Services - Start & Run a Computer Repair Service (Start & Run Business Series) (2012)

Start & Run a Computer Repair Service (Start & Run Business Series) (2012)



Although computer repair is a very personalized service, the type of work you will complete on systems is usually routine. There are a few major services that every computer repair business completes day in and day out. Therefore, make a list of your standard services so you can compare yourself to other businesses and consulting services in the area. It will also help you design your offerings and draw in new customers.

1. The Diagnostic

The first service any computer repair business has to think about is its diagnostic service. For many businesses, this is the service that brings customers to your company. At our retail locations, we offer a “Free in-store 15-minute diagnostic.” This means that any customer who walks in can bring in his or her computer and find out what’s wrong with it for free! As a result, we get many customers coming to us instead of going to another business.

In order to be able to offer this service for free, we generally restrict the tests to those a technician can run in about 15 minutes. Now, that doesn’t mean that the customer will have the diagnosis 15 minutes after he or she enters the store, although we’ve had a customer or two over the years who tried to hold us to that interpretation. In some cases, the tests we run on a computer can take hours, but because we aren’t working with the machine during that time (we just set it up and kick off the test) it is still included in the free diagnostic.

Other companies feel that giving away this service is not cost effective. Instead, they offer a free diagnostic on the condition that work is performed. For example, if they diagnose a bad hard drive and you agree to have them replace the drive, then the diagnostic was free. If you choose to have no work done, then you owe them $40. While this is a great way to advertise and get customers in the door you have to be up front about the charge. We have had some customers complain about businesses like these because they felt they were tricked into paying for a service they thought was free.

Some companies offer the diagnostic as just another service. Big-box stores have been known to charge as much as $80 to tell a customer that his or her computer was just not worth fixing. If you choose to go this route make sure you are up front with the customer before the diagnostic is performed.

In general, about 99 percent of our customers get a full diagnosis for free. However, there are three types of diagnostic requests (discussed in sections 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3) that will cause us to request an extended diagnostic fee if the customer is interested in getting this type of customized information.

1.1 Custom estimate for laptop hardware repair

In general, we can usually provide a repair estimate on a broken laptop without taking apart the computer. However, if the customer wants us to take it apart and provide an exact estimate, we charge an extended diagnostic fee that can be applied to the service if he or she chooses to have the laptop repaired. The reason we charge for this service is that any technician needs dedicated time to take a laptop apart, find the part numbers, look them up online, and then put the entire system back together again. Because this is so time-consuming, we need to be paid for this effort.

1.2 Full diagnostic after multiple problems have been identified

In general, once we know a computer isn’t worth repairing, we consider the free diagnostic done. Otherwise, since it is free, customers will want us to spend hours of our time to test every single part. For instance, one customer brought in an old computer with a bad power supply, a motherboard with bulging capacitors, and just 256K of RAM. We recommended that it wasn’t worth fixing because a better, refurbished system would cost less than fixing the old computer. However, he still wanted to have us run tests on all the parts of the computer just to find out if anything could be salvaged. We agreed we could test the system, but it would cost an extended diagnostic fee. He changed his mind and said, “Well, the parts are probably all bad because it has been in my garage for the last few years and I think my neighbor dropped a can of soda into it!”

1.3 Reproduction of intermittent errors

Occasionally, we get computers that have no signs of a problem. The customer may occasionally get an error but there is no way to reproduce it. In this case, if the computer tests out as working and the customer wants us to explore the problem in more detail, we will charge an extended diagnostic fee. However, we usually recommend that the customer use the computer a while longer and take notes every time the error is found. After a week or so of keeping this log, if he or she brings it back, it is much more likely that we can reproduce the issues without having to charge the fee.

2. Other Common Services

Choosing the services your business will offer is the foundation of your service price list (see Chapter 7 for more information about pricing). The most common services that your customers request should form the basis of this list and having this list will make it easier for you to make customer recommendations, quote prices, and even provide estimates.

Most computer repair businesses have services in common. The following sections look at the most common types of repairs as well as the tips, tricks, and pitfalls associated with each.

