer retailers are good, but work with their business computer pros, not floor salespeople.

Some companies offer complete business-oriented systems, linking sales floor and back office operations. These super-efficient systems optimize accounting functions and inventory control options, but they may lack the flexibility to perform other tasks – word processing, Internet connections, Web browsing, e-mail, database collection and organization, etc.

Remember, too, there are many tire retailing and commercial tire software systems available today, both from independent companies and through tire manufacturers. If you want or need to use these programs, make sure this is on your base needs list.

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Avoid Tech Meltdown

Anyone who uses a computer has suffered through at least one case of total technology meltdown – software or hardware problems that come at the worst possible times. For those days when “plug-n-play” becomes “plug-n-pray,” or when the delete key wipes you out, here are some helpful tips:

  • Save all hardware and software manuals, instruction and installation sheets, and warranty information. Keep all this in one safe and secure place.
  • Keep handy the phone numbers of all computer vendors you deal with, as well as numbers for the manufacturer’s tech and support hotlines. If fax numbers or e-mail addresses are available, keep those handy, as well.
  • Whenever you add new hardware or software, write down all model numbers, serial numbers, purchase dates, customer numbers and any other applicable information. Log the dates of any service work that is done – or when you contact the manufacturer’s tech hotlines – and describe the nature of the problem.
  • If you are using an Internet service provider, make sure they offer reliable 24/7 support.
  • Keep back-up ribbons or toner/inkjet cartridges on hand. And high use equipment like printers should be cleaned and serviced on a regular basis.
  • Consider getting an on-site service contract. While it’s extra money, they will save you the time and frustration of taking your system apart and hand carrying it across town.

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