I've learned over my years in IT that the biggest lesson that we, in a service-oriented business, can remember is that the customers we support are as individual and unique as we are. They come from all levels of society, all areas of the country, and from so many different backgrounds that we cannot just group them all together. I come into their place of business, or sometimes their homes, to perform an important service -- and beyond just fixing their computer problems. I'm there to win their trust and meet their expectations, and the better I understand them, the better I can do that.
As a field service representative for a nationwide computer company, I have seen just about everything a customer can do. Here are a few of the more, er, colorful experiences.
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A hardware problem
I had a jewelry store customer that called to report that one of their terminals kept throwing characters up on the screen nonstop. The woman was very upset and demanded I get there as soon as possible. I figured it was a bad keyboard, so I grabbed some parts and headed out.
As I worked, the woman kept complaining about computers and how they were supposed to increase productivity but were more trouble than they were worth -- the usual complaints.
When I took the keyboard carrier apart, I found the culprit; a long, gold artificial fingernail was laying on the circuit board.
I held it up to the woman and asked if it was hers. She was speechless. Her face reddened as she looked at her hand and realized that her false nail had come unglued.
An anatomy problem
Another customer, same symptom -- this time it was my face that was red!
The problem was that one terminal would randomly display characters, causing data entry to slow way down. After several attempts to replace the keyboard, memory, and other parts, the problem kept returning, and I kept coming back on site to try to fix it.
Finally, I decided that I needed to stay and watch for the problem so that I could see if there was an environmental cause. Boy, was there!
It seems that whenever the rather well-endowed woman who used the terminal would reach forward to answer her phone, a certain part of her anatomy would hit the keyboard. She was obviously unaware of it, but when I spotted what was happening, I was almost too embarrassed to mention it. Some simple desktop rearrangement solved the problem.
Quite often, my introduction to a new piece of equipment has also been the first time I had to work on it. Late one afternoon, I was called out to a new customer who was having a problem with a high printer. I didn't recognize the model number but headed out anyway. The customer was about two hours from the office, and I finally arrived and introduced myself.
"So where's this printer?" I asked.
"You're standing next to it," he said.
I found myself staring at a rather large piece of equipment that I had never seen before. I didn't want the customer -- especially a new customer -- to know that I had no idea how to work on this thing and had no documentation on it either, so I scrambled to save face by saying, "I forgot to bring my service manual for this, but they usually ship one with the unit. Do you have it?"
Amazingly, they did. The problem turned out to be relatively simple, and with just a few adjustments, thankfully detailed in the manual, I was on my way home.
In retrospect, I'm not sure what I would have done if they'd said I could go back for the service manual and they'd wait. Sometimes thinking on your feet doesn't yield the best answers. In this case, I lucked out.
One of my regular customers had a cat that wandered through the office. He was a friendly little guy who always came around for a scratch behind the ears, and I always looked forward to seeing him.
I had to go out of town for a couple of weeks, and on my next visit to the customer I didn't see my four-legged friend. I finished the work I was doing, and as the customer was signing my service report, I asked where the cat was. "He's right there on the shelf," he said. I looked on the shelf, but saw only a small decorative canister.
Finally it dawned on me. The cat had died, they had him cremated, and he was on display in the front reception area -- must have been a great cat!
We all need diversions to get through the day
My favorite customer to visit was a manufacturing company that made makeup, costumes, wigs, and so on. You never knew who would be walking around the office: Frankenstein, Dracula, and other various wild and weird characters. The official board of directors photo that hung above the front counter looked like a horror movie set -- always good for a laugh.
It's so easy in the IT business to get sidetracked by the technical aspects. But the end-users and the relationships we develop keep us humble, teach us new things, and give the job new puzzles to solve.
This story, "Cats, costumes, cleavage, and more: Colorful IT support situations," was originally published at InfoWorld.com.