2.1 Tune-up

A tune-up is one of the simplest services you can offer. Typically customers need a few simple things done to their computer that will speed it up and get it running right. The following are some of the services that we include in a tune-up:

• Defragging the hard drive

• Getting and installing all Windows updates

• Validating that antivirus is correctly installed and working

• Shutting off unnecessary services and applications that are running in the background every time the computer starts up

• Checking virtual memory settings

At our store, we don’t require any special paperwork to complete a tune-up because there should not be any special modifications made to the customer’s computer that he or she needs to be aware of. Instead, our normal policy covers most of the risks and functions associated with this type of work.

To make sure that you complete the right tasks for a tune-up every single time, it helps to keep a checklist that you can use on each computer. Since technology changes quickly, you may want to create a tune-up checklist. However, you will need to update this regularly as new technology becomes available or as you find better, faster methods of completing repairs.

2.2 Virus removal

Unfortunately viruses are one of the most common problems facing computer systems today. The problems viruses can create range from slowing down the system (for the more innocuous bugs) to stealing all the banking information (for the more extreme items).

In general, virus removals are too time-consuming to complete on-site. A thorough virus removal will require you to scan the computer multiple times using many different tools before the viruses are truly gone. Therefore, to do this on-site is often too costly to be affordable (imagine paying for 15 hours of on-site labor to remove a virus). For both our business and private customers we recommend allowing us to do a virus removal at our location. This lets us work on multiple computers at once and gives us the time to remove the virus as thoroughly as possible. We charge a simple flat rate for the service.

2.2a Antivirus programs

There are many antivirus programs and they each change month-to-month and year-to-year. Most customers want to know the best product on the market, and although many are very good, no antivirus can stop every virus out there. Therefore, we tell our customers that the best way to prevent viruses is to learn good surfing habits which include:

• In Google searches, stay away from sites that you don’t recognize. Obtaining information directly from the vendor is preferable to another third-party site.

• Don’t click anywhere on a pop-up. Use Alt-F4 to close the pop-up without launching any code in the window.

• Don’t download software based on a pop-up or (in general) any software that you don’t know.

There are always free and paid antivirus programs. While some are good and some are bad, there is no way to universally recommend one or the other forever. In our company, we changed our recommendation over the years to match the latest industry information. Depending on the year, we have recommended and sold about five different products. In general, this is an issue you will have to keep up on regularly, and update your customers on as well.

However, when your customer asks you to recommend an antivirus program, always go with a supported, paid product. The reason is the customer has someone to go to for help, questions, and complaints — and that person isn’t you! When you recommend a large company such as Kaspersky Lab, McAfee, or Norton, the customer is buying a product from another vendor. When something goes wrong, and his or her computer gets a virus, or he or she has a problem with the installation, there is someone to call.

When you recommend a free product, odds are there is no formal support. As a result, guess who gets the calls? You do. Why? Because you tried to save the customer a few bucks. If it goes wrong, guess who gets the blame? You do, again. When it works, guess what? No one cares. Another benefit of finding a paid product that you like is that you can usually sell this product to your customers and even add a service fee for the installation!

One thing we have learned through trial and error is to never install or recommend a free software package even if the customer asks for it and is willing to pay for the install. For some reason, once you do the installation — especially if you charge for the install — the customer will believe that you are supporting the product.

2.2b Virus removals are not included in the regular service warranty

You cannot warranty virus work. Because customers can get viruses at any time there is no way to ever guarantee that a virus removal will remain “clean.” Don’t even try. A company that guarantees this work could find itself fixing the same computer week after week for free. As a matter of fact, the few times we have helped a customer by “re-removing” viruses, it has caused more problems than it cured. One customer had a virus removal and came back a few days later saying the virus wasn’t properly removed. Although we knew it was a recurrence, we removed it because it was so close together. A couple weeks later, she was back again with the same problem. When we wouldn’t complete another free virus removal she was upset and started causing a scene. Explaining up front that virus removals can never be guaranteed is always easier than dealing with a hostile customer.

To prevent this problem, you need to follow these steps when you complete a virus removal check:

1. Check that the customers have antivirus. In general, all customers should be running some sort of antivirus program. If they don’t have antivirus (or if it was corrupted by the virus or virus removal) —

• let them know they don’t have any active antivirus on their computer,

• make it clear that a lack of antivirus opens up the computer to all sorts of problems and they will most likely get viruses again, and

• offer to sell them an antivirus program.

