The startling fact that a commenter recognized the name of my old employer Leading Edge in the last Technosophy reminded me of this little piece, which I originally wrote up for another web board some years ago. I should note in advance that we did have some competent servicing dealers and resellers – some were in fact quite good – so if you, by chance, worked for a Leading Edge dealer in the past, you shouldn’t take personally the part where I take cheap shots at them.
(It should also be noted that when I wrote this, Compaq was not merely a brand of Hewlett-Packard, but was in fact a vast manufacturing concern in its own right which had recently finished dismembering and devouring Digital Equipment Corporation.)
Long ago I worked as a hardware tech support rep for Leading Edge Products, a company which made bad PC clones, then supported them shoddily. (“Oh, like Compaq!” you’re thinking. Well, yes, except without the success.) We had two warranty plans available with our machines:
- A three-year “carry-in” plan, where you schlepped your defective PC to the nearest Leading Edge Authorized Service Center (most often someplace called ‘DataCom ElectroEnterprises’ that turned out to be some college kid’s garage) and they fixed it for you (this generally involved replacing failed defective parts with new defective parts that had not yet failed). Then they would call you up and you would go back and get it, usually without bothering to check at the store to see if it actually worked, and then when you got home and it didn’t you would call us, as though we had personally screwed you, rather than taking it back to the people who’d actually worked on it; and
- A one-year “on-site” plan, where you called up our support number, answered the various obvious questions that the front-line support techs would put to you, and, if by some miracle you -had- plugged the machine in and it -wasn’t- just the World’s Cheapest Mouse going trackball-up on you, you’d be handed off to one of our harried and overworked Service Advisors. There, depending on which of the two Advisors you got, you would be badgered mercilessly like a murder trial witness of questionable reliability or spoken to in a soft and soothing manner while the exact nature of your system’s defect was divined. Then the Service Advisor would hand off the call to our wonderfully alert and competent on-site service vendor, General Electric, who would eventually dispatch a surly and uncaring dolt in a truck to come out and cram mismatched new parts into your machine, then call our support line and hassle the front-liners about why their bin pickers had given them the wrong parts.
OK? Enough background information? Still with me?
Well. One lovely Wednesday, because the manager had a special and enduring love for me, I was assigned the task of returning calls left on the manager’s voice mail box. As you might guess, people leaving voice mail for the manager are not generally calling to give compliments. As a matter of routine, I looked through the service database for the callbacks where the caller had left a case number to see what information I could glean. One call looked especially unpromising – it was an on-site service call which had been dispatched something like a week before and was still showing “unresolved” by our friends at GE. I figured I’d get the hard part out of the way first and called that one back.
The phone was answered by a woman, though the name on the ticket was a man’s. OK, no problem – it’s a machine owned by a company, probably this is the receptionist or something.
Here’s the way our conversation started:
ME: Hi, my name is Ben Hutchins, I’m calling from Leading Edge Products in regard to the outstanding service call your office has out on one of your computer systems. Can I speak to Mr. Whatever please?
HER (sounding shaken and sad): Oh… uh… I’m sorry, but Mr. Whatever… passed away suddenly last week.
ME: … Oh. Well, uh… I’m sorry to hear that. Is there, uh, somebody else there in the office who will be handling this issue now, that I could speak to?
She explained to me that no, she didn’t think there was, because it was probable that the machine was simply going to be discarded, and the company’s management was probably trying to decide whether it would be worth suing us.
You see, Mr. Whatever was a VP of this company, the girl I was talking to had been his secretary, and the machine in question was Mr. Whatever’s desktop workstation. It had been malfunctioning for some time, and GE had failed to dispatch on it because of some more-than-usual confusion about what parts were needed, or something like that – so the computer’s problems got worse and worse over time, and calls to LE accomplished little, since the problem had already been dispatched to GE and they would just blow the Service Advisors off whenever they called to ask why this hadn’t been handled.
The real highlight of the call, though, came when Mr. Whatever’s secretary related the circumstances of her boss’s death. The last time anyone saw him alive was the previous Friday afternoon when, on her way out, she had looked in to see how Mr. Whatever was getting on with his reluctant computer.
He had been sitting at his desk glaring at the machine with hatred, muttering, “It’s this thing or me. It’s this thing or me.”
He was found at his desk, slumped over the keyboard, on Monday morning. Dead of an apparent heart attack.
“He really hated that thing,” she told me tearfully. “I don’t think he’d want us to have it fixed now.”
What else could I do? I thanked her very kindly, closed the ticket, and told the manager I was going the hell home for the day.
And that’s how Leading Edge’s tech support killed a man.
Benjamin D. Hutchins is an author, public relations writer, and semiprofessional muser upon the random. His other nonfiction writings can be found here and here.