My Story About Doing The Right Thing

Doing The Right Thing

Yesterday, I had a client bring their laptop into my workshop because it kept turning off after a certain amount of time. My first guess was that it was overheating as I have seen this kind of thing before. I booted the laptop into BIOS and sure enough, the temperature was slowly rising until it reached the 90 degree celsius range and shut down.

I flipped the laptop onto its back and saw the cooling fan and plenty of hair in it so I am assuming the heatsink is probably clogged like in this picture of a laptop I took about a year ago.

Now, the client had driven about 45 minutes to my place because they got a really good referral about me from their friend. I figured this wouldn’t take very long so I told them they can stick around while I clear it out (I have done this many times before). I took out all the screws I could see but the laptop case wouldn’t open. I looked a little more and found some hidden clips, undid them but it still wouldn’t open up. I searched under stickers and the rubber feet for screw holes but it still wasn’t opening.

I got online and downloaded the service manual to look at the tear-down guide. According to the guide I had found all the screws but it still wasn’t opening. I spent about an hour working on the laptop in total until I decided that it was no longer worth my time and gave up. I told the client that I couldn’t find the last screw and that I apologise for wasting their time. I felt bad because I was highly recommended by her friend so there was a little more pressure for me to perform.

They asked “How much will that be?” and I replied “Nothing”.
“Well, If I diagnose that something cant be fixed (parts are unavailable or whatever), I do charge because its not my fault it cant be fixed. However, if I cant fix something because its something I don’t know how to fix in this case, I don’t know where that last screw was, so I wont charge. Its not your fault that I don’t know”.

She was thrown back by this, as an accountant she knows that time is money and fully expected to be charged for the time I spend on it. Although I couldn’t help, she actually went away happy saying that she’ll recommend me to her friends that live down my way.

Its standard practice for tradesmen to charge for any bench time but I thought about what it could have been like if I was in the clients shoes. I drove 45 minutes, waited an hour, the computer is no better and they expected to be paid for this? Yeah right. I felt what I did was the right choice.

Anyway, that’s the story of how I failed but the client left happy anyway.

Bryce Whitty

About the Author

Bryce Whitty
More articles by me...
Bryce is an Australian computer technician and the founder of Technibble. He started his computer repair business when he was 17 years old and is still running it 9 years later. He is an avid traveller and spends at least a month of the year in another country.

Comments (18)

  • Richard says:

    This is instructive. I do the same.

    Similarly, I often run into situations where the “repair” is a quick instruction to the customer. I never charge for that.

    A recent example, I was called by an elderly customer who complained that their computer was on but nothing was displayed. I drove to their house. I turned the computer off and on. The computer was “fixed”.

    My time was 35 minutes – 30 minutes driving to and from their location and five minutes on site.

    Charge to the customer was $0.00. Hopefully, I promoted my services with goodwill.

    On the flip side, I feel I should charge customers with older, exceptionally sloooow equipment a premium for wasting my time. I don’t, but I want to.

  • Dustin says:

    Which laptop was this? Luckily my lead technician was previously employed by Qualxserv and can tear down pretty much any laptop. It’s awesome having him around.

  • Majestic says:

    The only time I don’t charge is when I feel what I did caused the problem and it’s a second service all.

    Since I always go on-site it’s still my time. I also have a policy where just to LOOK at the laptop (meaning visit them, pick up the laptop, disassemble the laptop and see if I can fix it or not) is $100 fixed since that does take a lot of time. If I can fix it it’s $100 + whatever extra time, parts it takes.

    If it were a simple “look” at the laptop physically and a quick decision and they came to me.. I usually discount.. and in some cases I’ve charged a nominal fee of $25 for my time.


  • NYJimbo says:

    We had a laptop like that. We couldnt remove the whole bottom of the laptop because it seemed to be attached by a screw or clip we could not see. Ended up that you had to take out the remove the bottom cover to get to the cdrom drive screw, take out the whole cdrom assembly and then you could see the last screw holding the bottom chassis to the rest of the laptop. But if you didnt remove the cdrom there was no way to pry the chassis open enough to see what the heck was holding it in. Sometimes I hate laptops.

