In response to an irritating problem I’m having with my two new Mac servers, I called Apple for support today, and have to say I’m less than impressed.

First, to explain the problem: both of my machines are wired on a network, and while the network has the capability of serving up IP addresses via DHCP, I have to configure the addresses manually on these two machines. (They both require specific addresses that are mapped to specific hostnames, and the networking people currently don’t provide a way to make sure a certain machine gets a specific IP address via DHCP. I know, it’s stupid, but alas.) Since setting up the machines, I’ve noticed that every attempt to resolve a DNS name takes between five and ten seconds, which makes surfing the web painful. I debugged the problem as best as I could, which included running tests using every single nameserver that exists on our network, manipulating the Ethernet link settings using every possible combination of options, and setting up a packet sniffer to see what what happening at the network level, all to no avail. The last thing I did was (temporarily) switch to DHCP for getting an address, and lo and behold, everything worked beautifully. I changed back to using a manual address and everything broke again; I again switched to DHCP and the problem evaporated. I then switched to manually entering the exact same settings that I obtained via DHCP, and name lookups took forever, and I was stumped. (It turns out that a lot of people are stumped on this one — just visit Apple’s discussion forums and search for “slow DNS” to see what I mean.)

So, I called Apple and got a first-line support rep. He quickly — within about 90 seconds — recognized that he had no idea what I was talking about, and about five minutes into my call, he transferred me to an “upper-level support rep” who would be able to further help me. This upper-level support rep, though, turned out to know absolutely nothing about networking, and started to spout total fabrications at me faster than I could even write them down. My three favorites:

  • “It sounds like the problem is in looking up names from the network, and as you know, this is something that doesn’t have anything to do with what an operating system does. We just provide the software that is on your computer.”
  • “When you use DHCP, you’re using a technology that is much more complicated than ‘regular’ DNS, and you should expect things to work differently.”
  • “This behavior is by design, sir — looking up host names takes longer via DHCP because it uses an entirely different technology to do so.” (This was my #1 favorite, and led me to ask him if my car should drive any different when I fill it with gas versus when a station attendant does the filling. He didn’t get it.)

Throughout the phone call, I kept trying to find ways to remind the rep without being rude that I’ve been working with networking technologies for almost 15 years and that he wasn’t making any sense. He just kept reiterating that it was “unfortunate” that I didn’t like his answers but that that “doesn’t make them any less true.” I finally asked to speak with the next level of support, and this is where he sealed his fate — he said that there wasn’t anything beyond him, and that while he’d be happy to “note in my help ticket” that I was dissatisfied with his answer, there was no further level of support available to me. I suggested that that was unlikely to be true, and he said that it was again unfortunate I didn’t like his answer. At that point, I verified my ticket number and said a polite goodbye.

Those of you who either know me or have read QDN for any length of time know what I did next — I promptly looked up Apple’s corporate number in Cupertino (it’s (408) 996-1010) and called. It was immediately answered by a polite woman who listened to my 20-second blurb and put me directly into the “escalation department” queue, and under a minute later I was speaking with someone who was quite apologetic. He took my information and got me to a network support engineer who actually did know what he was talking about, but didn’t seem to believe that my problem was an operating system-related thing until I pointed out all the discussion forum threads about the issue. Even then, it wasn’t until I decided to disable IPv6 on one of the machines — and saw a brief name resolution speed increase — that he was willing to entertain the notion that OS X could be part of the problem. We agreed that I’d continue to test things out over the weekend and that we’d touch base again next week with an update.

In the end, it was only my willingness to continue to push (and to make a long-distance call to Apple HQ) that put me in touch with a support engineer who knew his ass from a hole in the wall. Given that fact, I’m certain that for every person like me there are 50 others that don’t get beyond a clueless rep who’s unable to admit his own ignorance and unwilling to grant access to the next level of support. In the end, it’s sad, because Apple’s left with customers who are frustrated, tech reps who continue to dish out bad support, and operating system bugs that remain unfixed — the worst of all possible outcomes.

Comments and TrackBacks

To be fair, Jason, your problem is not one that is likely to crop up for the average user of Mac OS X. Your specific network configuration is not going to be anything like the typical home user of a Mac OS X machine plugged into a cable/DSL modem pulling a single DHCP number. Apple’s support reps are used to dealing with people who can barely turn a computer on and launch Safari, let alone configure a home network with multiple machines like you are describing.

The solution is for Apple to have a separate support network for more experienced users, and apparently you eventually did get in touch with someone at Apple who could help you diagnose the exact problem — but you had to route around their first-line of support that was not designed to handle networking problems as advanced as yours.