2. Educate the customers about viruses — how a computer gets infected and how to prevent them. Remind them that sites which support music and movie pirating are also notorious for promoting viruses.

3. Have the customers try the machine in your shop as part of the check-out procedure. Then you both will know that the computer was working when he or she left.

4. If the customers have any problems, tell them to call immediately (i.e., within the first 24 hours) and explain that any problem found beyond that time could be the result of them getting another, new virus, so there will be no guarantee on the removal beyond that point.

In general, we have found that customers are very accepting about this. Because these rules have been explained up front, there is no confusion later on. Occasionally a customer will indicate that he or she doesn’t have time to check the computer for a few days — at that point, you can decide if you want to extend the warranty (we usually do).

Since virus removals typically take a few days to complete it is important to track every task you do as you do it so that you don’t lose track of where you are.

2.2c Answering the “porn” question

At some point you will receive the age-old question: “Why is there porn on my computer?” We all know that people watch porn. Some of our customers are really open about it. One actually asked us to make sure to back up his entire collection before we did any work. However, this is not the norm. Most people are very embarrassed about you finding any porn on their computer and are even more upset when they find it on someone else’s computer (e.g., spouse, boyfriend, child). In some cases, the files have been added by viruses; however, if we are being candid, in most cases it has been downloaded by the user. The thing is, it is nearly impossible to tell which is which and as a computer business owner, it is not your job to speculate.

Occasionally, we get a mad spouse in the store who wants to know if the virus is from “watching porn” or some other such question. Each time we answer honestly; there is no way to know for certain how a virus/porn was obtained, but you can get them from anything and any site. Even if the question seems innocent, we still don’t make any generalizations. After all, computer repair stores exist to fix broken computers, not to begin or end marriages!

2.3 Wipe and reload

One of the easiest functions to complete is a wipe and reload. Usually this is done when a computer’s operating system is corrupted, or when a virus is so bad that it can’t be removed.

2.3a Find the operating system key

Before you offer this service to a customer, make sure the customer has a legal operating system (OS) key. The only way you know an OS is legal is to find the certificate of authenticity (COA) either on the machine or to have a customer bring in the key. It has always amazed me how many people use pirated versions of their OS. If you start the installation and then realize the key is missing, the customer may become frustrated to discover he or she needs to spend more money on a new OS. Or, the customer may try to convince you to reinstall the illegal version he or she used to have (which you should never do).

We all know how to grab the OS key out of the registry, but chances are if you have to get the key this way, it is not a legal operating system. The only way to be sure that your customer has a real, legitimate operating system is to see the key yourself. If you can’t see it, don’t install it.

2.3b Be clear

Make sure the customer understands what is going to happen. The problem with the wipe and reload is that the customer loses everything (e.g., photos, applications, data) and often doesn’t understand what that means. Whenever you are reinstalling the OS, make sure to be very clear with the customer what will be lost and why the work is being completed. Go overboard on this explanation and make sure that the customer can clearly explain to you that he or she understands all of his or her data is being lost. If he or she can clearly say what is he or she is losing and is okay with that, you know the person understands what is happening.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to read them your wipe and reload agreement before they sign it.

Some customers are okay with losing their data but would prefer to keep a copy. Make sure that your customers know that this is an option. Not only will they be happy to have the choice, but you can make another service sale: a data transfer!

2.3c Up sell a better OS

Another option that you can offer during a wipe and reload is to upgrade the customer’s operating system. With Microsoft releasing new operating systems every few years, you may find that some customers are still on older operating systems, even if there is a better one on the market. Offering this type of upgrade will help both the customer and you.

For instance, in 2011, there are still customers that have XP or Vista instead of Windows 7. While both operating systems are fine, Windows 7 does have some benefits that make customers with newer computers interested in upgrading. From a customer perspective, a wipe and reload may be a perfect time to get the newest operating system. From a tech perspective, offering an upgrade to Windows 7 is another way to save you time and problems. Even if you offer the Windows 7 OS at your cost, the installation will be much faster than if you were installing and finding drivers for Vista or even XP. Therefore you can save time and make the same amount of money — a win-win situation for you and your customers.

