An IT lesson well learned

In this IT tale, an irate exec demonstrates a lesson in tech support and customer service

Having been in computer service for nearly 30 years, I have had my share of "object lessons" from dealing with customers. But the one that really taught me the most happened early in my career.

I was a field service rep in Ohio. One of my customers had a printer that was down, and they needed to get several documents printed and sent to the typesetters for publication by the next day. They had a firm deadline and would pay a heavy penalty if the documents were not printed and shipped on time. I let the datacenter supervisor know that I would order parts and be on site first thing in the morning to get them up and running.

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Early the next morning, around 6 a.m., I headed to the airport to get the packages directly from the FedEx terminal and head toward the customer's office. Oh, did I mention that this was in the middle of a very heavy winter storm? In fact, at the time it was listed as the worst winter storm in Cincinnati history. There were four and a half feet of snow already on the ground, temperatures close to zero degrees, and a total whiteout blizzard in full force.

I finally made it to the office, managed to find some space behind their building, lugged in the parts, o-scope, toolbox, and everything else I might need, and got right to work.

To work on this printer meant lying on your back with your head inside the cabinet, balancing the scope on your chest, and running several alignments. After about half an hour, I heard someone ask if I was the owner of the tan car by the loading dock. When I stood up and answered yes, I was faced with an angry vice president who proceeded to scream in my face about taking his space.

It was a dressing-down worthy of any Marine Corps drill instructor: red faced, nose to nose, spraying me with punctuation. I had been trained on letting customers vent, but this was way beyond venting. However, I just stood there and let him rant at me for several minutes until he finally stormed off. I went back to work aligning the printer.

I was just finishing up when the data processing supervisor came to me and asked if what she had heard of my dressing-down was true. I told her yes but not to worry about it. Next thing I knew, she was in this VP's office literally shaking her fist in his face. (I couldn't help smiling at the sight because he was about 6 feet tall and she was 4 feet-nothing.)

Within minutes he was in front of me again, this time shamefaced and apologetic for the way he treated me. He said he didn't realize how much I had done for his company and how I had put myself out on a day when I could have easily stayed home out of the terrible weather we were experiencing. We shook hands, the data supervisor standing behind him with a giant grin on her face.

The lesson here? It is just as important to have the customer on your side as it is to fix the problem itself. Customer service is more than just fixing equipment -- it's a personal relationship with my customers. I've never forgotten that lesson.

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