I used to run my own business: PC sales and repair. I was making overhead, which translates to being successful when you're a little company competing with the likes of Best Buy, Dell, Alienware, and EMC. There is this weird thing that happens with people who have technological problems and those who can solve them: the person who cannot fix the problem on their own because they know little if anything at all about technology refuses to acquiesce to the professional in the field.
Here I'll share some of my finest customer relations moments, letting you find amusement in my past suffering.
The first person I ever helped was an old man who wanted help accessing websites on the internet. Nothing needed to be fixed and he didn't need a new computer built, he just wanted to know how to use the computer he had. It was a really simple problem I thought I could fix over the phone (I wasn't deaf yet) so I try to guide him through it.
"Which browser are you trying to use?" I ask, not that it particularly matters.
He sounds confused, "Which what?"
"Browser," I repeat.
"I'm the browser."
He had no idea what I was even talking about. He wasn't wrong, really, he was the person who would be browsing the internet, thus the browser, however... just... oh boy. I explain browsers to him and where he might find his. All computers default to Internet Explorer and for this particular case I wasn't even going to get into the fact that others exist and he should download and install one of them instead. Not over the phone. I tell him, "Look at your desktop for a blue lowercase E."
"Where's the desktop?"
At this point I regret not charging him. Not because it was getting old really fast but because I was literally having to put other work aside to continue helping him. I suck it up and explain to him what his desktop is and he finds the 'e' after some looking. He clicks on it. Once.
He clicked with such force, the once, that I heard it over the phone, "Click it twice." He proceeds to click it once, then a second later click it one more time, "No, no, you need to click it twice really fast. No pause in between." I couldn't believe those words came out of my mouth. He finally gets it then freaks out a little when it takes him to like, his homepage.
"I didn't type anything in and it took me to a place!"
I explain it's just his homepage and tell him to click on the address bar at the top. This takes some searching and coaching but he gets it eventually. I inform him to clear it out, which he does. I then ask, "Alright, which website would you like to go to?"
"I don't know."
Uhm... alright, we'll start with something basic and useful, I guess. "Alright, well we'll start you off with a search engine, you can find all sorts of other websites using one of those."He sounds excited to finally be underway and so I tell him to type, "w-w-w-.-g-o-o-g-l-e-.-c-o-m"
"That doesn't make any sense."
"Why doesn't it make any sense, sir?"
"It's not a sentence."
"...It isn't supposed to be a sentence."
"But that doesn't make sense."
I take a deep cleansing breath and offer in explaination, "Neither are street addresses but the mail still goes to where you send it to, right?"
"I guess so."
No, no, you don't guess so. That's how the mail works, guy. "This is kind of the same thing."
He sounds really hesitant, like maybe I'm just a crazy person, "Okay..."
"Did it work?"
"I'm someplace else now." he sounds really concerned again and describes Google to me in vivid detail.
"Yes, that's where you're supposed to be. Now see the empty box in the middle? Type anything you want into that and it'll bring up a bunch of websites related to what you typed in."
It's quiet for a few minutes other than his typing, which was really more like hammering his keyboard, then he makes a sound like a child who just ate their very first marshmallow. He's so very stoked that he can barely contain his joy. He thanks me so much I half expect a shrine to be erected in my honor, which makes up for the hours I spent explaining the very very basics of the internet to him.
The Biblical Librarian
Another time I was building a new computer for an old retired pastor. He wasn't comfortable setting it all up by himself, and I made house calls, so when his PC was done being built I drove it over to set it up for him. Entering a stranger's house is always a little strange, but especially so in this case. His house was a library. Every room was lined with shelves from floor to ceiling. It was the coolest house I'd ever been to. Then I realized what was on the shelves and it became a little obsessive and weird. Bibles. Thousands and thousands of bibles. Each and every one different than the one beside it in some way. Either different color, material, or version.
I wasn't sure if I was about to be converted or turned into a skin-suit. He was really kindly though, and never once brought up religion while I crawled around his study (not sure how it differed from any other room in the house) and hooked up his computer. None of this is why he was a bad customer experience though.
My computers came with discounted service 24 hours a day, house calls, and lifetime replacement. So when he called the following week because his computer wouldn't work, I got in the car and drove the ten miles through blizzard conditions to his house to find out what was wrong. It took 45 minutes to get there because of the ice and snow and utter lack of salt trucks or shoveling trucks. Once I got in I realized right away what the problem was: the computer was off.
I explain turning the computer on to him, along with showing him which button to press and then depart. The next week I get the same call. I ask him before heading over if the computer is on or off and he says on, so I drive back to his house only to discover yet again that the computer is off. This goes on for months. Driving 45 minutes through ice and snow only to discover there's no problem at all. Eventually it just randomly stopped one day. I'm not sure if he just finally remembered that to use the computer it had to be on or if maybe he died, because he was pretty old.
I also offered refurbished computers using either parts in the store on-hand or parts customers already owned. I fully disclosed that refurbished and patchwork computers would not be as fast or 'good' as a computer filled with brand new higher end parts and people would always nod, sign the appropriate form concerning their expectations and we'd get underway. Usually there wasn't a problem with my work, because people had realistic expectations. Sometimes though, even after hearing the speech and signing the forms, they expected top-of-the-line.