  • Cody says:

    I also will not charge if I don’t know how to fix. Good customer service is top priority when it comes to small business. Although I did not make a “sale” with that ticket, I will gain their trust and hopefully a steady customer next time around. Good article!

  • Ron says:

    I would have done the same thing. Good policy to have, and great customer service is sorely lacking in so many places these days. That alone will and does set you apart from the competition.

  • Great policy and great lesson to our fellow techs out there. It’s this kind of business ethics that tend to go overlooked by a lot of our peers.

  • Jason Owen says:

    Its good that you didnt charge but i got to tell you i wont do a laptop tear down in front of a customer. For a couple reasons..
    First it doesnt matter how good you are every laptop is different and takes some “discovery” and i hate looking dumb in front of the customer. Also as most of you know it takes some force sometimes to get these things apart. I just dont think for their sake they want to see what it takes to get them apart.
    So we just have the customer fill out a work order and leave the machine. There machine is always “the next on bench”. Just my thoughts..

  • touch0ph says:

    That’s a good work ethic. I do the same myself all the time. To go a step further I’ve also done some bonehead things which I don’t have the customer pay for. For example I had a customer with a Verizon wireless card that just stopped working all of a sudden. After a few hours of troubleshooting I called tech support and they explained that Verizon’s software had a conflict with Norton’s Firewall and that I should turn the firewall off. Upon hearing this I think to myself “oh…why didn’t I try THAT”.

    In any event, I didn’t charge the customer for the couple of hours I was there. I charged them for about 45 min or rather the time I think I should have been able to solve the issue in.

  • That’s the way we do it too. It doesn’t happen very often… but when it does, it sure feels better doing the right thing. :)

  • Hank says:

    On-site I can see a minimum charge to cover travel expense but for a drop off/carry in service like in this story you are only out your time spent working. I think its right to waive your charges when you are unable to do anything due to a lack of knowledge. I would like to add as a side note that I was expecting the the customer to say they worked on it and super glued it back together :P

  • Mark says:

    I think it’s only right to not charge, even you sometimes you really want to. Like you said, look at it from the customers standpoint.I had a laptop that I couldn’t open recently and it turned out (after using a bit of brute force to open it) that there was a sticky residue practically glue-ing everything together! It was Guinness!

  • Dan says:

    Bryce, what model was it? I’m curious because I HAVE seen it all :)

  • Matthew says:

    Definitely the right thing to do. I’m doing the same type of work you are. If something like that happened to me, I would have done exactly the same.

  • Rob Gardner says:

    I’ve been trading for over 6 years now. I come across a few occasions where I’m unable to repair a machine, or a fix I input fails to remedy the problem.

    When I visit a house, they normally like to leave me alone “as they don’t want to be seen as hovering, scrutinising every thing I do”, to which I reply that “I honestly don’t mind, grab an extra chair and I’ll explain what I’m doing”.

    Charging for not actually achieving anything, to me, doesn’t feel right.

    However …

    In the event that I can’t fix it, they can see that I have given it a good try, and despite my protests, I normally come away with something.

    I reckon that 30% of my business is through personal recommendation.

    God, I love this job!

  • Scott says:

    I hate to be critical of your efforts in attempting to take this laptop apart, but why did you need to do that anyway? Most of the time a good blast of compressed air will clean out fans and clear the airways. But since you did not even do that, you were right not to charge them. Next time take the common sense approach. You can save time that way.

  • Bryce W says:

    Scott, it has hair in it and unlike dust, cannot be simply blasted away with compressed air. Look at this picture and you’ll see what I mean:

    That hairball is between the Fan and the heatsink and is completely inaccessible if the computer is not opened.

    You cant really do a clean out job properly on a laptop without opening it up.

  • Scott says:

    I did look at your picture. At least a blast of air would have been better than giving up and giving it back to the customer. You would have cleaned out some of it.