Although wipes and reloads are one of the most fundamental functions, it is still important to follow a checklist you've created o ensure all steps are complete. At our store, a technician may handle as many as 20 different systems in a given day; therefore, even simple tasks could be overlooked if they weren’t properly tracked.

2.4 Data transfers versus data recoveries

Most people don’t come in for data transfers just to move information from one machine to another. With the advent of large flash drives, DVDs, and off-site backups, more and more people complete their own data transfers and data backups. Therefore, the usual time that people want a data transfer is when their hard drive is failing. This means that they are already having problems with the computer, files aren’t being read, the computer has blue-screened a few times, and it may no longer be accessible. As a result, they want you to recover the data and transfer it to another machine. A data recovery is not the same as a data transfer, so make sure to have separate listings for each.

2.4a What qualifies as a data transfer?

If the hard drive can be read, the data can be transferred easily to another computer. If this is the case, you can complete a data transfer. However, make sure the customer knows that when a hard drive is failing, even the transfer process itself could cause the hard drive to fail further. Therefore, this cannot be a guaranteed service. You can guarantee to attempt the transfer, but you cannot guarantee what will be recovered. Explaining this up front prevents problems down the line. To be clear, use a data transfer agreement you can create. Having the customer sign up front will help make it clear what can and can’t be transferred.

2.4b What qualifies as a data recovery?

If you have to complete any special work to recover the data, you are embarking on a data recovery. Like a data transfer, you cannot guarantee the results, so the customer is paying you to try to recover data, not based on the data you recover. Make sure that you are clear with the customer about the fact that you are not charging for the data that is recovered but for the attempt to recover the data. This is a very important distinction and if you are not clear about it up front, the customer may not agree to pay after the work is completed.

Also, be careful about attempting any type of recovery that will damage the hard driver further. If you do not have a “clean room” or the tools to complete a more aggressive data recovery, you don’t want to damage the hard drive beyond repair. Know your limits!

One way to try to recover a drive is to freeze it for a short time. Just take the hard drive, put it into a static bag, then place it in a Ziploc bag and put it in the freezer for around two hours. When you take it out, place it immediately on the server and attempt to pull off the data. If it works, you will probably have at least 20 to 30 minutes to get the data off the drive! It will work 1 in 100 times, but when it does, you will have a customer for life. This is a last-ditch effort by the way. Not for the faint of heart.

While many of us can work with hard drives to recover a good deal of data, there are some situations that most stores just aren’t prepared for. If you need to actually take apart the drive in a clean room, you are probably not going to be able to handle that at your location. Instead, try partnering with another company that specializes in these services. One of the companies that we partner with is DriveSavers Data Recovery, a nationally recognized company that actually pays local computer stores referrals and gives the customers you refer a discount for services. With a range of custom services (including a photos-only option) and the ability to recover data even after fire, flood, deletion, and more, you can give your customers additional options for recovery.

It’s important to note that recovery isn’t always possible. If the drive fails while your system is trying to write a file, it’s possible for the heads to actually touch the platters inside. If this happens, there is no recovery possible. The platters spin at more than 5400 RPM and sometimes up to 10K. I lost data through this and even though I was willing to pay, the company told me there was nothing it could do. My wife was not happy!

2.4c Validate the data recovery or data transfer

After you have completed a data recovery and/or transfer, and you believe you have a customer’s data, make sure you validate the data with the person before wiping or recycling his or her hard drive. In some cases, most files are transferred but not all the files. Making sure the customer has what he or she wants before you do any other work will make it easier to resolve any problems. The easiest way to do this is to invite the customer to come in (or use remote tools) and look at the files that were recovered.

Note: When you are showing a customer a data recovery, there are times that you will come across family (or sometimes more colorful) photos, but never comment on any of these. Remember, in some households computers are used by multiple individuals and the person who brought in the computer may not be the primary user. Making comments on photos can only lead to uncomfortable conversations.

We have all heard horror stories about technicians who have poked around on a customer’s computer and gotten caught. Don’t let this happen in your business. Customer data is confidential and should remain confidential. While you may choose to keep a customer’s data on your server after pickup (it is a good idea to keep a backup until the customer confirms that everything has been transferred) it is not a good idea to read the files, look at the photos, or scan the directories. In our company, it’s an offense that means termination.

