Sunday, September 02, 2007


Last week, I faced the choice of whether to take advantage of someone's trust in my decision to treat him fairly even when I didn't have to.

It was Wednesday and it started out as most Wednesdays do. I woke up early, made coffee, and then ventured outside to retrieve the morning newspapers. After reading the newspapers and ingesting enough coffee to get me through the morning, I went to my office, turned on my computer, and clicked on the icon to check my e-mail. That's when my morning gave way to two days of abject frustration.

Instead of my e-mail launching, I received the message that it could not be started because my MSOE.dll couldn't be loaded. I was clueless about MSOE.dll's, but I knew I couldn't access any e-mail stored on my computer. The trouble is that most of the e-mail I need to do my work is stored on my computer.

I rebooted to see if it was a momentary lapse of a finicky computer. No luck. I searched official support bulletin boards for solutions. Nothing. I spent a few dollars on utility software programs that promised fixes. Nothing eased my pain.

Then on the morning of MSOE.dll Death Watch Day Two, through a purely serendipitous search, I came across a program written by a guy based somewhere in Europe that claimed to address the exact error message flashing on my screen. To download his program I had to pay first. But he let buyers set the price.

"I trust people," he wrote on his website. "Ask yourself how much time this utility has saved you.... I trust it's really easy for you to decide the amount!"

I had been agonizingly trying to find a way into my e-mail for two days and was dubious about this guy's product. I'd already laid out enough cash and time for other products that failed. Why would this product do any better? I paid $1 and would decide later if I would fork over any more.

I downloaded and ran the software. No fireworks, bells, or sirens followed. But when I clicked on my e-mail icon, it launched for the first time in two days. Just as the programmer had promised, it was repaired.

My decision now was whether to pay him more than the $1 I'd already paid. If I didn't, it wasn't as if he was going to be coming after me for more cash. He didn't know me. I didn't know him.

But I did know that his software solved the problem I had been struggling with for two days. I knew he placed his trust in his customers to pay him what they believed his software to be worth. If it hadn't worked, I wouldn't have added anything to what I'd paid. But since it worked, I added $19 to the amount I'd already paid, bringing the total to the retail price a distributor he sometimes used charged for the product. I didn't have to, but it was the right thing to do.

c.2007 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

NOTE: The software I mention in the column is called "OUTLOOK EXPRESS MAIL SALVATION/MIGRATION." You can find it at the or Microsoft Outlook Express Repair Utility.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think your assesment of price by comparison with similar products of similar function is valid. Years ago, I took a course in "Value Analysis" and the first question asked, was, "What is the "value" of a 5 cent bolt that holds two halves of a million dollar vehicle together?" The answer is 5¢, because it's the value for the function the bolt performs in providing tension between two points. The cost resulting from failure cannot be logically ascribed to the bolt because that factor is irrelevant to the specifications of the bolt. If the tension force for a 5¢ bolt is insufficient, use a 10¢ bolt!
Your procedure with the software was equivalent to purchasing a $20 product with a $19 money-back guarantee - but without the risk of not getting the return. This "value" has nothing to do with the benefit of the product to you. A man may pay a million dollars for a glass of water if he's dying of thirst, but that "situational worth" doesn't mean the "value" of a glass of water is $1M.