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Simple humanity

© May 2010 Anthony Lawrence

I took a phone call at 6:30 Saturday morning. Why would I do such a thing? Because I'm up.

The call was from a customer with a problem. Internet down problem. He hadn't even left for work himself yet, but the people who were at work had called him at home. As so many firms do today, they really, really need the Internet. He apologized for calling me.

No, he wasn't apologizing for calling so early. He knows that if I answer the phone, it's not too early or too late. He was apologizing because he knew there wasn't much I could do.

You see, they had recently replaced their firewall/router and had contracted with someone else to support that. This was not anything that upset me; yes I sell Kerio firewall, but this other firm was also heavily involved with a security audit task, so it made sense for them to supply the router. Unfortunately, that had caused a little unpleasantness for my customer.

"He doesn't return my calls", my weary sounding customer lamented.

I reminded him that most firms don't return calls at 6:30 AM unless you have paid for a (usually expensive) 24/7 support option.

"No, I know that", he sighed, "I mean he's very slow to return my calls any time. We have had some problems with this router, nothing serious, but little stuff I need changed, and he just doesn't get it done."

I was not happy to hear that. This company had come in through someone else who I had recommended, so although my connection was tenuous, I still felt involved. I sighed along with him.

"Do you think we can throw back in the old router?", he asked.

Why not? That would quickly show where the problem actually resided. I told him to go ahead and do that as soon as he got there.

Almost two hours later he called again. He had put back the old router and Internet access returned. He also told me he had just forwarded an email he had received from the slow to respond firewall person.

Apparently the firewall manufacturer had pushed down an update that effectively blocked all Internet traffic. A regrettable mistake, but a one-way trap: they couldn't push a fix because they were blocked as well. They had immediately published instructions on their web site and had taken the time to do it with full pictures showing exactly how to fix it.

"So it is fixed?", I asked.

"Well, no, he hasn't called me yet"

I was puzzled. The instructions looked simple; why didn't my customer just go ahead and do it? I asked, and grimaced when I heard his answer: no password.

OK, that ticks me off. Customers should have passwords. That is absolute; there is no excuse for not giving passwords to the customer. He owns the equipment, it is his livelihood that depends upon it working, he needs the password. Period.

The firewall guy never did call. I called my friend who had recommended him, told him how unhappy both I and my customer were and he reached the firewall guy and then called back my customer and led him through the procedure. He said the firewall guy offered the excuse that he had lots of customers with this problem and he was "busy".

Yeah. Too busy to call and say "I have sixty people to take care of and am getting to everyone as fast as I can". Or just send a mass email to all your customers saying that. Don't just send a useless web link.

I think that the problem is that people like him only see their customers as, well, customers. They forget that these are also fellow humans, humans who feel pain and distress. I return calls even if I know there is nothing I can do, even if there is nothing I can offer beyond condolences and understanding. Every one of my customers knows that if I do not return their call, something is seriously wrong - I never got the call or if I did, it is physically impossible for me to return it.

There are customers I don't want. Sometimes it's the nature of the work, sometimes it is the customers personality or attitude. That goes with thinking of customers as people rather than as a stack of potential money. If I don't like you, no amount of money will make me work for you. Fortunately I like most people.. but even if I really dislike someone, even if normally I do not want to work for them, if they call because they are in deep distress, I will help. Because they are human, damn it.

I have refused at least one person in that situation. That was someone I went out of my way to help at some inconvenience. I sent a small invoice, but he took his sweet time paying it in spite of repeated requests. He did finally pay, but it was almost 90 days out. As it happened, shortly after that he had another serious problem and called me. I refused him. I feel a little guilty about that, but there it is.

I'm not perfect. I screw up, sometimes I forget things. I also have a short fuse and can be far too brusque. I'm impatient and too often unintentionally make people feel "stupid". I am aware of all that and try to catch myself before I upset anyone.

But I do return calls. It doesn't matter how much the customer is worth to me or if they are worth anything at all. They are people. People matter. It's as simple as that.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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Mon May 10 01:39:03 2010: 8569   BigDumbDinosaur


I have refused at least one person in that situation. That was someone I went out of my way to help at some inconvenience. I sent a small invoice, but he took his sweet time paying it in spite of repeated requests. He did finally pay, but it was almost 90 days out. As it happened, shortly after that he had another serious problem and called me. I refused him. I feel a little guilty about that, but there it is.

I've recently had to deal with a similar situation.

A first-time customer (they found me on your site, Tony, so it's all your fault) was almost completely down and I got a call at 10 PM on a Friday night. I had just finished getting ready for bed and was watching the news when the call came. "Help! Help!"...well not exactly like that but close. I got dressed, grabbed my "go-bag" (tools, patch cords, parts that often fail, etc.) and went over to Markham Illinois, a place where you don't wander the streets at night, if you get my drift.

An hour later, everything was hunky-dory and the manager was praising me for responding quickly, and all that jazz. This was in late October 2009. The invoice went out the following Monday morning. The check finally arrived in January 2010.

I don't do business that way and when I recently received a call from them that a printer had gone on the fritz I politely told the young lady to look someone else. The little bit of business I've gotten from these people isn't worth my having to chase them for payment. Whatever profit I might have made was probably wasted in collection calls. And, no, I don't feel guilty for refusing them. I'm not in it for strokes, just money. <Grin>

Mon May 10 12:20:05 2010: 8576   Joe


Customers d ont understand tecnicians have a life.. regards.. joe

Mon May 10 12:47:19 2010: 8578   TonyLawrence


Well, actually I was making the opposite point: too many technicians don't understand that their customers deserve to be treated as fellow human beings.

Thu May 13 14:54:37 2010: 8586   MikeHostetler


Oddly enough, it's guys like Tony described above that got me into moonlighting my technical skills to small busineses. I've seen consultants create a lot of, well, crap, and they still get a lot of money. I can charge as much and do a much more professional job than the jokers around here can.

Last week I had a neighbor call me with a virus problem. I hate these things, yet it's a neighbor. The Geek Squad was going to charge him a minimum of $300 to look at it. I scanned it, cleaned it, drank a beer with him, gave him some advice on how to prevent it, and charged him $100. I think he did better at the end with less cost.

Sun Sep 1 20:49:23 2013: 12301   TonyLawrence


A while later he bought a Kerio router from me and fired that other fool.

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