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Software Helpline

May 03, 1987|CARRIE BROWN

Computerescue's logo reads, "When you're desperate for help," and that's what most of owner Paul Mayville's customers are. Mayville, who used to be a customer service representative for a now-defunct computer company, went into business for himself providing a wide variety of computer services. But he narrowed his market and concentrated on helping computer novices with their software when he found that he "was helping a lot of writers at midnight."

His clients, mostly small businesses and individuals, can reach him 24 hours a day for $30 to $60 per hour. There's an extra $100 fee for house calls. But consulting work is sporadic, Mayville said--business might boom one day with 50 callers, while in the next two days the phone might be silent.

"Basically, what they want to know is that there's somebody available all the time," Mayville said. Computer owners have a hard time getting through to the program developer for help, he noted, and retail shops are often too busy with a customer to talk the person through a computer crisis.

Mayville, who runs the one-man operation out of his Westchester home, handles software ranging from word processing to database management and bookkeeping programs. He also helps people with their "orphaned" computers or programs--the ones whose makers have gone out of business, leaving the owner with nobody to handle inquiries.

Earlier, when he was working with hardware as well as software, Mayville found that "computers are really flaky," and knowing how to shake the bugs from all the individual programs and computers was too difficult. "The computer industry is moving so quickly, it's like being a doctor. There's so much to know." Mayville estimates that there are probably as many as 5,000 independent consultants in the Los Angeles area who try to handle a range of services like that, but few, maybe none, specialize in software help-line work.

Many of Mayville's customers have just bought their computers and are so unfamiliar with the machines that they "don't know how to load the disks. . . . At least 60% of the time, I just tell them to press F1 and the Help menu pops up."

Computer manuals could answer most of their questions, Mayville said, but the manuals are "poorly written and poorly organized," confusing the laymen.

"If everybody read their manuals, I'd be out of business."

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