How to avoid tech support hell and stop wasting time

There's a process for solving any problem correctly and quickly

Inside my studio, taking a closer look at three Apple iPhone cables (read more below and for the closeup)

Which is why I need to get the immediate irony of this blog post out of the way: I just lost several hours of my time because of an iPhone cable.

It's ironic because I solve and prevent problems for a living.  What this means is getting to an accurate understanding of what success looks like to my customer, then helping them get to success as quickly as possible. I've completed thousands of repairs and service orders, and I've learned that the key to preventing a tech support call from going sideways is never taking shortcuts.

When tech support skips even the smallest troubleshooting step, really bad stuff happens.  At best, the customer will lose a lot of time. In worst-case situations, skipping a critical step can result in irrecoverable loss of personal and business information. I've seen both happen. I've spent years training technicians on a bullet-proof process for preventing unintended consequences.

Apple's hardware quality improving doesn't make things better, it actually makes things even more challenging.  Let me explain... 

Apple hardware improvements actually create new challenges

The last few years has been challenging for Apple. Not from a stock market perspective, of course. Apple has done extremely well there, with Tim riding the big wave that Steve Jobs summoned. What's been more problematic are the stream of software problems, ranging from this to this and this and this and more. I just did a Google search to pull up a few.

The pundits look at the software bugs and they liken Apple to Microsoft. I think that's unfair, because Apple is still nothing like Windows, which is a train wreck of an operating system compared to Apple. What inspires the comparison is the frequency and severity of bugs in the past few years compared to prior years. Most Mac and iPhone owners don't realize just how good Apple hardware has become. Hardware failure rates have plummeted to very low single-digit levels. In fact, when I review at the thousands of repairs my company performed on Apple equipment when we provided AppleCare service, excluding accidental damage and software issues, the failure rate is well below 1%.  That's exceptional quality.

Software problems can often mimic hardware issues, and vice-versa. So troubleshooting ad-hoc is not only inefficient, it's actually downright dangerous. Symptoms should be noted, not focused on. There's a process and a set of principles that should be followed, which, if used correct, results in an accurate diagnostic outcome always, and in the least amount of time possible, which goes right back to what customers pay me for: Getting to success, and doing it as fast as possible.  When the process isn't followed, bad things happen.  Let me explain with what just happened to me:

iPhone X photos and videos disaster

I recently upgraded to an iPhone X from an iPhone 6S Plus. I typically skip one generation of iPhones or more. This time, I went from a 128GB to 256GB, and in a matter of just three months I managed to fill it completely with photos and videos. 

My workflow for freeing up space on an iPhone 

My workflow for processing photos and videos from my iPhone always includes:

  1. Import everything to my MacBook Pro with Apple's Image Capture application
  2. Back up the data to three sources: Local backup, Google Photos and Backblaze cloud backup
  3. Import into Apple's Photos app last
  4. Verify a sample of photos and videos on my Mac in two locations, the Image capture target folder and Apple Photos, and then in Google Photos for integrity to make sure they're not damaged or corrupt
  5. Delete the originals off the phone, freeing up space

As a side note, I do not use Apple's Photos in the Cloud.  I do use Photostream (I love it, actually) to create clean, curated Photos albums to share with friends, family and colleagues.  The workflow above is great for me because of the additional steps I didn't go into: I use Adobe Lightroom to edit photos that I think are exceptional, and I just point Lightroom at the target folder used by Image Capture.  I use Photos to curate keepers already imported or modified originals from Lightroom into Photostream albums.  And more and more, I'm using Google Photos because of the incredible cloud-based searching.

My workflow broke. Here's how everything came to a grinding halt:

My workflow come to a grinding halt, and my 100% full iPhone started malfunctioning

My workflow come to a grinding halt, and my 100% full iPhone started malfunctioning

To the naked eye, it's difficult to see a difference between these cables.

Some searching online brought up the usual results with discussion boards full of opinions and suggestions.  Some said try another iPhone lightning cable.  I tried three. And what was interesting was that my wife's iPhone worked perfectly with Image Capture on my MacBook Pro with all three cables, but not my iPhone X.  I decided, being a big fan of twitter, to try Apple's new twitter-based support, which seemed like a really good way to get through the steps and to a diagnostic as quickly as possible.  That's where things went sideways: I spent hours on hold.  Literally nights, actually, because @applesupport even notified me several times during our chat that they had to close up for the night and return the next day.  When I reached maximum frustration I realized that I had delegated my tech problem to them, but that the techs on the other end of the twitter chat weren't actually following the process.  I realized that, in an effort to save myself some personal time, I was trying to delegate a problem that absolutely is in my wheelhouse.  When @applesupport wanted me to speak to a different department, I decided to refocus and follow the process myself.

I had tried multiple lightning cables, but not a new lightning cable.  Remember I mentioned the danger of following symptoms and not the process?  My wife's iPhone working on my system was just a data point, and not validation that the lightning cable was actually good.  With a new lightning cable, Image Capture started to work, albeit very slowly.  As big videos started peeling off the system, eventually the export started speeding up.

Taken with a Canon 100mm image-stabilized super macro lens, with Canon ring light, for up-close inspection.  All these cables work on my wife's iPhone, but two don't work on my iPhone X.

That's when I grabbed all the cables: My wife and I had eight cables around the house that we regularly use.  I routinely get rid of old cables that are visibly damaged, so all the cables we had look pretty good to the naked eye.  The picture looks a little different up-close.  Using a Canon super-macro 100mm lens, here's what a good cable looks like, next to two bad cables.  Any spots, no matter how small, on the connectors, made the cable ineffective for my iPhone X.  Only the brand new, flawless cable worked.  Six out of eight cables were bad.  That's an astonishingly high failure rate.

Always follow the process and never, ever take shortcuts

This experience reminded me of the critical importance of thinking through all the data points while following the process.  It's easy to take this for granted. And I see technicians do this all the time. "I've know what that is, I've seen that before" is one of the worst things a technician can say, because now they're leading a customer down a dangerous path, the blind leading the blind. Tech experience does play a part in that it helps one navigate through situations to sufficiently collect the right data points to review more efficiently, but experience is never justification for shortcuts.

Skipping steps can cost days of lost time

AppleCare support would have taken care of me, and the problem would have eventually been detected, but the support call was already off-course. The next steps they put forward were erasing my phone and starting with a clean, non-configured iOS. This means all my apps, settings, everything would have been gone. Imaging doing this and using the seventh cable and accidentally coming to the conclusion that it was my iPhone operating system, and that I had to reconfigure everything manually.  Several - no, dozens of hours later, I'd end up back in the same place with another of the six bad cables.  Instead of 10 hours lost, now the potential loss is entire days.

Following the process and doing it with quality pays huge dividends in time back to your life.

I'm James Coleman, founder of Tech Concierge. I provide tech support to people who value their time, across North America and in Japan. Please let me know if this post was useful or interesting, or both! 

You can connect with me on twitter @techconcierge, on instagram @techconcierge, and on facebook here.  If you want to be notified about new blog updates, please sign up for my mailing list here.