Back in the late 1990's, Lyfe R worked as a tech support manager for CompuMart (as I'll call them), which was the largest retailer of consumer PC's in the region. They had a store in almost every town and used world-class marketing along with an extremely aggressive sales team to sell at extremely low prices. I mean, surprisingly low; as in, lowest-bidder low. Because the salespeople were rather "generous" with claims of what their low-end computers could do, the cost of support eventually became greater than the sales margin, and the whole company collapsed. But it sure was fun while it lasted.

The Windows 96½ Upgrade

A customer was having a problem with some recent software he purchased: it required Windows 98, yet he only had Windows 95. The first-line technicians started out with a simple reboot, then a reboot with a "two minute wait" before turning on. The tech then moved on to a complete factor-state restore using the restore CD. The logic behind that was apparently to "refresh the installer executable". When that didn't work, the first-line tech suggested that the customer buy a Windows 98 upgrade at his local CompuMart store.

A few days later, the customer called back talking about "the half version of Windows," which obviously confused the first-line tech. Eventually, the call was patched to Lyfe, who listed to the irate customer complain the thirty-minute wait times and how no one knew what he was talking about. After calming down a bit, he explained that the sales guy had told him CompuMart didn't sell Windows 98 as an upgrade, and that he'd have to buy a brand new machine. As much as he wanted one, he couldn't afford a new computer.

Because the sales team so desperately wanted to "help" the customer, they said that CompuMart would charge him half the price of a new computer and upgrade his current machine to Windows 96½, which would run half of the new software. When Lyfe called the store to find out what he had actually been told, the salesman responded "yeah, can't you just upgrade his RAM or something... he'll never know the difference." Lyfe apologized to the customer and said there was nothing they could do with his new software.

The Unwanted Pet

While training a new tech, Lyfe was listening in on a call. The customer was an old lady who had just received delivery of her new Computer Machine.

Grandma wanted to get it setup in time for the grandkids, Sarah and Graham. Those were Marcy's children, and other grandchildren lived across the country. They didn't visit too often, but she talked to them on the phone whenever she could. Of course, Marcy's husband would normally set up the computer, but he was away on a business trip. He was a very successful business man, you know, and Marcy did really well for herself.

After the new tech finally managed to steer the lovely old lady back on topic, she mentioned that she was very pleased that the computer hadn't been delivered with a mouse. Mice are adorable, and Graham would just love seeing one run around, but they live little doo-doos around the house and tend to spread. She had told the salesman, who was a very lovely young gentlemen, that she definitely didn't want a mouse.

Reining her in, the tech managed to get some more details from her that didn't revolve around her grandchildren or Marcy. Just as the tech was certain that the issue was a missing mouse, the grandmother revealed the true problem. She had broken the foot pedal as it was made of plastic and didn't look very strong.

The Disappearing Icons

Although Lyfe has seen the tale of the disappearing icons appear on the 'net a few times over the past decade, he's confident that it occurred in the cubicle next to his.

A user called in with disappearing icons on her desktop, but the tech quickly ran out of ideas on why icons would apparently randomly disappear. The only clue was that the problem happened more often when she moved the mouse to the left, but the obvious user issues — deleting icons, drag-dropping selections off the screen, etc — had been discounted, together with technical ones like display driver or active desktop problems.

Eventually, they discovered that the further the cursor was moved to the left, the more icons disappeared. Unable to come up with a solution, CompuMart dispatched a return-shipping box and arranged for a courier to pick up the package. When the customer's computer arrived back at the office, they couldn't reproduce the issue, even with the customer on the phone, describing exactly what she did. Because the techs couldn't replicate the problem, they sent the unit back and, lo-and-behold, the issue reoccurred on the first try.

Eventually, some bright (or incredibly lucky) tech asked her what she could see instead of the icons. She said "nothing" — which is generally user-speak for a blank screen, the desktop, wallpaper, Word, IE or a huge variety of other stuff — and the tech took "nothing" at face value and finally got the answer: it was the mouse. And her hand.

The customer was putting the mouse on the screen in order to move the cursor, and sometimes, her hand and mouse covered the icons on the left-hand side of the screen. The icons "disappeared" under it.

Matching Serial Numbers

One day, Lyfe was passed an angry customer who demanded to speak to a manager. This customer had been on hold for twenty minutes before a tech even answered, and then had to wait another twenty minutes while the "idiot tech" tried to identify his computer.

Lyfe employed the standard customer management tactics to calm him down, and then sympathetically asked him to be patient and give him the serial number... one more time. The customer gruffed, "A-7-8-1-V-8-2-1-2-4-1-2-4".

"I'm sorry sir," Lyfe responded, "that doesn't match any of our conventions. Perhaps you're reading off the wrong number? It's a large metalic label on the back of the computer."

Annoyed, the customer put the phone down, went back under his desk, and looked at the back of his computer. The serial number was still A781V82124124. Then Lyfe had a crazy idea: he asked the customer to describe what his computer looked like.

"I don't know," the peeved customer said, "it's beige, has a door, a big power button, a key. Below that it has a MaxPuter logo."

MaxPuter was a brand sold by one of CompuMart's competitors. Lyfe pointed out that CompuMart couldn't support someone else's computer, both for the customer's benefit and for CompuMart. The customer wasn't very happy to hear that, since he only had a "simple question" that he couldn't see why no one would answer. Halfway through the second explanation, the customer gave up and just slammed the phone down.

A week later, Lyfe received a written complaint about his performance. It read, "CompuMart shouldn't advertise Computer Support lines in their shops or catalogues, as the description is just too vague. It needs to be CompuMart-only Computer Support. This cost me $4.90 in long distance (bill attached), I expect a refund on my call costs."