Protip: If Joe Public reports that your kit is broken, maybe check that it is actually broken

Because now you have a bill to replace all these perfectly functional devices


On Call Welcome back to On Call where this week we peek behind the scenes and see what happens when public-facing kit is reported as borked.

Our reader, Regomised as "Sean", had a varied brief at a company based in Northern England. "My responsibilities," he told us, "included software development, CAD design, electronics, and 'whatever else needs doing'."

The "else" included being called out to smooth the ruffled feathers of uppity customers.

"We had a London-based customer to whom we had a few years previously sold some hardware, software, and support," he recalled. The problem was that all those involved had since left the company and so, as is often the case, there was precious little documentation on what had been actually been installed.

Not that such an omission stood in the way of a support contract. And before long, Sean received The Call (general fix-it person was another of his duties).

The devices themselves formed part of an interactive exhibit at a tourist attraction. One we can't name. 12 of the gizmos were supported by Sean's company and nine of those had been flagged as borked.

Sadly, Sean's tale predates our inexplicably long-running Bork series so it's unlikely that the machines have featured in our pages.

From his perspective, all he had in terms of diagnostic data was "they're not working". All attempts to clarify in what way the devices were not working were rebuffed. Oh, and the customer wanted them fixed by tomorrow.

With nothing to go on, Sean ordered in nine complete sets of hardware and paid the eye-watering extra cost to get the kit delivered same day. The next morning, armed with a bulging site pack full of gear, he hopped on a train to London and set off on a voyage into the unknown.

He was at least a little familiar with the client's site and, upon arrival, headed directly to the location where the stricken devices had been installed.

They were all working perfectly. Apart from one, which just needed to be switched on.

The client turned up shortly after, wanting to know how long the job was going to take.

Sean had a choice. Should he play the "I have fixed everything, behold my genius" card, or tell the truth?

He told the truth, of course. Nothing had been broken.

Now it was time for the client to also make a confession: "It transpired that a member of the public had reported a catastrophic failure, and no one had thought to spend five minutes and double-check."

The cost was impressive. Because there was nothing wrong, the callout wasn't covered by the maintenance contract. Nor was all the hardware Sean had brought. "The bill ran to many thousands of pounds," he said.

"In the end, the client asked me to replace all the (working) equipment with the spares I'd brought with me so they could report that work had been undertaken (and presumably hide the fact they'd never checked things were broken by claiming that vandalism was suspected)."

"Most pointless job I've ever done," he sighed. If only Bork!Bork!Bork! had been around to record it for posterity.

It's always easier for a user to pick up the phone than actually check on a problem themselves. Hiding a five-figure invoice can, however, be slightly trickier. Tell us about your experiences on the front line with an email to On Call. ®

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