You call THAT Technical Assistance?

“Hmm. . . It just quits on its own?”
“Well, have you tried rebuilding the desktop?”
“Three times.”
“Well. . .” (long period of silence.) “Have you read the READ ME to see if there’s
anything in there?”
“Yes, many times. There was nothing about this.”
“Hmm. . . Well, let me switch you over to another representative.”
(Elevator music plays for thirty-five minutes.)
“Hello, this is Joe. How can I help you?”
“My application unexpectedly quits on me. This has only started happening today.”
“Hmm. . . Have you rebuilt the desktop?”
“Have you read the manual?”
“Yes, that’s why I called you. That didn’t help at all.”
“Well. . . Could it be that you installed the program the wrong way?”
“I don’t know, you tell me.”
“Hmm. . . I’m not sure. Sunspots?”

How many times has something like that happened to you? If you’re like me, it happens every other time you call for tech help. You run into a problem, panic, call the tech help line, get put on hold for about an hour, get thrown around the support department until you know everyone by name, and end up accomplishing absolutely nothing! So you call again, and the same scenario happens all over. Eventually you end up throwing your Mac out the window, hitting the postman on the head, and being carted off as a loon.

If that happens so often, why do we continue to call those numbers? Well, it is supposed to be easy. It seems so nice to sit down in your comfortable chair, dial a toll-free number, and get quick answers that will solve your problem. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. You have to wait in a long line of aggravated users who are all sick of the same annoying music playing over and over and over again.

Of course, this isn’t always the case. There are technical support numbers that can offer quick help. There are also some very well trained, knowledgeable staff members that can quickly answer your questions. The problem is, you hardly ever get one of those.

So, what on earth do you do when you need help quickly? Dial the tech number? Read the manuals? Perform exotic ceremonies over your Mac?

First things first. Write down all the specifics. What were you doing that caused the problem? What program were you using? What Mac do you have, and what version of the system software does it use? Were you getting any signs of problems (low memory messages, bizarre behavior)? Have you thought of the possibility of an extension problem? Do you like oats?

Of course, there are always the obvious things. Don’t jump to conclusions. It could have been a simple glitch, and nothing serious. Read through those manuals and READ ME files for clues (although I find most manuals are fairly pathetic when it comes to troubleshooting). It could be a memory problem (you ran out of the RAM). Try restarting and doing the same actions that lead to the problem? Does it happen again? Try restarting with extensions off (hold down the shift key while the Mac starts up) and see if things improve. Rebuild the desktop and zap the PRAM with TechTool (you can download this off the My Mac web site). Run Disk First Aid (on your System Backup disk) or Norton Utilities (highly recommended commercial software) on your Mac, and see if they can fix any problems. If all else fails, you can reinstall the software that caused the problem (remembering to install all software with extensions off).

Why do all of that before you call? Those are the things the technical representatives will ask you first. They automatically consider the fact that you have tried nothing. Basically, they are supposed to think the person on the other end is a fool. That’s usually helpful, because they never speak over your head, and you typically understand what they’re saying. So, if you do all of that before you call, you’ll be more likely to get everything accomplished in one swift call.

Let’s say that you are now ready to call that tech help number! There are a few more things to remember. Let’s go over those:

  • Don’t stay on hold too long unless you really need to. And if you really need to, at least have something to do while you’re holding. Sit at the Mac and play a game. Or try to solve the problem on your own. Even doodle if you have to. If you find yourself humming the hold music for the rest of the day, you were definitely on hold too long.
  • If you lived through the horrible music, you will eventually get a live human on the other end. Be blunt. Get right to the point. State your problem, then tell the guy/gal exactly what you have done to try to solve the problem. Make sure you describe your setup (i.e. name of Macintosh, system software version, version of program you had a problem with). Also tell the person what you were doing when the problem occurred and if it was repeatable.
  • Talk as much as you need to and be as detailed and specific as you can. Tell the representative everything before he/she starts shooting questions at you. The person will likely ask you about all the things I discussed early. They will then be impressed when you mention that you have tried them beforehand.
  • If need be, let them switch you to another representative. Some are more skilled than others and have more tools to work with.
  • Call back three or four times if you don’t get the answers the first time. Keep track of representatives names. Always mention what you have tried. Also mention the fact that you’ve had to call back numerous times. When you mention what you’ve tried, always give the name of the representative that gave you that suggestion. This isn’t to get those staff members in trouble. If there’s a method that one representative doesn’t know, the other can tell him or her the better way. These people learn new tips every day, and it always helps to keep them on their toes.
  • Always be patient and kind. They’ll be much happier to go the extra mile to help you if you are polite.
  • Let’s say you’re having a problem connecting to your Internet Service Provider or online service through an access number. Let’s also say that you’re pretty sure it is not a problem on your end. Again, these representatives are going to consider you have not tried anything. So, get right to the point. Instead of saying “I think there’s a problem because I can’t connect through my access number,” say “I need to report a problem with an access number.” That makes it much more clear to the representative that you know what you’re talking about. You’ll likely be taken more seriously. They can then test and repair any problems that you report.
  • If the representative tells you that he’s going to put you on hold to “figure things out,” let him. While you’re on hold, he’s frantically searching through tech info libraries looking for an answer. It’s not only a learning experience for him, but it will likely get you the answers that you need.There. . . You’ve done it! Hopefully, you got quick answers that solved your problems. I do, however, have a few more tips to help you out along the way:
  • Apple’s number (1-800-SOS-APPLE) is usually very busy. I find, however, that the knowledge of the support staff has improved dramatically over the past 6 months. If you can wait, the best times to call are between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. It’s also wise to remember that Apple has 24 hour support for Performa users. It’s usually unbelievably easy to get in after 11 p.m. if you use a Performa.
  • Want good tech help from America Online? We all do. AOL usually has a nice, long wait on hold, no matter when you call. To get away from the long lines, many decide to sign on and go to TechLive or Member Help Interactive. Although the wait is not always as long, the technical help isn’t as good. I decided long ago to only visit TechLive when I needed to report a system problem. For the best help for AOL problems, I recommend the Members Helping Members bulletin board. This is at keyword HELP. The volunteers there are very knowledgeable and attentive.
  • Apple’s web site has a library full of helpful documents aimed at technical help. The information is usually very technical (hence the name), so you might be a bit confused with the documents. It’s a great library, nevertheless. Just go to and see for yourself.
  • Apple has areas on AOL and Compuserve as well. On Compuserve, use GO MACPLANET. On AOL, use keyword APPLECOMPUTER.
  • Check for alternative means of support. Most companies have Web pages that have technical support posted on them. Many companies also offer email support. This will take longer, but you’ll usually get some useful information. This is especially useful if the company doesn’t have a toll-free support line.
  • You’re calling the technical support numbers too much when you start sending Christmas cards to your favorite staff members.
  • I myself have typed a long multi-chaptered ebook (electronic book) called “Macs and More“. I’m almost finished with the third edition. It covers a great deal of information about Macintosh troubleshooting. I also go over AOL tips. Right now, it’s only available on AOL. I hope to get it on other Web pages soon. I’m also creating a Web page for “Macs and More” that should be up fairly soon. It is freeware.You should now be well prepared for your next technical support adventure. With these tips and a little luck, you should get all the help you need and be happily back on your Mac in a very short time.

    Happy trails, and good luck!

    Shay Fulton (

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