3. Laptop Repairs

Today, more and more consumers are buying laptop systems. They can have all the features of a desktop with more portability. College students, businesspeople, and even children are starting to lean toward laptops. This means that your business will probably see quite a bit of laptop repair. The downside of laptop repair is that laptops are much harder to fix.

Let’s say the problem is a software issue. If you have a tech bench, it is easy to hook up 8 to 16 desktops immediately to the system. The customer doesn’t have to bring in anything except for the tower, and you can easily hook it up to your switch box to multitask. Unfortunately it isn’t as easy with laptops.

Laptops all need their own power cord so always ask the customer to leave it with you. Even if you have a compatible charger, it is better to use the customer’s power cord.

When you are taking apart a laptop you will need a lot of space to work on the computer. It isn’t as easy to hook up into your switch box so you may choose to just leave it on top of your bench taking up almost as much space as two desktops! If you are waiting for specialized parts, you can either rebuild the system or you will need to obtain a large plastic bin to house the laptop and its parts.

When you are taking apart a laptop it may be tempting to leave it on your desk in its disassembled state. However, if you do this, you run the risk of losing parts — everything from screws to hard drives could be moved and lost for good. Always track the laptop parts (e.g., external drives, power cords) and label them with the customer’s name as soon as it is checked in.

Now, let’s say the laptop had a hardware problem. Laptop hardware repairs are somewhat more difficult than desktop hardware repairs. The best way to start a laptop repair is to look up the teardown instructions online and follow those. Laptop hardware takes more time to diagnose. Whereas desktop systems should take you no more than a few screws to pull apart, laptops can take a half hour, or sometimes more, just to get to the point where you can visually inspect the motherboard. It will then take another half hour to put the computer back together. This means that before you even start testing the parts, you have invested an hour or more in the diagnosis. Therefore, we recommend charging an hour of labor for hardware diagnosis.

Laptop parts are usually proprietary, meaning you can’t easily swap one motherboard or graphics card for another. Instead, the parts usually need to be special-ordered for each system.

Keep these things in mind when you are pricing laptop work and estimating repairs. Because laptop repairs are a bit more customized, you will need to charge for this work differently than your desktop repairs. Even experienced technicians find that with the extensive variations in laptop designs, some work takes much longer than expected.

3.1 Ordering custom laptop parts

Once again, laptop repair is custom work. Even when you know what part is bad, you have to research a vendor, find the part, and order it online. Then, you need to manage the new vendor relationship and if the part fails, the customer will go to you for a replacement. Therefore, you need to charge for the new part. We recommend adding a 20 percent surcharge to any parts ordered with a minimum that is about the same as what you charge for 15 minutes of work. Since these are custom parts, we recommend instituting the following policies:

Customer must pay 100 percent of the part cost up front for a custom part order. If you want, the customer can pay for service after the work is completed.

Custom orders are all final sale. This means that a customer cannot return the part or change his or her mind on the work.

Custom work is not guaranteed to fix all the laptop problems. This means that even if the replacement part doesn’t fix all the issues, the customer still owes you for the work completed. For example, if a screen problem isn’t identified because the computer didn’t boot, you aren’t responsible for fixing that problem for free.

We have had a few customers who have tried to get us to guarantee all the laptop parts when we replace just one. Replacing a motherboard doesn’t guarantee that the wireless card, screen, or hard drive is still working. However, because of the costs of some custom parts, customers feel that you “owe” them more repairs because of the amount they spent. Make sure to explain your warranty policies and limitations before you complete any custom work or custom orders. To be clear, use a laptop hardware repair agreement which you can create and have them sign before you do any work. This is an easy way to ensure your customers are aware of your policies.

In general, we charge hourly labor on repairs with flat charges for certain services (e.g., keyboard and screen replacements). The result is that the cost of repairs tends to be much higher for laptops than for desktops.

3.2 Motherboard replacements

One common part that goes out on laptops is the motherboard. In many cases, what is a cost-effective repair on a desktop is a waste of money on a laptop. For instance, let’s say that a customer brings in a laptop that is having motherboard issues. While this repair may be a reasonable option with a desktop, you will find that buying the replacement laptop motherboards at your cost can be hundreds of dollars. This means that once you add in labor (at least an hour, maybe two) plus the cost of a motherboard, handling fees, and shipping, the repair on a laptop motherboard could cost the customer between $300 and $400. What’s more, after the repair is complete you may find other problems which hadn’t been noticed beforehand (e.g., the wireless card isn’t working).