While is is disappointing to learn that Apple’s support reps are winging it and making up fake information as a way to end a support call (instead of actually helping the caller), I don’t expect anything better considering the high costs of running a decent tech support program. The people who know enough to be able to solve such advanced problems as yours would never be stuck behind a tech support headset earning a few bucks more than minimum wage. No, those people are the engineers who actually wrote the networking software or have worked with it enough to understand it at an intimate level.

• Posted by: Cameron Barrett on Apr 23, 2005, 1:56 AM

Cameron may have a point, but if one is calling regarding xServes (which would be a fair guess given ‘servers’) or perhaps at least os x server rather then client. Then that would take one out of the ‘average user’ I would think. I think apple needs to have a set of people prepared to deal with people in these non-average set ups, and they need to let the first couple of support tiers have a better place to steer Jason (and others)

• Posted by: Sam D on Apr 23, 2005, 2:48 AM

Caemron wrote: “Your specific network configuration is not going to be anything like the typical home user of a Mac OS X machine plugged into a cable/DSL modem pulling a single DHCP number.”

Excuse me, but this is *exactly* the way I configure my network at home, because I run my own DNS server. Yes, I have the ability to configure my DHCP server to reserve certain IP addresses for certain machines; but it is easier just to assign static IP addresses and be done with it.

Regardless, even if what you say is true about “Apple’s support reps are used to dealing with people who can barely turn a computer on and launch Safari”, that doesn’t excuse them from their failure to (A) know when the issue is more than they can technically handle and (B) treat customers with the respect they deserve. As an Apple customer of over 16 years, I _certainly_ expect both A and B from Apple!

• Posted by: monoclast on Apr 23, 2005, 2:58 PM

“Excuse me, but this is *exactly* the way I configure my network at home, because I run my own DNS server.”

Exactly my point. most home users of Mac OS X do not even know what DNS is, let alone understand how to run their own DNS server.

• Posted by: Cameron Barrett on Apr 23, 2005, 3:10 PM

regardless of whether it is a low level question or a high level question, the person answering the phone at the support center in Austin, TX should either be able to answer the question or be able to escalate the problem to someone who knows

i have found for the most part that these people in the Austin, TX support center are morons and any power user that calls will have far more experience than these supposed support techs……

• Posted by: jdc on Apr 23, 2005, 5:33 PM

The description of your problem does not provide enough information. My assumption is that you didn’t buy pro support or server support, you are just using the regular warranty applecare, whatever, it doesn’t matter.. There are a couple of things you may want to try prior to your call on monday.
1) Make sure your DNS server has correct reverse lookup records
2)You don’t say if when you ran the setup assistant you initally put in the static addresses. Just for your information, most servers utilize static addresses… it is completely common on every enterprise network I’ve ever worked on… if you ran the setup assistant again, made sure to put in your ip addresses correctly, then made sure to add both forward and reverse lookup entries in your DNS server (wherever it is) and made sure to point your server (by putting the address of the dns server in the network control panel for DNS)

You should see an immediate improvement.

• Posted by: Your Frickin Daddy on Apr 23, 2005, 6:13 PM

Hey retards! Yep, everyone who responded so far. Apple does have specific tech support for XSERVE, and they do have PRO support…. jeez… go to their website, they sell it on their store… but, you have to buy it!

I hate it when total hubris filled retards make complaints when the only complaint they should have is that their mothers didn’t abort them… Oh sorry, my only regret is that your mothers didn’t abort you… I’ve met experts like you… you always talk a great game, but you cant build jack and you jack up everything, because you won’t read (except the spew of other retards on the forums, which are a joke) I guess all the retards go to the same places to get answers. From other lost retards. Wow! you found Apple’s corporate number! It is on their website numbnuts! Wow you are like a private eye!

My advice: Kill yourself. Today. Really

• Posted by: IQ Larger than 70 on Apr 23, 2005, 6:19 PM

Cam, I’ll give you that this config isn’t close to the norm, but I’m (obviously) in the same camp as Sam D, monoclast, and jdc — if any given tech support agent isn’t about to help a customer, then he or she needs to be willing and able (a) to admit it, and (b) to kick me up to the next level of support. Anthing less leaves a bug unsolved and a customer dissatisfied.

YFD (why the odd handle?), I wasn’t looking to provide a ton of info on the bug here, mostly because the post wasn’t an attempt to get my readers to solve the problem, only to talk about my experience with Apple’s support. But nonetheless:

- I’m using standard Apple support (AppleCare);
- the DNS servers all do have reverse DNS perfectly in-place;
- I did put in the static IP addresses during the setup assistant (although it shouldn’t matter at all if I put them in there or if I use the Network control panel later; there should be nothing different in how both configure the underlying network interface, since it’s reasonable to expect that a user will change network configurations at least once during the life of a computer).

