AT LARGE: Words to live by

AT LARGE: Words to live by

Your customers are not stupid." Print it out on a big sheet of paper and stick it on the wall somewhere in the back of the shop. Remember it, keep it in mind, live and work by this motto and you won't go wrong.

It stops a little short of "the customer is always right", but as most of you know, that one is not always true. Sometimes the customer has unrealistic expectations, and sometimes meeting the customer's expectations will end up costing you money.

But even when your customers have unrealistic expectations, you shouldn't treat them as stupid. For one thing, they've chosen to attempt to do business with you - if they're stupid, what does that say about you? As the saying goes: "Never question your wife's taste - look who she married."

In last week's column I related, in drastically shortened form, an attempt I made to contact the company that was servicing my printer. As I write this, it's been several weeks since that telephone call and my printer has not yet been fixed. I had been presuming that there was some delay in obtaining the parts that were needed, or the job had turned out more complex than expected, or perhaps the service department was so overrun that the problems of one little printer didn't amount to a hill of beans in that crazy world.

I did not presume that the people fixing it were stupid. Not terribly well organised, sure, but not stupid either. If I thought they were stupid, what would it say about me, given that I trusted them to fix my printer?

It turns out that my courteous presumption was not reciprocal - they think I'm an idiot.

After the date on which they promised to return my printer had come and gone, I allowed a further week before calling again. I told the person on the other end of the phone that I had not heard from them and would like to know what the status of my printer was. The person I spoke to told me, chuckling in a paternalistic sort of way, that they had called, but that they wouldn't proceed with a job until I gave them the go-ahead. Silly me for thinking they would. Pat on the head, there's a nice fellow.

It turns out that the phone call I recounted to you last week was not recorded in their books. Neither Shereee, Mareee, Aimeee nor Bob had bothered to make a note that I had called, nor that I had said "go ahead and fix it". It had, therefore, been sitting untouched since then.

OK, mistakes happen, and I'm already prepared to accept that this organisation (for want of a better word) has a bit of a communication breakdown thing going. I confirmed, in no uncertain terms and making sure they wrote it down, that I would like my printer fixed please - soon.

Couple of days later, I got another message: please phone "urgently". I did so, and was told that the price quoted included replacing the monochrome cartridge that had been in the printer when I took it in. Did I want them to put a colour cartridge in? The printer could print in colour, he told me, as if I might be delighted at the surprise. Now, if you recall my column of last week, I said the problem I'd had with it only affected colour printing. I told them this when I took it in.

I said to the technician - this one was called "John" - that the reason I had brought it in in the first place was because it was not printing in colour. And that's when it happened - "John" replied, "well, no, it can't, not with a monochrome cartridge in". This was accompanied by the same paternalistic chuckle I'd heard before.

It took "John" perhaps a second and a half to say that to me. In that extremely brief moment of time, he eliminated any possibility of repeat business. Ever. I still presume that the technicians at this company (and no, I won't name it) are not stupid. Not even "John". I have to presume that, or I'd have to go rescue my printer from their clutches immediately, and I do want it fixed. But I know for sure now that they presume I'm stupid. That I am not familiar with the capabilities and features of my printer. That I would try to print in colour using a monochrome cartridge, then scratch my head at the unsatisfactory result.

They probably think the same of all their customers. Pity.Matthew JC. Powell is no Richard Feynman, but he can change a printer cartridge all by himself. Exchange quantum theories with him on

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