Monday, May 19, 2008

Tech Support

I just had my first problem with my MacBook. I couldn’t send emial. I could receive but not send.

Step one was to look at the support page at Apple and after stepping through that, I still had the problem. I then called the help number and was told that while my hardware was still under warranty, I would have to pay for phone support (sounds more like Microsoft than Apple).

I was directed to the “dotmac” web site and used the chat function. Turns out that Apple is having problems with their mail server and that the “port 25” error message refers to that port on their server and not on my laptop! Now why should I pay for phone support if the problem is on the Apple server?

This called several issue to my attention.

First, Apple needs to make sure that they are not the problem BEFORE telling customer’s that they will have to pay for support.

Second, while we were able to fix my problem by simply changing which port my email application was attaching to, the chat process added a significant amount of time compared to a simple telephone call.

I spent 12 years supporting a large amount of hardware for one of the worlds largest defense contractor followed by 11 years creating technical documentation for big aerospace corporations. Getting the client’s concerns handled quickly and efficiently is the key to keeping customers. The times I’ve used the chat function for technical support it seems to take a lot longer, and I touch type 25 to 30 words a minute. Imagine how much time it will add for a hunt and peck typist! And it’s not just the customer’s time away from their work, you are paying the help desk person on your end of the chat.

A third item that will go along way to shorting the support cycle is plain english error messages. Microsoft is notorious for the “Error 404” kind of error message, but the “Unable to connect to port 25” I got in this case is not far behind. How about a message like “Unable to connect to the Mac mail server port 25”. Tells me it’s not my computer and when I do call or chat it tells your help desk exactly what’s wrong right away.

My last pet peeve is the failure of companies, both hardware and software, to have an explanation of their error messages. Just try typing the error message into the help query and all you get is the computer equivalent of a blank stare. If, for some technical reason, you just can’t use plane english for your error message, try putting the explanation in your help documentation.

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