The best way to screw the competition? Do what they can't, in a fraction of the time

How a favour for the IT manager won back a support contract

On Call Friday has rolled around once more, and so we welcome you to the latest instalment of On Call, where readers share their tech support achievements.

This week, we hear from "Antonio", who was working at a small software company back in the early '90s.

"That was when Novell NetWare was in its heyday, and we managed to sell the Novell Netware implementation to a large (for us) company," he said. "Mostly because we were willing to pull coax cables all over an old building at cost, as the maintenance contract made up for said cost."

When that company moved to a new building, and IBM did the cabling, Antonio's firm lost that contract to a local IBM partner.

"The finance director didn't like that the clock started ticking when we left our office 40km away, and ended when we left their premises," Antonio said of the firm's efforts to split transport costs down the middle.

But that wasn't the last Antonio would see of that customer, as it was kept on for internally developed software maintenance and their Windows NT-based dial-in modem array contract.

"One day, I was adding two more modems to the Windows NT machines during lunch time, which was a slack time for external sales reps dialling in, when I finally met our competitor," Antonio recalled.

This chap was having trouble installing an HP network printer but the ousted techie simply pointed him "with glee" to the hulking great NetWare manuals in the cupboard.

"By the end of the day, when I was ready to leave, the engineer was still installing the same network printer," Antonio told us, with just a trace of smugness.

But on going to say bye to the IT manager – "who was a bit miffed because he had to wait for the engineer to depart before closing up shop" – Antonio did the decent thing.

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"I told him to send the guy home and I'd have a look for free for a few minutes," he said. Of course, he couldn't resist a gentle jibe at the unsuccessful engineer, asking if the manuals had helped at all. "He sneered at me and left."

After consulting with the printing manual, which was one of the smaller volumes, the duo saw a possible solution.

"The engineer was using a push methodology, but for printers with a built-in NIC, you could also use a pull methodology, so we changed it from push to pull," he said.

"Hey presto: we heard the printer down in the hall start printing immediately."

In total, Antonio said, it took them longer to wait for all the test print jobs the engineer had sent to the queue throughout the day to finish – a grand five minutes – than to make the change.

"In all, it was three minutes, including taking and reading the manual's index page – and we were both happy to be leaving so soon."

But the tale isn't over – for once, being a nice person paid off. Because, a week or so later, Antonio's boss walked into his office and demanded to know what he'd done on his visit, to which Antonio replied he'd serviced their modem array and done a small favour to the IT manager.

"Apparently, the customer's finance director had signed our original maintenance agreement and faxed it to us overnight without any explanation," our man explained.

"A quick phone call to the IT manager revealed the truth: he told the finance director that he'd rather 'have us charging for half of the commute time and solving a problem in two minutes than the other guys only charging actual work time and having no solution after eight hours of payable time'."

Needless to say, Antonio and his boss were thrilled that such a simple favour had paid off so hugely.

Have you done a good deed that was fairly rewarded? Or perhaps your last favour went unnoticed and you need to vent. Either way, get in touch with On Call and your story might star in these pages next week. ®

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