Outside of a complete computer meltdown, there’s probably only one thing computers owners fear more: calling technical support.

Known to make the toughest of hombres break out in a cold sweat, and cause Mafia hit men to run screaming, being sentenced to call tech support is reputed to be a fate worse than death.

After 35 years in the I.T. and computer repair business, believe me, I understand why people will do almost anything to avoid calling tech support.

Whether it’s calling Internet service providers like Cox or AT&T, computer manufacturers like Apple or Dell, or even software companies like Microsoft, there seems to be an almost universal, built-in disconnect between customers and tech support providers. Whether it’s being subjected to endless, inane questions to “verify” who you are, to tech support “experts” with impossible to understand foreign accents, the humiliation and denigration that most customers endure is inexcusable. I would say it’s downright insulting.

Even so, many times you have no choice but to suck it up and tolerate the abuse. You can’t fix a bad Internet connection, or repair their lousy software; only they can, so you are literally at their mercy. How you approach a tech support call will determine two things: does your problem actually end up being solved, and, can you maintain your emotional health and sanity during the process? Here are my tips on how to actually get what you need from a tech support call.

(1) Stay calm, cool, collected, polite, patient, courteous and positive. I have been party to hundreds of tech support calls made by myself or my customers. For many people, by the time they call tech support, they are tired, frustrated, confused and angry; they’ve got a chip on their shoulder from the get-go, and the support session immediately has a bad start.

I recently witnessed one of my customers yell and scream at the poor tech support slob from Dell in such a vicious, hostile way that I thought he was going to have an apoplectic stroke. Keep it calm and polite, and you will increase your likelihood of success.

(2) Don’t volunteer needless historical details. Don’t tell stories about when you bought the computer, how much it cost, how it used to operate, what you use it for, or even when it started to misbehave. None of those things matter. All those things waste time, and can confuse your tech support helper. It doesn’t matter what your computer was like a year ago, a month ago, or even yesterday. All that matters is, what is the computer doing right now?

(3) Prepare a short, clear and concise description of your problem before you call. Be as specific as possible. If you have seen error messages on your screen, write down what they say. Error messages have a purpose, and they often contain clues that lead to a solution. You need to tell your tech support helper exactly, precisely, word-for-word what the error message said. Calling up and saying, “Oh, I saw this message that said something or other, and I clicked it off,” doesn’t help anyone.

(4) One problem at a time. Don’t tell your tech support helper about a problem, and then immediately describe other problems.

Describe the one major problem you are having, and don’t embellish it with what you think is the problem is, or other problems you have seen. Give them time to work on one problem at a time. Don’t confuse things by piling on a big list of problems.

(5) Realize that when you call tech support, the first people you talk to probably don’t really know much about fixing computer problems. All they know is what they have been trained to know, which is on two big lists they have been trained to walk you through.

The two lists are (a) the list of most commonly reported problems, and, (b) the list of most commonly successful solutions. Don’t expect them to be computer brainiacs just because they work for a huge tech company.

Be patient, and let them walk you through what they have been trained to do. If your problem is strange enough, it will be escalated to a higher support “tier,” where you might get to interact with actual computer experts.

Realize also that they probably don’t actually work for the company you are calling. Most tech companies out-source their tech support to foreign, third-party tech support sweatshops located thousands of miles away. I hate it, you hate it, everybody hates it, but that’s how things work these days, so we just roll with it and do the best we can.

(6) Take care of the basics before you call. One of my favorite cartoons is an old Dilbert cartoon, where Dilbert’s co-worker Alice has been banished to work on a farm because she pesters I.T. support too much.

In the last panel, there’s poor Alice, working on the farm, in a conversation with a cow. The cow tells her, “Seriously, even a cow knows you should try rebooting before calling tech support.”

So please, restart your computer, and your router, and your modem before calling tech support; it’s amazing the things you can fix by taking care of the basics.