To clarify, the two computers I’m talking about are a Dual G5 and a Mini, not XServes; the problem has nothing to do with them being some sort of server-class machine, but rather that there seems to be an OS bug in resolving hostnames when a network interface is configured using a static IP address. There’s nothing about standard AppleCare that precludes support for this — as was verified by the final support rep to whom I spoke.

And lastly, I was about to delete the last comment, but I figured I’d let it stand — most of you have read here (or have known me!) long enough to know my skillset, and I figure that it’s hard to take anything personally from someone too chickenshit to leave their own name or contact info…

• Posted by: Jason on Apr 23, 2005, 7:12 PM

My favourite bad experience with Apple phone support was when I had a bad trackpad and trackpad-button on a new iBook and was asked on the phone by the supposedly Apple support guy if it was the left or right trackpad button that wasn’t working. I really wonder to where they are outsourcing this business.

• Posted by: Michael on Apr 24, 2005, 4:34 AM

This is why I never, ever call tech support. Most of us know just as much or more than the average support technician, so why would I bother trying to explain my problem to two different people? I almost always rely on forums — I find that users as a collective are much, much better at troubleshooting than any support technician.

The only down-side with this is that if you have a problem that is rare, it may be harder to find the information. But I’d much rather spend 20 minutes doing my own research than spend 10 frustrating minutes trying to explain to some guy in the midwest that there is a problem.

• Posted by: Minuk on Apr 24, 2005, 4:42 AM

Apple outsourced their tech support for consumer level products. It is unsurprising that you had problems when you went off-script. You need to deal directly with Apple for resolution of significant tech issues for pro products.

• Posted by: Charles on Apr 24, 2005, 9:18 AM

Charles, my point is that this isn’t a “pro product” problem — this is a problem with Mac OS X 10.3 (from the forums, it looks like it’s a problem with 10.3.7 onward). That’s the operating system that powers every single Mac sold today, nothing professional about it.

• Posted by: Jason on Apr 24, 2005, 12:12 PM

Oh, and I’m right there with you, Minuk, but the forums are chock-full of reports of the problem (I’m talking about Apple’s own forums and various other places like Macintouch and apple.slashdot), but nobody’s been able to find a solution. I figured that that was being unfair, both to us and Apple, in that it isn’t clear anyone’s ever asked them for a solution. My goal is not just a bugfix for me, but a better operating system for all those other users of OS X; this feels like a dumb bug (the sort of thing where, when using a static IP address, the system config scripts are simply forgetting to pass a parameter when configuring the interface), and that’s the sort of thing that Apple should be totally interested in fixing.

• Posted by: Jason on Apr 24, 2005, 12:18 PM

Never call a company’s tech support on any level, buy from small business, not only can they quickly solve any issues you might have, but you get the same person everytime. This way the tech knows your network or whatever and doesn’t have to waste the 10-20minutes explaining your setup. I’m a technician at a small Computer/networking Consulting firm, and i’ve never once had complaints of this nature about my support abilities.

• Posted by: Charlie Pope on Apr 25, 2005, 2:04 AM

I have mixed feelings about this article. I know a lot of people that work in Apple support in Austin, TX (not outsourced).

Apple has many call centers that take US calls.
The experiences of the commenters notwithstanding, I think asserting that noone ever knows anything is overstating it a bit. Also, the opinions here hardly consitute a representative sample. Apple has led all other computer companies in Consumer Reports support ratings for the last 5 years (trending upward).

I think any call center (for any company, any product) is always a crapshoot. For every “power user that knows what they’re doing”, there are 5 clueless newbies who are unable/unwilling to follow instructions or consider that they are the source of their own problems. People are frustrating/ed, unreasonable and belligerent. Many people who can do better, get promoted or leave.

If you have no choice, but to deal with the company to resolve the issue, then calling the corporate office is certainly one way to handle it.

I have similar issues whenever I call any kind of call center, the issues of making up answers that make no sense are not constrained to Apple or even to technology companies. There are often conflicting directives about handling calls quickly vs. correctly.

These folks are expected to know about multiple versions of most Apple products. Additionally, there is a prescripted scope of support for each product line. There is just a practical limit to what can be done over the phone. Apple does not provide training. If you can’t follow the instructions, they don’t provide a toll-free training hotline (Apple pays for the call, remember). Apple also does not provide telephone support for advanced topics like scripting, command-line or advanced networking.

