10/20/2011 09:36 am ET | Updated Dec 20, 2011

No IT Staff? Use The Apple Genius Bar

Most small businesses I know can't afford to have a full-time computer person on hand, so they often utilize outside resources such as independent consultants for their technology needs. For Mac users, the Genius Bar, available on site at stores around the world, often serves the function of troubleshooter for any computer-related snafus.

Although I've personally had good experiences at the Genius Bar, I have also lived through some frustrating episodes.

In this week's column, I interviewed Jonathan Zschau, author of the new book Buying and Owning a Mac: Secrets Apple Doesn't Want You to Know. Here are his top ten tips on how to the get the most out of the Apple Genius Bar. I've also found that many of these tips apply before bringing in a computer consultant to help sort out a problem on site.

1. Research your issue before heading to the Genius Bar by searching for your Mac's symptoms on Google. The Geniuses routinely resort to Google to answer their own questions about the Macs they service and repair, so why not start there?

2. Back up your data before you visit the Genius Bar. Macs are known for being well built, but they're not indestructible. Accidents happen at the bar. Hard drives crash, components break, and data is lost. If your data is safely backed up before hand, there's no need for the Genius to take extra time to do so at your appointment.

3. Clean your Mac before your visit. Geniuses really do take notice of your Mac's condition when making important determinations such as eligibility for warranty or AppleCare service. If your Mac shows signs of abuse or neglect, your chances of getting free warranty or AppleCare service are drastically reduced.

4. Schedule your appointment in advance. You can frequently go online and schedule a Genius Bar appointment within a few hours. If you just show up, expect an extended wait for an opening.

5. Handle one issue per Genius appointment. Apple allocates between ten and fifteen minutes per Genius Bar visit. It's likely that your Genius will stay with you until your issue is resolved, but that doesn't mean you should show up with a laundry list of problems.

6. Keep the interaction brief and to the point. Take a minute to plan out what you need to say in order to get the point across.

Here's the wrong approach:

"My computer just turned off last night, and I have a school exam tomorrow, and I just can't be without my computer, and this is such an inconvenience. I thought Macs weren't supposed to have problems like this. You need to fix it. If you can't fix it while I wait, then I need to speak with your manager right now."

And here's a better one:

"Hi, my name is Steve. My computer randomly powered off last night, and now it won't turn back on. I am generally pretty good with it and have taken care of it for the past eight months. I have already done a little bit of research but have not been able to find a solution. I regularly back up my data. Is there anything you can do to try and see what's going on with it?"

Tell the truth. We all make mistakes. Geniuses hate it when customers misrepresent the nature of their problem. If your MacBook Air stopped turning on right after you spilled your iced coffee on it, then be honest and tell them that's what happened. Part of the Genius' job is to make you a happy customer; therefore, they are allowed to exercise a fair amount of discretion regarding how they will service your Mac. If you're polite and honest with them, they may cut you a break.

8. Don't put the Internet above the Genius. "But I read on the Internet..." Sure, you're supposed to do your research and rely on the Internet when diagnosing your problems, but don't make the mistake of taking Internet hearsay as the final word.

9. Don't be completely clueless. Geniuses hate it when a customer comes in without having done even the most basic troubleshooting or research. The only thing worse is starting off with a self-entitled attitude that Apple owes you something because you've owned Mac products all your life.

10. Whatever the result, get your paperwork, save it and bring it back with you when you return. The Geniuses provide you with paperwork for a reason. Yes, they can look up your issue if you come back without it, but it's a frequently cited pet peeve of Geniuses that customers rarely save their paperwork. Moreover, if you ever find yourself in a real dispute, the paperwork will prove to be invaluable.

What tips and tricks do you use when visiting the Apple Genius Bar or working with a computer consultant? We would love to hear your comments.

Karen Leland is a freelance journalist, best-selling author and president of Sterling Marketing Group where she helps businesses create killer content and negotiate the wired world of today's media landscape -- social and otherwise. For questions or comments, please contact her at