In these cases, when the cost of the repair is close to the price of a new system, we highly discourage the repair both for our sake and the customer’s. As a technician, charging a customer $400 for a service means the customer wants the service to be perfect. Unfortunately, this cannot be guaranteed with laptop repair. The replacement part could be defective and most replacement parts are refurbished ones that come with only a limited 30- to 60-day warranty. Other times, what broke the motherboard impacted other systems as well. Meaning after the work is done the computer still doesn’t work and the customer doesn’t want to pay for the work.

3.3 Power jack repairs

One of the most common parts that fail on a laptop motherboard is the connection between the power cord and the board — the jack. Because of rough handling, the pressure from the cord pushes the jack off the motherboard. The effect is that the power no longer reaches the board so the computer doesn’t work. This is easy to diagnose since the jack is usually very loose. If you apply even slight pressure to the plug, it will move significantly from side to side.

Some local shops will agree to open the machine and solder the jack back down onto the motherboard for around $100. This is not very hard to do and usually fixes the problem. The issue is what happens next: Typically, soldering a part back onto a board does not guarantee the repair. This means that although the part has been secured to the board, rough handling (or sometimes even gentle handling) can make it come off again. So, can you guarantee this work? Also, is this a “real” fix even if it doesn’t have the same security as a new board? And lastly, is soldering a board risky?

In general, we don’t recommend completing this work without a thorough explanation to the customer. Explain how this problem arises (customer handling) and explain that it could easily occur again. Make sure the customer understands that since this is a result of abuse, there is no guarantee on the work. It could happen again in a month or never. It is up to the customer, not up to the workmanship. Communication is the key to preventing customer conflict.

4. Research What Your Competitors Offer

A way to find out what services you should offer is to research your competition. First, look at local big-box stores that offer computer repairs. Companies such as Best Buy (Geek Squad) and Staples often have price lists that they can share that will provide a detailed listing of all their services and the price for those services. In general, the price at a big-box store should be your upward maximum. Don’t try to price your services like these retailers; instead, figure out just how much your customers can save going to you instead of a large box store. This information may be a strong selling point during conversations with potential customers.

Next, visit any small, local computer stores in your area. Although they don’t have the same information readily available (most will not have forms to give out to customers) they probably have some or most of their service prices prominently posted. Talk to the technicians, find out what services customers use most, and how long they take. These stores will be your biggest competition, so knowing their cost and turnaround time will help you understand what your customers will expect from you.

It may sound counterintuitive, but it is sometimes helpful to be friendly with the competition. You may find that although you are in the same area you do very different types of work. Although it doesn’t happen often, sometimes you will find yourself referring your customers to another vendor and vice versa. In some cases, you can even build referral fees into this type of relationship!

5. Know Your Customers

As with any business, you have to know who your customers really are. Do you plan to target small-business owners? Seniors who don’t want to mess with their computers? Young gamers who want high-end systems? In general, each of these groups has different needs and goals.

The benefit of knowing your customers is that it gives you the option of targeting your services. On one hand, if you are in the middle of a college town you probably won’t find many students who want you to install software for them. Maybe some of the students would like this service, but the majority of college-aged people are capable of installing their own software. On the other hand, if you live by a retirement community, you may find that this service is one that is frequently requested. Older computer users may be comfortable with computers but often don’t like making modifications to their own systems — even if it is only installing software.

Identifying what type of market is in your general area will also help you to design effective ads that get the attention of the customers you are looking for. In general, it would be better to have many custom ads, than one or two generic ads.

6. Determining Your Service Policy

As a computer repair business, you need to firmly establish your service policy. You need to ask yourself some questions about what you recommend for your customers.

What happens when your solution doesn’t work? If a service is attempted but does not resolve the problem, is the customer responsible for the cost of the service? Do you charge the customer or not? Many stores do. As a matter of fact, most check-in paperwork will tell you that the customer is responsible for paying for all authorized work even if it doesn’t resolve the problem. While this makes sense because you have invested time and effort into solving the problem, the customer may be a bit irritated if he or she is paying for a service that didn’t help.

