I always try to exceed customer expectations, but one glance was enough to show me that this time, there was going to have to be a reality check.


One of my favorite calls recently was a request from a company to go out and do a safety check on a printer that had been in a building that had burnt to the ground.

I was expecting to see a printer that was smoke blackened and a customer keen to be sure it was in working order before it was plugged in and switched on.

When I arrived, the customer was waiting. “Great,” she said, “I need to get this working as soon as possible.” She led me into a temporary building, and I was struck by the smell of burnt plastic.

“What do you think? How long will it take to fix it?”

I looked around the room. There were a lot of misshapen items in the room — melted telephones, blackened faxes, charred desks, and distorted chairs. The most noticeable thing was the smell. Burnt plastic and extinguishing foam aren’t going to rival Chanel any time soon.

“We saved the best stuff; most of it had to go into the dumpster, but we believe in re-use or recycling where possible.”

“Where’s the printer?” I asked.

“Over here,” she said, indicating an object that resembled the aftermath of a very serious car accident.

It had been a laser printer, top of the range with collator, four feeders, and double-sided printing option. I knew this only because I spotted the serial number plate hanging off the back of the blob.

It had been just about two feet tall but was now less than nine inches. All the casings and paper trays had been melted into a shapeless blob.

“Not too much work for you, is it? I expect you have spares for most of this?”

I wondered how to break it to them. About the only thing I could save was the power cord, and even that was a bit suspect and smelt awful.

“I don’t think that I can do anything with this; there is too much damage.”

“That’s just typical of big business — most things can be mended, but nobody wants to put the effort in.”

“The trouble is that there is no part of the machine that isn’t damaged. It would cost a fortune to rebuild; you would have to replace everything.”

The customer became less friendly.

“I want a written condition report for the insurance company, and don’t even think about billing me for it.”

“Well, as it isn’t a machine fault, any time I spend on it would be chargeable.”

She replied with one of my least favorite customer sayings: “I don’t want to hear that!”

Well, whether that was what she wanted to hear or not, that was the fact of the matter, so I bluntly asked her what she wanted me to do.

I could not understand how anyone would think that I could do anything with the printer, although I was touched by her confidence in my skills.

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