More from: smoke

Anecdotes of an old dog

A Friend in Need, C.M. Coolidge, 1903. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1925.

We often miss the importance of a customer service person who can truly help us, in spite of ourselves. There was a time, long ago, when Microsoft had the very best people.

My consulting firm provided South Bend area businesses with computer services before Microsoft included networking with their new Windows product. When LANtastic came out we provided business PC to PC office peer networks. In this we worked with a computer store run by Merritt Kirkman – Merritt provided the PC hardware and I did the programming and customer service.

It was a hard time for computer consulting because there were so many unethical and exploitive people calling them selves “consultants”: customers were rightfully cynical.

Merritt called me one day to tell me of a customer service situation he had just experienced. It seems the customer had brought in his PC with the complaint that smoke was coming out of his power supply. Merritt plugged in the PC, and although it did boot, sure enough smoke began rising out of the power supply.

Merritt told the man his power supply had burned up and he needed to buy a new one. The customer was livid, stating that he knew Merritt could fix it if he really wanted to but he just wanted to sell him a new supply. After making no progress for some time, Merritt referred the man to Microsoft customer support and provided the phone number. At this point Windows computers started up using Microsoft DOS, usually booted from a 1.2 megabyte floppy disk.

Eventually the man returned to Merritt. Seems he had called Microsoft, and the customer support agent had told him his power supply had burned up and he needed a new supply. The man was convinced it was a conspiracy to sell him a power supply, and the Microsoft agent was savvy enough to pick up on it.

“Allright, sir.” he said “You have caught us. But what I am about to reveal would get me fired. Do you promise not to tell anyone I admitted this?” The customer agreed, his conspiracy theory confirmed, and ready to hear the juicy details.

“OK, sir, what I need you to do is type the following command on your computer, and tell me what happens.” The man agreed and indicated he was ready. “Type ‘nosmoke.com’ and press enter. What does your computer say?”

“It says command not found” replied the man.

“OK” continued the savvy tech to help the man. “Your power supply is not compatible with your version of DOS and you need an upgrade. Any dealer can help you.”

The man thanked the Microsoft agent, promised not to tell of the secret, then returned to Merritt who “upgraded” his smoking power supply with one “compatible” with DOS that would not smoke.

The customer got his computer fixed and left happy, Merritt satisfied the customer, and we all got a good story out of it. All because a customer service agent at Microsoft was on the ball and could help the customer in a way the customer could benefit.

John Nash has been involved with business computers since 1978, before the PC became a thing. He shares some of his customer service experiences in this series.