Refurbished work was done really cheaply, especially if the customer had all the parts on hand themselves. Anywhere from 50 to 200 dollars, the higher end being if I had to buy something myself. Typically this work was done for people who literally could not afford otherwise, so I always tried to work with them on the pricing. Sometimes accepting the payment in halves rather than all up front. My mistake.
One such customer came to me for a refurbished computer using parts from two very old, crappy even-for-their-time computers. I notified them that I could use parts on-hand for just a little extra and it'd run faster and be more reliable but they insisted I use their really really old, bottom-of-the-line parts. Upon inspection I discovered not only were the parts from both original computers very old and poor quality to begin with but also that several of the parts had never been compatible in the first place.
I told them as much, laid it all out, and suggested strongly that I just use things I had in the shop for some of the stuff. They insisted "it always at least turned on and that's all they really need it to do anyhow" and that'd be good enough. Alright, I don't know what good a basically useless computer would do anyone who needed it for anything other than maybe doing wordpad and possibly instant messaging but my job wasn't to argue so I agree to use exactly all of the parts they wanted me to. They paid me half upfront and were going to pay me the second half once they got their paycheck.
They took it home and were totally dissatisfied. They called to complain, "It's so slow! I can't use it to play my games on! I can't use it to make music with! I can't run multiple programs at once! It's nothing like a new computer!"
No shit Sherlock. We had discussed all of that. It's a patchwork computer that was rigged specifically to your exact specifications without spending any extra money whatsoever. It had less than a gig of RAM, to give you an idea. And bear in mind this person was not poor. They easily could have afforded to spend even 50 more dollars for a PC that would have run rather well. They probably even could have afforded for me to build them a brand new PC entirely but they chose this instead. Because they were cheap. I'm not sure what sort of fantasy land they live in or what kind of wizard they mistook me for, but I can't work magic.
Not only did this guy never finish paying for his computer and the work rendered but he went on to complain about my shop and his service experience to everyone he knew. It didn't help that he was lying to people. He went around
claiming to have paid for a new computer only to recieve the hot mess I built him. Thank goodness I had all of the paperwork to prove
otherwise. Also lucky enough for me I had such a positive reputation by then that people knew what he was saying couldn't be right. Had this happened a year earlier it may have unjustly killed my business outright though as word of mouth is everything for small companies.
The Slow Lady
Another time I had a lady come in complaining that she must have a virus, that her computer was slow -- especially on the internet, and it was driving her crazy. I go in to take a look to realize that on her husband's account he had filled over 60% of their harddrive space with porn. I wasn't really sure how to broach that topic, so I just suggested an external harddrive complete with data transfer. Namely because I don't think the absurdly Christian wife would have been pleased with her husband's clearly taboo porn collection. To compound the issue the wife had not 1 anti-virus program installed but 4. and they all recognized the other as a threat. Then, on top of it all, they had a dial-up modem and were still using dial-up internet. Not because they were living in the sticks like a lot of my customers but because they simply didn't know better. It must have taken her husband years to download all of that porn.
So I tell her that to absolve all of her problems she'll need a larger harddrive or an external one and I'd throw in a complementary data transfer (something most companies charge and arm and a leg for but it's kind of the easiest thing in the world to do). She was cool with this. I then tell her she only needs 1 anti-virus program, if any. This she seems hesitant about, isn't more always better?! No, no it's not. After some explaining she gets why it's bad and agrees to let me uninstall all but 1 of them (which inevitably saved her hundreds of dollars as none of the programs she had installed were free). Then I tell her the reason her internet is slow is because she has a dial-up modem and she's using dial-up internet. She assures me that's not the problem and the other two fixes will surely speed things up enough.
I reluctantly let it slide and do everything else and send her on her way. A couple of days later she comes back, slams the computer on my desk in a furious rage and says I did not do what she paid me to do. I'm taken quite aback as I had done exactly what she paid me to do, and then some, and ask her what the problem is. That if there is one, I'll gladly fix it free of charge.
"The internet is still slow!!!!!!!!!"
I don't think I used enough exclamation points to accurately depict how loud and in my face she was about it. I calmly explain to her, yet again, why dial-up internet is slow. Her response?
"My friend's internet isn't anywhere near this slow!"
I explain dial-up internet, again, andthen inform her that her friend undoubtedly has a cable modem. Something I'd be happy to install for her, as I had previously advised, if she wished. Not free of charge of course. She refuses to believe this is true. She goes off on a tirade about how she knew she should have gone to Best Buy and how small companies just can't be trusted and so on and so forth. I suck it all up and calmly offer her my phone. I tell her to call her friend and ask them what kind of internet they have. I tell her if it is dial-up that I'd refund all of her money and install a cable modem free of charge. She leaps at the chance to show me how wrong I am.
