The sweet sound of a user's apology

A techie enjoys rare music when an angry customer calls to complain about a new computer, then changes her tune

I've learned that part of the IT job is being blamed when things go wrong, whether or not it's our fault. End-users are frustrated when something doesn't work, automatically point fingers at the tech team, and argue with us even when we're trying to help -- so it can be surprising but vindicating when a person admits in the end that the mistake is theirs.

I was the manager at a small mom-and-pop computer store a few years back and got a call one day from an irate customer. She had picked up a new PC from us the day before. We had set up everything needed in the store, but she hadn't wanted us to go onsite to hook up the system. She said she'd do it herself but had run into problems once she got it home.

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She began the call by yelling that her computer wasn't working and she was going to sue the store because we sold nothing but junk.

I knew for a fact the computer had worked when she picked it up -- we had even tested it in front of her, which I explained. She wouldn't listen to me and said we needed to come over immediately or she was going to sue. I told her we couldn't send anyone at that time and she would have to pay for the on-site visit when we designated a rep, but I was willing to help her over the phone. She wasn't happy, but agreed to the offer.

I asked her to explain the problem. She told me her computer was beeping and wouldn't stop. My initial thought was that something got loose in transit or wasn't plugged in correctly, and I figured she was hearing the normal beep codes. I asked more questions.

Me: "Does the computer actually turn on?"

Her: "Yes."

Me: "Does it open Windows?"

Her: "Yes."

Me: "Can you use the computer, get on the Internet, use programs, etc.?"

Her: "Yes."

I was puzzled, so I asked her to hold the phone next to the computer and let me hear the noise. She agreed, and as she walked closer, I started to hear the beeping. It was a constant beeping, but didn't sound like beep codes. Over the phone, it sounded like a stuck keyboard.

I asked her if there was anything pressing on the keyboard, and she said no. I asked her to turn off the computer, thinking we would shut it down and reseat the cables. She agreed, and I heard her clicking the mouse, as well as the beeping. I waited a minute and the beeping continued. I asked her if the computer was now shut down. She said yes.

I asked, "It's definitely off? Nothing on the screen? What about a power light on the PC?"

"Yes it's off, nothing on the screen, and the power light went off," she replied.

I could still hear the beeping in the background -- now I was really confused. If the PC was off, the noise should have stopped.

I told her we needed to make sure the computer really was off, explained why, and asked her to go under her desk and pull the computer's power cord out of the outlet or power strip. After some grumbling, she agreed. I heard her fiddling under the desk, the beeping stop, and her saying, "Oh ..."

While I waited for her to get back to the phone, I was thinking she had unplugged the computer, which had stopped the noise, but something must seriously be wrong if the system beeped while turned off. When she picked up the phone, I braced myself, expecting to hear more lectures about the awful computer we sold her. Instead, she apologized!

It seems that after she had hooked everything up to her computer, she had pushed it back under her desk -- where it was pressing against an electric typewriter that was still plugged in and on, as she had just discovered. Technically, my guess was correct. It was a stuck keyboard, but not the one I had expected.

She apologized again, and I laughed it off and said not to worry. But I haven't forgetten this story -- and think of it at times when my patience is stretched thin.

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