Ag Brain Drain: Tech Support

By John Wagner

Ag Brain Drain logoThis time of year, my phone rings off the hook. My customer on the other end often says the same thing:  “My GPS is NOT working!”  Every time, I go through a standard set of questions to try to get to the bottom of what “isn’t working.” But what does “not working” really mean?  What information does that customer have that might help a technician like me?

Is everything powered on?  

How many satellites are you tracking?

What is your correction update rate?

Those three questions often tell the technician what they need to know to diagnose the problem.  So let me provide a checklist to help you assist your GPS technician, instead of you both struggling to define “it’s not working.”  It is better for all of us if customers can call in with, “I have five satellites, and my correction rate is 60, and my CMR throughput is falling.”  This gives me plenty of information to start to zero in on the issue.  Once you, as a customer, master the checklist, your time on the phone with the tech support folks should be greatly reduced; you will understand where the problem is, be calling with a diagnosis, and be able to tell your technician what the issue may be.  Ninety percent of the calls I receive are what we term “jump the gun” calls. Ninety percent! It is amazing what I can fix, simply by asking “How are the wife and kids?”  Usually I get, “Hey, it is working again, thanks!” before I ever find out how the boy is doing in little league.  We all understand the stress and strain of planting season. Throw weather on top of it, and there is no time to waste.  One thing I have learned in my 25 years of taking tech support calls is that farmers are the most predictable creatures on the planet, and you all get to the field within minutes of each other. So think about your tech guy: he has gotten the same call twenty times before yours, and likely is getting yet another call while he is repeating his standard set of questions to you. The stress level is very high on both ends of the phone line.

So back to the questions and why they’re important:

Question 1: Is everything powered on?  This is a valid question just to establish that all the cables are connected and fuses are not blown. In many cases, there are secondary devices that are part of your correction delivery system.  So a ‘Yes’ response means a move to the Question 2, and a ‘No’ response is my prompt to correct anything that may need to be powered up or connected.

Question 2: How many satellites are you tracking? It takes a minimum of five US satellites to get an RTK correction, so anything over five as a response will move us to the next question. Anything under five? Well, that is your issue, and the answer to why your RTK is not working.

Question 3: What is your correction update rate?  Well, if we are on this question, your unit was powered up correctly, and you have more than five US satellites. I like to hear an answer from the customer saying “My update rate is one second, and my throughput is 65% and climbing.”  This tells me, as a technician, that I should have asked you more personal questions to stall, because everything is correct. You “jumped the gun” and rang your tech support guy for simple moral support. If the update rate is zero or a big number, and throughput is hovering 50% and falling or hanging, then we know your correction source is having an issue. We can move deeper into what the problem is, and your technician will know which way to proceed based on the detail you’ve provided.

So the take away message here is this: a little systematic troubleshooting goes a long way towards keeping you planting, and keeping your tech support person from stalling you or asking lots of questions. It is always better to call because you understand your system, you have investigated the issue, and you can say what the issue is. Only then can your tech fix the issue. This is a much better interaction with your tech support folks than “This damn thing don’t work!”  Because some days… ‘damn’ is the nicest word we hear.

John Wagner graduated from Purdue University in 1991 with a BS degree in Agricultural Economics. As the President of AgRePlan in New Carlisle, OH, he enjoys finding his customers creative solutions through precision agricultural technologies.