Customer Service

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Some of you may know that I also maintain a small PC consulting business. Essentially, I rebuild hardware and install software for clients. The majority are M$ users, but there are occasions where I have been asked to build a Linux firewall or mail server. Because I do have a day job, my rates are very competitive and I have the freedom to tackle the jobs of my choice.

More recently I completed a system rebuild for a friend who wanted to upgrade from the very ancient WinME to WinXP. I have performed this sort of evolution at least ten instances over the past two years. So, I did not expect very many surprises.

Although the client was a friend, I always approach the job in the same manner. That is, I attempt to understand the project scope, repeat the client needs to assure accuracy. In particular, there was a proprietary database, which was used to enter church member information. It was made clear that this database needed be restored on the new system. I really didn't give it too much thought because I figured that it would be a simple text file. So, backing up the text file would not be very difficult. So I thought..

In hindsight, I made an error in judgement. I should have explained that there are no guarantees that the package would work as expected on the new XP platform. One of the problems you face when migrating from WinME to XP is that you're essentially going from a 16Bit - 32Bit platform. Applications written for the older WinME package are not likely to behave the same on the 32bit XP OS.

I neglected to warn her of this probability. Secondly, I typically backup all data in archived in C:\..\mydocuments.. , browser bookmarks (favorites), email messages, and anything else the client requests. I install most of the common applications (Office Suite, web browser, CD/DVD burning application, PDF reader, etc..)

Once I've restaged the machine, I typically archive the data to CD or DVD, depending on the volume of data and of course the type of optical drive installed on the machine. The client will also receive a manifest outlining the work performed, cost of the labor/hardware. Typically, I also suggest recommendations for future consideration. For instance, the hardware could be rather dated, so I would suggest a hardware upgrade, etc. All sales are final as stated on the invoice.

The client is expected to be able to restore their data from CD, as this is fairly simple. Put the CD in the drive and copy the files to the desired location. In the case of a proprietary database, you would obviously need to install the legacy application and then use its restore tool. Nonetheless, I do make myself available for the occasional trouble call. These days I loathe tech support, as I'm extremely busy with coursework and the day job. Unfortunately, I do not have an abundance of time to help solve too many problems. My weekends are reserved for homework and household chores. However, as stated earlier, this client was different, we are friends. So, I was happy to help.

Second issue, the client is not very computer saavy. Not really a big deal, I normally do not have problems explaining the details of how to restore files or in a pinch I have been known to make housecalls.
In this case, I made three visits. The initial visit was to re-establish the dial up connection via XP.
Yes, people still use modems. I had to pinch myself, to make sure that I was not dreaming ;)
Modems are a royal PITA. I probably spent approx 20-30min goofing with the authentication process. Lots of users, hate remembering passwords, so they simple select "remember my password" option in the login window. So when they are faced with task of doing a new installation, they struggle with getting authenticated. Additionally, most dial-up ISPs change their dial-up pool numbers, as their networks grow or improve. So if you haven't written any of the numbers down, you're faced with the task of trying to get the new dial-up numbers. The client hadn't written these numbers down anywhere.

Luckily, I'm always equipped with my very trusty companion, the Treo600. Hence a browser is only a few thumb clicks away. I visit the desired ISP website and grab the modem pool numbers for our specified toll region. So after many unsuccessful attempts, we finally get the modem to properly handshake and eureka we have an internet connection.

Next, I set up the email (POP and SMTP), and then the dreaded M$ Outlook Express(OE) message restoration project. Most of you already know that I absolutely despise any M$ applications, because they simply do not work as advertised. OE is an application that comes free with any M$ OS. The application stores its messages and contact lists in what amounts to a proprietary database format (.dbx). There are a couple methods to back-up this data. The easiest way is to simply copy the files directly from the archive export path. You could also use the registry archive option. I chose the former.

When I attempted to restore the older messages, the dumb restore tool failed miserably. Obviously I wasn't very happy. After spending an hour at the home of the client, I explained that I needed to do a bit more research. So, I return home and do the ubiquitous google search, and learn that many people have encountered the broken OE restore tool. Luckily, there are free third party tools that can be used to circumvent the problem. To be clear, these tools are not elegant solutions, they are probably best described as kludges or hacks. Nonetheless, I'm quite comfortable using them; however, my client would not be very comfortable using a third-party tool.

Meanwhile, I learn that restoring the older church member database was not working as expected. Immediately, I became concerned as I really did not know much about the application or the problems that occured. It is very difficult to for unsaavy computer users to accurately explain problems via email. You essentially have to reproduce the problem in person. You got it.. Another tech support trip to the home. After the second trip, I gathered all the info that I needed and also installed the third-party software package. The client was not very pleased with the issues that have been revealed after the installation of XP. I suppose the expectation was that everything should just work. At this point, I too was a bit miffed, as I was pretty disgusted with M$ tools. After a bit of jousting with the client, we both agreed that the our communication should have been more clear.

Here is what I learned:

  • Establish a signed written contract with client
  • Clearly understand all expectations
  • Never assume an application will work after a major upgrade

It became clear to me that much of the above was not done very well. I suppose the fact that we are friends may have clouded my judgement. Consequently, I created too much extra work. Making calls to the company which manufactures the proprietary church database application was pointless, as they were basically one-eyed droids reading scenarios from an engagement card. These people were not the software developers. At the end of the day, the client had lost most of the data, thus the client was forced to re-enter all of it. Very unfortunate and painful indeed. Regarding the email, the third-party application works as expected, but I am clear the client probably will not be using it. As a work around we also tried installing Outlook and tried to import the older messages, but this did not work either.

I would offer Mozilla Thunderbird as a solution, but I am sure the client would not be willing to learn a new application. Moreover, I would have to make another trip to the home. Cannot afford it at this time.
So I am done.

Bottom line:: The client has an improved OS and I essentially extended the useful life of the PC by approximately three years. The client is not a power user so the utility is acceptable.

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    This page contains a single entry by AG published on December 5, 2005 6:41 AM.

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