I stand quietly, smiling, as she dials the number and carries on a conversation with her friend about how incompetent I am. I stand quietly, smiling, as she asks her friend what sort of internet they use. I stand quietly, smiling, as she makes her friend go ask her husband to double check. I continue to stand there quietly, smiling, as she just stands there for a minute not saying anything and then ends the conversation with her friend with a snippy "I've gotta go."
I offer her my most charming, understanding expression, "Well?"
"They use Time Warner Cable."
I resist the undeniable urge to I TOLD YOU SO YOU RAGING HOSEBEAST, and just nod and say instead, "I'll still do the work for you if you'd like." She agrees with as few words as possible and leaves. While she's gone I call Best Buy and get a quote for the work I'd already done plus the work I was doing and staple it to her receipt when she comes back. She saved over 150 dollars. She was too embarrassed to say anything about it.
The Case of Who Dun It
I saved the best for last. This was an older gentleman who came in after his son fixed his computer for him and it stopped working. He had needed more RAM, he tells me, and his son does this sort of thing sometimes so he just got the RAM and his son did it for him no problem.
Now let me just take a second there to pause and say: no problem except that now his computer didn't work.
I agree to take a look at it for free since he's an older man on a fixed income, normally a 5 dollar fee for cracking a case, and take it into the back. No sooner had I gotten the screws out and looked down I knew exactly what the problem was. The man's son had inserted the RAM not only backwards but upside-down. I actually kind of wanted to meet this guy as getting RAM in the right way is always kind of a challenge, managing to force it in that wrongly must have been near impossible. Yet here it was, staring me in the face. I was gone for all of a minute, maybe a few seconds longer.
I come out, computer in hand, to show the man his problem. I direct his attention to the RAM, explain how wrong this all is, and that putting it in this way and then hitting the power probably also shorted out the motherboard. I say I probably have a few compatible boards in the back and could probably fix it to where it was working as before for a modest price if he'd like, or I could build him something brand new as what he brought in was on the older end of the spectrum for electronics. I'm not at all expecting the response I get.
"YOU DID THAT!"
I'm pretty sure my mouth was agape with the shock," Excuse me, sir?"
"YOU DID THAT! YOU TOOK IT BACK THERE AND BROKE IT!"
I do my best to remain calm even though I'm certain my face betrays how completely surprised and disgusted I am, "No, sir. I don't even think I have the strength to do this if I had wanted to. This is exactly how it was when I opened it. I was only back there for a minute."
"YOU DID THAT WHEN YOU TOOK IT BACK THERE SO I'D HAVE TO PAY TO HAVE IT FIXED!"
I gently remind him that he brought it in in the first place because it wasn't working and needed to be fixed but he'll hear none of it. He storms out, without his computer and just leaves. I'm left standing there, holding the guy's computer trying to figure out what the fuck just happened. I close it back up and set it in the back should the man return for it.
He comes back the following day and asks if it's ready.
He actually expected me to just fix it, without actually being told to, or taking any of his personal information let alone you know, payment. I blink and explain that I hadn't worked on it in his absence because he hadn't asked me to, or paid for it, and that it's illegal for me to just assume and render services without expressed consent from the owner. He's angry now because I've apparently wasted his time. He tells me as much and storms out again.
...Does he wants me to work on the computer or not? I'm SO confused. Is his departure consent to fix it... or? I have no idea.
He comes back about an hour later with his son. His son asks if I've begun working on the computer yet. I'm standing face-to-face with the gorilla-man who crammed RAM into a motherboard backwards and upside-down. He has soft, girly hands. He's wearing clear nail polish. It's literally all I can focus on. I don't even have it in me to be confused or shocked this time. I explain the situation and that, no, I have not begun working on it yet. He says that's great because his dad wants to just build a new PC.
What the hell is even going on in my life?
I coolly accept the work order and the payment and get to work. The guy is thrilled with the price and performance of his computer and does nothing but sing my praise when I call a week later for my follow-up. As if none of the shit that had happened between up previously had ever transpired.
When my health failed and I had to close up shop, I decided I was pretty much done working with the general public. Because, I mean, really. Really.
On a related note though, you should always, always go to a small local company over the big brand guys. Not only because you, the customer, are literally the lifeblood of small business and will therefor receive better treatment and service but because you will save a shit-ton of money. You'll save even more money if you just buy whatever parts you need and do it yourself, but I understand not everyone has the know-how or desire to build their own computer. If you're going to go with someone else, make it someone local and dependent on your business.
At the time my shop operated a top-of-the-ine PC from Alienware ran $2500. A lot of people will just assume that because it's a big name that the parts must somehow be superior. They're not. I could build the exact same computer for under $900. That's including a mark-up so that I'm making more than just the money the parts themselves cost me. Why do the chain stores mark up so high? For no reason whatsoever. The same exact items put into your computer by Alienware, HP, Dell, or EMC can be put into your computer by anyone. There is no difference whatsoever.
Next time your computer fails you, check the Yellow Pages or ask Google to find you a local shop. Be treated like a person, save a lot of money, be happy with your purchase, and please -- please defer to the advice of professionals. You went to them for a reason.