This week I lost a client. Actually I lost the client a week ago, but she did not tell me at the time. We seemed to have a good thing going. She runs a small business in which her computer is critical. It was giving her problems. On the phone, it became obvious that she was not a sophisticated user, and that she was extremely frustrated. In discussing what she needed, she retreated into a clinched teeth recital of how things should be and what was going wrong. I had the distinct feeling she felt I was one of “them.”

When I got to her place, the main problem she was complaining about was that she could not generate and printout a statement for her clients. But she could have her supplier generate the statement and email it to her. This was unsatisfactory. It was also the worst of a series of problems she had with this supplier. Secondarily, her computer was slow and she got occasional error messages. When I asked her if she was secure in her backup of critical customer data, she indicated she had never backed up the system. She had never backed up the basis of her business!

I told her that I was primarily a tutor and that I could help her learn how to use her computer more effectively, but she obviously had some problems we had to fix before we could get to that stage. For instance, when I tried to open her DVD drive, it stuck. Nothing happened. And her 3 giga Hz P4 computer was dragging its feet. While we were looking at things and trying to fix her main problem, she had several phone calls with her supplier. Each one became more caustic until she finally used unladylike words. She was more than frustrated with her supplier, she was concerned she was not doing a good job for her clients, and she was looking out for their interests with all the fury of a mama bear protecting cubs. I worked quietly, but realized that should I slip up, I would taste her fury also.

When I took her computer home, I photographed and carefully documented everything starting with the completely dust-filled heat exchanger and the unplugged fan that probably helped the dust and heat to build up. Dust was everywhere. The DVD was something else. It held a disc and would not let go. The player would have to be replaced, so I took the old one apart just to see what the problem was. The CD inside it had become fused to the spindle. Something had melted and re-solidified, converting the replaceable media into a permanent one.

Bottom line: I cleaned the machine, added 1 gig of DRAM, replaced the DVD with a double-layer beauty equipped with light-scribe, and purchased a 500 gig Maxtor backup unit for her. I scanned the system with several programs and removed many pests. When I put it all back together, and returned, the machine really hummed. Life was sweet.

Except I still could not solve her initial problem. So I worked on it a bit and talked with the techs at the supplier. No progress. By now I was into it and offered to research the issue on my own time simply because this was an interesting challenge and something that I should know. Before leaving, I showed her a better and quicker work-around than what she had been using. It allowed her to see and print the data she wanted with only a few extra steps.

Time passed and I reported back to her that I had some other ideas. She responded by email that she did not think we worked well together and that she had hired another repair person [sic — I do not advertise myself as a repair person] and that he had reviewed my work and the documentation I gave her and said that I did a good job (and cheaper than him), and BTW, he could not fix her problem either. She said that she felt good about me and what I did, but that was that.

Talk about mixed emotions! I got an “atta boy” pat from a professional, but was told my services were no longer needed. I was leery about working for a client who might turn on me at any moment, but I am in business and she paid me good money.

Her problem was still interesting, so I wrote back and asked her to please let me know the resolution in case I should run up against it again. She was extremely nice and wrote back how she had finally got her supplier to send their tech over to her place and the tech could not fix it either. After the tech left, she apparently just did some things at random and was surprised that the system suddenly started working like it was supposed to work. I presume she will continue to work until it breaks again.

I never did get a chance to show her the better ways to do her job that I had outlined. Such is life.

Click here to read about my new tutorial on helping seniors. The new version has grown considerably over the original. It has more topics and anecdotes, and fewer typos. While you’re at it, check out my expanded tutorial on decision theory.