Sunday, May 08, 2011

Fixing a PC without a charge and building loyalty

The main computer I use for writing and other projects is a laptop. It often travels with me when I am on the road. It's a sturdy model, four years old with plenty of memory. It's one I'm likely to replace with a similar model when this one passes its useful lifespan.

Rarely has the laptop given me trouble. If I'm traveling, when I get to my new location, I boot the computer up, find the wireless signal, and get to work.

All went well until a few Fridays ago, when I arrived at my destination, opened up the laptop, tried to boot it up, and . . . nothing. None of the lights indicating it's getting power of any sort came on. Thinking I might have drained my battery without knowing it, I got the power cord and plugged that in. Nothing.

Deadlines loomed. Needed files sat locked on the laptop.

I tried taking the battery out and putting it back in. Still nothing.

Without Internet access to go online to seek assistance, I found the local area's Yellow Pages located in a drawer. Under "computers," I found an advertisement for a nearby PC service business. I called the number, found out they were open until 5 (giving me an hour until closing) and then open from 9 to 2 on Sunday.

But then the fellow on the phone asked me what was wrong.

"Have you tried taking the battery out?" he asked. I told him that and proceeded to answer similarly to other questions he posed.

"Could the computer be kaput?" I asked him.

"Not likely, but it's possible."

He told me I could bring it in for a diagnostic and that they'd get it back to me the following morning. "But before you do that," he said. "Try something for me." He then proceeded to give me instructions that involved removing all power from the machine and trying to turn it on.

I was dubious. How could doing anything when no power was going to the computer fix anything, I wondered.

But failing other options, I did as he instructed. Unplug, remove battery, press power-on, reinstall battery, plug in . . . and then, within seconds, the power lights came on. And upon pressing the power-on button, the computer booted up.

The fellow at the computer store reassured me that my computer would be back to working normally now. He attempted to explain why the computer had appeared dead and how the steps he gave me restored it.

I gushed thanks and asked him if I owed him anything for his advice.

"No," he said. "I'm just glad we got it working."

Some marketers might believe that the right thing would have been for him to tell me to come into his store and then charge me to do what he had just instructed me to do for free over the phone. Some owners might scold employees who fail to capture income over such transactions.

But in terms of showing compassion for a clearly distraught caller, even though he might not have made any money on this particular transaction, he built a business relationship that is not likely to be forgotten soon.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to

(c) 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.


William Jacobson said...

Brava! Proof positive that the right thing is not always to maximize short term profits! Another place you see this is at the Apple Store - no charge for technical support no matter how old or out of warranty your computer is. These services come at a cost to the business but businesses that practice service first believe that the it will engender loyalty and word of mouth that is invaluable. Its a cost benefits analysis but nice to see the right thing win out in that balance!

William Jacobson
Cypress, CA

Patricia Selk said...

When Hillel was asked to explain Judaism while standing on one foot, his reply was "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. All the rest is commentary." This is the original golden rule, and it is not only an ethical way to run a life, it is good applied to business as well. Not everyone to whom we give free advice will call us to do a paying job, but it's the only way that we feel we can run our business.