It does sound like the people you talked to didn’t really undestand or even try methodically gather information. The comments you posted sound like WAGs (wild-*ssed guesses).

What’s posted on the discussions boards isn’t usually helpful because it lacks important details about the context of the issue. There’s no way for an engineer to tell if the issues are the same or not.

What I’ve heard about this particular issue is that it’s better in 10.3.9. I saw the comment that you’re not trying to use this article to solve the issue, but rather to complain about your support experience.

If I were troubleshooting this issue, I would want to see a packet trace of the issue occurring, though you can’t really expect a phone agent to know how to read packet traces. Perhaps you could have that ready when you call back Apple agents to report your progress. Utimately, if this is an unfixed OS bug that needs to go to Apple Engineering, then they will need that.

When working with a phone agent less experienced than me, I have found it productive to remain calm (which you said you did), state your case succinctly, don’t be afraid to teach them why their answer is wrong (if you can do so quickly). Make sure you document whom you talked to, and your case number(s). Be polite but firm. Sometimes, it’s a bit like roulette, but if you want Apple to resolve your issue, you may need to be more persistent than you “should have to be”.

• Posted by: Samaritan on Apr 25, 2005, 10:15 AM

Great comment, Samaritan; understand that my issue is less with Apple support on the whole (I too disagree with any sweeping generalizations about the state of the support offered by large companies, or generalizations about every single engineer at a company), and more with the fact that I needed to push to get beyond someone who was making what you call WAGs, and who wouldn’t grant me access to someone who knew anything about the technologies they support.

To address a few of your comments:

“Apple also does not provide telephone support for advanced topics like scripting, command-line or advanced networking”

I don’t know if this is a specific statement about my issue, but I’d contend that I’m not asking for advanced networking support, I’m asking for support for the very basic foundation of the networking support of any machine on a TCP/IP network. (I feel that this is a bit validated by the fact that the final engineer with whom I spoke agreed that this was well within the scope of the support I should expect.)

“What’s posted on the discussions boards isn’t usually helpful because it lacks important details about the context of the issue. There’s no way for an engineer to tell if the issues are the same or not.”

Partially agreed; the forums aren’t fabulous for pinpointing the cause of a problem (although they can be surprisingly helpful!), but they are great for validating the existence of a problem. (My best example: the iBook logic board problems, which only got acknowledged and resolved after a swell of forum postings that helped users and Apple figure out the true scope of the problem.)

“If I were troubleshooting this issue, I would want to see a packet trace of the issue occurring…”

I have a packet trace ready and waiting, and actually offered it to both higher-level engineers with whom I spoke. It’s remarkably unenlightening, though — when the machine’s configured via DHCP, there’s a quick request and reply for DNS resolution, and when the machine’s configured with a static address, the request goes unanswered for about four to five seconds and then gets answered. It’s truly odd.

• Posted by: Jason on Apr 25, 2005, 12:03 PM

what do you guys use for packet trace capture and analysis these days - it’s been a few years since I was doing enterprise network troubleshooting, EtherPeek was the biggie back then but I’m sure things have changed.

• Posted by: StevenV on Apr 27, 2005, 1:41 PM

Steven, I just use tcpdump — simple and to the point!

• Posted by: Jason on Apr 28, 2005, 6:42 PM

Apple has a multitude of departments providing Support for various products ranging from Mac OS 8 & 9 to Mac OS X, Desktops, Portables, Servers, Professional Support, Educational Support, Cross Platform etc. They do not provide Phone support for Large Networks which would be anywhere from 4+ Macs and above.
As mentioned by Samaritan, be a little patient cause you mind land up with someone new who has just gotten out of training (which Apple does provide contrary to opinions) and who would not really know what you are talking about being jittery about it being their 1st day or 1st week. You can always request to speak to a supervisor and get the call transferred or just call back and get someone else. One Bad experience does not justify calling service Bad. When have you ever owned a Car without it ever breaking down or having a flat.

I say all this with conviction because I worked with Apple Technical Support for 2 years and I’ve dealt with all kinds of customers, the Best ones being those who were patient and actually worked with me in troubleshooting their issue.

• Posted by: Amand on May 16, 2005, 3:08 PM

Amand, I’m not sure you read the whole thing — I was told I could *not* speak with a supervisor, and that’s just shitty service.

Likewise, nobody blames their computer company for occasional problems (the “flat tires”, as you analogize); we blame the company when it tells us the tire was designed that way and refuses to fix it.

• Posted by: Jason on May 17, 2005, 10:12 PM
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