Mac Corner: The Sorry State of Local Computer Support  

By Larry Grinnell, Palm Beach Phoenix Apple Users Group

larry grinnellave you ever tried to get service for your computer? Maybe needed in-home assistance for the initial setup of your new Mac? Had a pesky problem with system software or a new application?

Then you have probably experienced what a crapshoot it is to get really useful local high-tech assistance.
Most of us have already experienced what a miserable, mind-numbing experience phone support is. It’s not even the difficulty in understanding the support folks, located in every corner of the world, but the scripted way in which your problem is addressed.

There can be absolutely no deviation from the script, so even if you know you’ve already tried the dozens of things you are being asked to repeat, the call will immediately end unless you repeat all these steps to the satisfaction of the support person (I hesitate to call them techs).

This could, in the worst cases, take hours, including possible escalations to higher-level operators, some who might actually be techs. In the end, as many of you have already discovered, even after hours on the phone, the problem never got resolved.
Next, you try local solutions.
Enter the big box store techs. Interviews with people who have availed themselves of these services invariably walk away dissatisfied. Most store techs don’t really understand Macintosh computers and try to use many of their own techniques for system installation/configuration that definitely aren’t factory-approved.

Thinking they know all about Macs (they are generally not Apple-certified), they “customize” the installation or configure the system with settings that are, putting it mildly, incomprehensible. Oh, and their price starts at well over $100 an hour.

Next, you have your local “experts.” Some may actually be Apple-certified. At least they knew (or crammed) enough to pass the tests. Take it from me, a former MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer). I passed the tests, but without the ability to put my expensive schooling into practice, within a few months, I forgot almost everything my former employer spent almost $7,000 to help me learn.

Believe me, I am probably not the one you want to put into your Windows Server Active Directory-based data center! At least I understand this and know my limitations. When I recently had to make a career move, I returned to my first love — technical writing. Most local techs out there aren’t as levelheaded or as pragmatic as I. They don’t necessarily have another job to fall back on, so you, the poor consumer, wind up being their guinea pig.

So, your local tech might not be any more competent than the big box store techs, and might charge what the big box store techs charge (plus or minus $50/hour). Mind you, there are many, many excellent techs that are worthy of the name--people whom I would be happy to permit to get up to their elbows inside my computers. Sadly, their numbers are far lower than you might hope, and most charge accordingly. As the man said, “pay me now or pay me later.”

Then, there are the “geniuses” and others like them at your local Apple Store. These are individuals who have studied long and hard to get their certifications, and have also gained a lot of practical experience. For all this expertise, Apple pays them peanuts, with the promise of big employee discounts, and just having the satisfaction of being part of the inner circle of geekdom.

The good news here is that Apple stands behind their work, and will do their darndest to make you happy. Personally, I’m not exactly thrilled with some of Apple’s store policies, such as joining a “club” for $99 a year, that pushes you to the head of the Genius line if you have problems. If you are a technophobe who needs their computer for their business, however, this might be cheap insurance.

Finally, before you leave totally discouraged, please know there are scads of excellent Internet resources where you most often can find the answer to your questions for free. Additionally, look to your local Apple User Group. The Palm Beach Phoenix Apple User Group, for example, has a number of highly-skilled members who are willing to share their expertise for a nominal fee (limited by club constitution to a maximum of $30/hour for members) down to free.

The club also has a member forum where you can post your questions to the PB Phoenix AUG community, and you might just get a quick response that explains it all. This is one of the many valuable advantages of membership in a user group. Check out the link above to learn more about them, and ad a new, actually more pleasant, computing experience to your search for assistance.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Readers are welcome to comment on this or any Mac Corner columns by visiting the Palm Beach Phoenix blog as well as by writing the editor of Palm Beach

Mac Corner runs every Wednesday only in Palm Beach Click to read the previous column.

About Larry Grinnell: Larry has been working with Macintosh and Windows PCs for over 25 years and worked as a senior technical writer and IT support professional for a major midwest-based consumer electronics and telecommunications equipment manufacturer here in South Florida. His musings on a wide variety of topics from computers to jazz guitar to strange foreign cars from the 1950s can be viewed at the website. Click here to reach him by email.

palm beach phoenix logoWriters of this column are members of the Palm Beach Phoenix Apple User Group, a nonprofit organization for Apple Computing Device Users, recognized by Apple Inc., with the purpose of providing educational training and coaching to its members (students, professionals and seniors alike) in a cordial social environment. The club meets the second Saturday of each month from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Fire Station #2, 4301 Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach (just two block south of Southern Boulevard). Click here to visit their website. Click here to reach them by email.

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