At our store, we indicate that we can charge our customers for services that are completed (even if they don’t resolve the issue) but we generally don’t. We have this listed on our paperwork to protect us from completing requested work that is beyond our control. For example, let’s say we complete a data recovery that gets back 50 percent of the data, but not the specific photo the customer was looking for. In that case, we would charge the customer for the service because we completed the requested service to the best of our ability but we couldn’t control what data was recovered and what was corrupted.

What if the service we recommended didn’t work? Let’s say a customer brings in a computer that has intermittent problems. After looking it over, you conclude that the operating system (OS) is corrupted and recommend that it be reloaded. He or she agrees to pay the $120 you charge for the service and you perform a wipe and reload for her. After the work is completed, you notice that the problems are still happening. You then run a detailed hard drive test and notice that the hard drive is going bad. What do you do? There are really only two choices:

1. Charge for the service you performed, even though it didn’t resolve the problem; or

2. Don’t charge for the service that didn’t work.

That is the decision you will have to make. After all, the work was completed in good faith and, in most cases, this service would have fixed the problem. However, at our store, we would not charge the customer. Why? We choose to guarantee that a service will fix the problem or there is no charge. There are a few reasons why we think this works best:

Increases customer confidence: Letting the customer know that your service either fixes the problem or it’s free lets him or her know that you are confident in your diagnostic skills.

Most customers will agree to additional services even if they cost more: When you call the customer to let him or her know that the service didn’t work, he or she will usually be responsive to letting you try something else if the problem wasn’t resolved. This means you will still be able to earn money for completing the repair even if it takes you a bit longer than you expected.

Diagnostics can be done faster. If you aren’t willing to work on a machine unless you are 100 percent certain that you know exactly what the problem is, you will find that you spend way more time on diagnostics than you need. For instance, if you suspect viruses, start a virus removal.

Now, let’s say that you choose to guarantee your recommendation. You can call the customer and say that while you were working on the OS reload you noticed that the hard drive is also failing. If she wants to repair the computer it will be nearly $220; if she wants to scrap the computer, you can recycle it for her. At this point, she has a choice. Some of our customers do agree to do the additional work. Others choose to replace the computer and often will purchase a new machine from us and recycle the old one with us. I don’t imagine they would do either if we told them we were going to charge them $119 for nothing.

Another question you will receive from customers is whether or not the computer is worth fixing. Unfortunately, there are never any hard and fast rules about this.

When the economy was booming, customers used almost any computer problem as a great excuse to buy a new computer. Have viruses, get a new computer! Bad hard drive, get a new computer! Need drivers, get a new computer! Well, almost. The truth is when customers have cash they sometimes just want to spend it. One customer sent her husband in with her old computer. When we diagnosed it we realized it was a good machine that could be dramatically improved with just a bit of memory. We added the RAM, and the woman came by to pick it up. She was furious. Apparently, she had sent her husband to our store to get a new computer. Even though her machine was now as fast as a new machine, she was still upset that he had “taken the cheap route”!

In a slow economy, the market is completely different. Customers are looking to spend the least amount of money possible. Almost anything is preferable than having to spend money on a new computer or even a refurbished system. We have had customers who wanted to replace the hard drive, reinstall the operating system, and even replace the motherboard on an old computer because the total was less than a new machine — even though for a little bit more money they would have had a much better system!

Our perspective on fixing computers is to give the customer the best options available. However, not all computer stores adhere to this philosophy. On the one hand, a new computer for $400 usually has a low margin, maybe about $80. On the other hand, completing software repairs on an old computer could run up to $300 and that money would be all margin. Therefore, you will find some businesses that recommend a customer make an expensive repair in place of spending a few dollars more and getting a better value. While this is not illegal, businesses that do behave like this will eventually build a reputation of recommending unnecessary services.

The best thing to do is to give the customer all the information and make a recommendation that is not based on what makes you the most money, but what is best for the customer. In the end, this will not just benefit the customer but also help build your business with customers that trust you. In addition, we’ve found that many times customers have gone to one of the big-box stores before they came to us. They were told they needed an $800 system and when we told them we could fix their problem for less than $200, they were overjoyed. They told everyone and we got more happy customers!