How to keep an assistance contract • The Register

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On guard Let’s go back to the days before the PC, when terminals reigned supreme, to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Welcome to Appel.

Today’s story comes from “Keith” (not his name) and concerns the rage of a user whose expensive terminal crashes once a day, at around the same time.

The terminal in question was a TAB 132/15. It was an impressive kit for the time and was able to display 132 characters of crisp green text on a 15-inch CRT housed in a futuristic plastic case. Luxury for sure, unless you’re the financial trader trying to use the device.

Once a day, around 1:30 p.m., the terminal crashes. The user should reach out behind, turn it off, wait a bit, and then turn it back on. To appease the angry customer, a replacement was dispatched and everything was fine. Until the problem starts again. Another replacement has been made. Another week went by without any complaints. And yet another call: the terminal hung up. The same time. A few times a week.

“These terminals were in the order of a thousand dollars,” Keith told us, so a monthly replacement cycle wasn’t really an option. He even used one of the faulty units himself for a while and didn’t encounter any issues, which was odd in itself and, we believe, sowed a seed of suspicion.

As for the client, he was raging at this point. “He was threatening to cancel our contract for his entire company,” Keith recalled, which would have hit results hard. A salesperson was sent to see what was going on, but there was no failure.

A technician came out; again no failure. Was this a case of “technician syndrome”, where a problem cannot be reproduced in front of service personnel? May be. Keith’s team was at their wit’s end as the client reached the end of his tether and went beyond.

The solution to the problem was accidental. Keith was back there, diagnosing an unrelated software problem, but could see the suspicious terminal across the room. As he watched, the trader using the machine sat down to lunch, leafing through the pages of a financial newspaper. A phone call came in, and the trader hung the paper on the monitor, took the call, and then resumed work.

Ignoring the newspaper.

A few minutes later there was an uproar. The shopkeeper had stood up and banged the side of the terminal, shouting all kinds of oaths against workplace safety and slandering the good reputation of Keith’s business, software, programmers, and the computer industry in general. The curse continued as the shopkeeper reached for the power switch, knocking over the paper.

Keith had his solution. But he was smart enough to know that a bland presentation of the facts probably wouldn’t help. Instead, he asked his office to call the shopkeeper and tell him that a technician was on his way to help him. He waited until the shopkeeper was distracted and walked around.

“Indeed,” Keith said, “he said he was happy to see me but again launched into a tirade about the device’s many flaws.”

He let the customer escape for a moment and surreptitiously placed the newspaper over the terminal’s air vents while pretending to examine the back of the device.

Now it took patience. It wouldn’t take long – the terminal had, after all, barely recovered from its last episode of overheating – and Keith encouraged the merchant to unload all of his woes and grievances.

The bug list was piling up as the screen suddenly flashed and locked. ” The ! Do you see that? Exclaimed the user. Keith nodded and turned around the side terminal to power on. Sure enough, he came back.

Keith pretended to thank the user for showing him the elusive bug and was arranging a call with a coworker, supposedly to prepare for a replacement, when the terminal locked again.

Keith frowned at the “mystery” before offering an explanation.

“Ah!” he exclaimed, “Did you see how that flicker started from the top and moved down?”

Those familiar with the technology will know that it simply followed the frame pattern. The client, on the other hand, did not.

“It’s often a sign that he’s overheating,” Keith said, playing quickly and freely with the truth, “but is this office cool?”

He pretended to be mystified until the penny fell for the shopkeeper, who blurted out even more insults when he realized where he had dropped his newspaper and ripped it from the vents.

Feeling the volcanic heat escaping from the depths of the terminal, he turned to Keith, suddenly worried: “Are you going to be okay?”

Yes of course. He had only overheated a short time each day. The apologies from the client, who “discovered” the problem, were plentiful and profuse. Keith apologized, but not before putting a little more salt in the wound by telling the user he had to undo the break-in process of another expensive replacement.

In the end, rather than the customer canceling the support contact, it ended up being extended.

“It was a good thing I let him ‘find out’ the fault,” Keith said. “If I had found him he would have been very defensive and we might have lost that contract again.”

Minor bugs the user reported while Keith was waiting for the overheating to reoccur were promptly addressed and improvement requests logged. Keith also reported to his boss, who spent a lot of time laughing.

“It was a good day.”

Have you already set the stage for the client to think they are the hero of the moment? Or maybe you wished all kinds of inconvenience on your suppliers before realizing the blame that has been on you from the start? Tell us what time you picked up the phone with an email to On Call. ®


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