Recently I experienced something I hadn’t felt in a long time: utterly humiliated by a dissatisfied customer.  If you’ve ever been tempted to blow off making routine calls to your customers, let my experience be your wake-up call.  If you don’t call, they won’t be your customers forever.

How it rolled

Some six months ago, I started providing tech support to a nonprofit company with with 25 PCs and 30 users.  They had some new equipment to be installed and some open troubleshooting issues to work. Most importantly, they had a new “computer person.” This was someone hired as a social worker but expected to be the hallway guru, and she represented an opportunity to do some training. Let’s call her Bonnie.

Seizing the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, I took with me on this gig someone who professed to want to “get off the phones and get out and do hands-on computer work.”  Let’s call her Lucy.  Lucy had been working seasonal phone work, was taking computer classes at the local community college, and came highly recommended by a friend of mine.  I would train Lucy in my special brand of tech support, and who knows, I might even get a long-term, part-time employee out of the deal.

Bonnie and Lucy hit it off right away, and everybody else on the site just loved Lucy. At least that’s what they told me after the first couple of times I let Lucy go on site to work on the project by herself.

When I called the executive director, “Lucy working out okay?” “Oh just fine, everybody loves her.”

When I called Bonnie, she told me “Lucy is doing great.”

And so I paid Lucy for three weeks of part time work.  During that time she emailed me, IM’d me, and called me a few times, but all in all, she appeared to be handling all the little things that come up when you’re installing and troubleshooting and training.

“Let me know when you need Lucy or me again” I said to Bonnie when the last task was checked off the work list. “Will do,” Bonnie told me.

And so I felt good about the project.  I wished Lucy good luck when she informed me she was going back to work as a server in a relative’s restaurant.  Tech support, on the phone or on site, isn’t for everybody, I told her.

All’s not well if it doesn’t end well

You’ve probably already guessed by the introduction that I took my sweet time about following up with the client after that initial project was completed.  You’re right. 

However, I’ve had dozens of clients like this one over the years, and they’re notorious for not calling for two or three or six months, and then calling with an emergency. Frequently the emergency is the printer’s jammed.  Then they call when there’s a new someone doing the computers now and that person needs help.

So it didn’t seem unusual to me that I hadn’t heard from Bonnie in a while. Then I returned a call to the executive director, who informed me that Bonnie no longer worked at the agency. “Well, I can call Lucy back in and we can help the new person –” 

“No, we don’t want Lucy back,” she said. 

Translation: They didn’t want me back, either. I’ll spare you the gory details of how the executive director shredded me ogver the quality of Lucy’s work. (“She told someone her PC was dead, and it was unplugged!” was one of the bullet points.)

“But you told me — But Bonnie told me — ” I sputtered. But it was too late to do anything but be polite. “Yes ma’am, I’ll bring that manual over to the office.  Again I’m sorry I didn’t keep a closer eye on Lucy, and I hope things work out with your new computer guy.”

So what have I learned from this experience? I guess the first thing is this: If ever again I send someone to represent me to provide on-site tech support, I’m going to do “surprise visits” to check on that person’s performance. Plus I’m going to communicate better with my employee and my customers and make sure I’m getting the whole story.