Posey's Tips & Tricks
Office 365 Troubleshooting: Think Like a Microsoft Support Tech
Before you resign yourself to a potentially frustrating and lengthy tech support call to fix an Office 365 problem, try a little DIY.
I have been a Microsoft Office 365 subscriber for roughly six years now. During that time, I have found the Office 365 service to be largely reliable.
Every great once in a while, however, problems do occur.
Many people instinctively place a call to tech support whenever they experience a problem. That's all well and good, but personally, I prefer to try to deal with the problem myself.
There are several reasons why I like to try to solve technical problems myself. The biggest reason is probably because I have always been a do-it-yourself-er, and enjoy the satisfaction of solving a problem by myself. Another reason is that I tend to be busy, and waiting on hold for technical support probably isn't the best use of my time.
Finally, I have to confess that I haven't always had the best experiences with contacting tech support in the past. I'm not necessarily talking about Microsoft's support, but rather tech support lines in general. You just never know what you are going to get when you call. Over the years, I have dealt with language barriers, aggressive up-selling, bad attitudes, finger-pointing and other unpleasantness when contacting various tech support departments. These experiences have really turned me off to technical support services, and so I try to avoid calling support if at all possible.
Avoiding tech support in favor of fixing problems by yourself might have been a common way of doing things back in the days of locally installed software, but if software is running in the cloud, then you may be wondering if there's anything that you can do to fix a problem. Because Office 365 runs in the cloud, Microsoft controls the software configuration and performs maintenance tasks such as patch management and hardware upgrades. This seriously limits your options for addressing problems yourself.
Even so, there are a few things that you can do.
Several months ago, I wrote a column about taking Office 365 Planner for a test drive. In doing so, I decided to see how well Planner worked as a tool for managing my writing assignments. To make a long story short, Planner ended up working out pretty well for that particular task and I have been using it ever since.
About a week ago, I tried to open Planner and received a blank screen with a message that simply said, "Service Unavailable." All of my other Office 365 apps worked fine, but Planner was dead in the water. I actually found myself wondering for a moment if Microsoft had removed Planner from my Office 365 subscription.
My first step in resolving the issue was to go to the Office 365 Admin Center and take a look at Service Health. As you can see in Figure 1, the Service Health screen tells you whether Microsoft is experiencing any problems with the various Office 365 apps at the moment.
Because Planner did not appear to be having any issues, I tried logging in to Office 365 from a different PC and accessing Planner. When I did, Planner opened without issue. This told me that the problem was specific to the PC that I was using, not to Planner itself.
Because all of my other Office 365 apps were working, I knew that I could rule out connectivity issues and authentication issues. I also knew that my browser (I was using Edge) was compatible with Planner, so I could rule that out as a possible cause, too.
Hoping for a quick and easy fix, I logged out of Office 365, closed all of my applications and rebooted my computer. However, that did not fix the problem. Even installing the latest updates did not solve the issue.
By this point, I had more or less determined that the problem had to be something related to the way that my browser was trying to open the Planner app. As such, I cleared the browser history, my temporary files and cookies, and tried accessing Planner once again. This time I was able to get into Planner.
Running cloud-based applications definitely limits your troubleshooting options. Even so, there are occasionally things that you can fix yourself, without having to contact Microsoft.
The trick is to think like a Microsoft support technician who knows that the Office 365 service is working correctly and that the problem must therefore be on your end. Consider the types of things that the technician might ask you to try, and you will likely come up with a solution to your problem.
Brien Posey is a 20-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.