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A Lesson In Diplomacy
Author: David Ramsey
Date: 1988
Characters: David Ramsey, Jean-Louis Gassee
Topics: Marketing, Hardware, Mac II
Summary: What's worse than a dealer screwing up your new computer? Telling the customer the dealer screwed up their new computer.

While at Apple, I was active online in the Compuserve Macintosh Forums. I was known as an Apple employee there and provided what support I could to people with problems or questions.

One person had a particularly vexing problem. He'd purchased a fully outfitted Macintosh II computer, with two megabytes of dealer-installed RAM and a 40 megabyte hard disk, video card, and Apple color monitor. At the time this configuration cost over $5,000.00.

He claimed the computer had never worked properly-- that it was flakey and crashed frequently. He had returned it to his dealer multiple times and had finally been told that the dealer couldn't do anything else for him and not to come back.

I suggested several things for him to try, none of which worked. I was puzzled since by that time I was using a Mac II as my work machine and knew it to be solid and reliable.

Finally I suggested that he ship the computer to me at Apple, where I promised I would get to the bottom of his problems. When I received his computer, it was indeed flakey and crashed frequently. When I looked inside his computer the reason for the problems became obvious...

Macintosh II computers had 8 slots for SIMM memory modules. To install memory, the SIMM had to be inserted into the socket at an angle and then pivoted into place until a pair of plastic locking pins snapped around it. To remove the SIMM, the plastic locking pins had to be carefully pried apart so the SIMM could be tilted out of the socket.

It was very easy to break the locking pins when removing SIMMs. This resulted in a SIMM that wasn't held securely in its socket.

When I opened the customer's computer, I saw several of the SIMM sockets' locking pins had been broken. Whoever had caused the damage had attempted to hold the SIMMs in place with rubber bands. Since the computer had been purchased new and the memory installed by the dealer, it seemed obvious to me that the dealer had damaged the computer and was trying to duck his responsibility to repair or replace it.

Fortunately I had a friend who worked at the Apple service center in Campbell (the building, at the intersection of Highway 17 and Hamilton, is now a Fry's Electronics). I removed the Mac's logic board and took it over to the service center, where my friend used industrial soldering equipment to remove the damaged sockets and replace them with new ones. I reassembled the computer, reinstalled the memory, and set it running Apple diagnostic software. After a successful 24 hour run I returned the computer to the customer...with a letter noting what the problem was, how it was repaired, and oh, by the way, it was the dealer's fault. It's been a long time but I think I even went so far as to comment that even if the dealer didn't do it, it was pretty hard to explain how he'd never noticed the broken SIMM sockets.

The customer showed the dealer my letter. This landed me in some hot water, as the enraged dealer called Apple demanding my head. He didn't get it (then). Jean-Louis Gassee took me aside to explain that it was great that I'd taken an unhappy Apple customer and made him a happy Apple customer. If all I'd done, he said, was to repair the computer and enclose a letter explaining the problem, nobody could have criticised me. But fingering the dealer (which he personally thought was correct) was the wrong thing to do: he noted that I had only the customer's unsupported word on the events leading to the problem, and that if the customer's account of the matter were accurate, he'd easily figure out it was the dealer himself.

As far as I know, no action was ever taken against the dealer. But Gassee's explanation was of how to handle situations like this was a valuable lesson.

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