Tales From the Nerd Farm

The Printer People

Thing I Never Said: “Tell you what… if two minutes is all you need, I’ll give you two minutes free… but if it takes longer, or you need my help, you buy a full hour.”

The phrase I second-most dreaded hearing for most of my time there was “I just need a few minutes to print something.” Because they would nearly always need my help. Printer people were the worst ratio of effort to revenue, because they were going to be sucking up most if not all of my attention for $1.25, maybe $2.50 of time and 50 cents per page, one dollar if it was colour.

I was happy to explain that we didn’t get print shop bulk deals on paper or ink and couldn’t offer print shop prices per page, with the unspoken clue that if 50 cents per page was too much go to Staples, you are not the lifeblood of this company. Also, some felt that if they only needed two minutes to open a webpage and print a form, why should they pay for 15 minutes, which inspired the above never-issued challenge, because they were often wrong about only needing two minutes.

But I could never openly complain about this. First of all, that’s horrible customer service, and that ain’t how I roll. Second… it felt like every time I most wanted to complain about a customer’s helplessness with a computer, I would learn something that made me very glad I hadn’t said anything.

The first case… a gentleman would come in, needing to email people, and needing my help to figure out email. I had to teach him how to forward attachments. You know… by forwarding an email. By clicking “forward” and entering an email address. This baffled him. But I held my tongue, and helped as much as he needed… and learned that he was filing asylum documents for a relative. So, yeah, last thing this guy needed was some internet cafe worker getting on his case for not learning enough about email in whatever African country was bad enough to need asylum paperwork to leave.

The other prime example came when someone asked me for help printing a document from his email. I said “Just open the email and print the file,” and he stared at me like a deer in headlights. A deer in headlights being asked to 50-words-or-less the plot of The Silmarillion. I stared back in horror, and managed to say “I literally can’t say it any simpler.” So I had to walk him through what felt like a very simple process… and found that what he was printing was a letter of apology to the judge in his trial for assault. So, again, glad I chose to be helpful instead of sassy. Just in case “history of violence” became “future of violence.”


Now remember a couple of paragraphs earlier, when I said “I just need to print something” was my second most dreaded statement? Well, number one was the same device, but a whole other issue… “I need to scan some documents.”

Sometimes this could be quick and easy. Put a couple of pages in the document feeder, punch in the customer’s email address, and away it went. But more often, someone needed to email copies of a bunch of different official documents for, probably, immigration purposes, and naturally they didn’t own a scanner, so where else can they go?

This is what kept me going through all the print and scan jobs. This is where people go to do computer things they can’t at home. Unless that computer thing involved iTunes. We were not set up to do anything with iTunes.

However, this meant that sometimes someone would come in with a passport, drivers’ license, and five other documents of varying sizes, some fragile, none appropriate for the document feeder, and most if not all needing both sides scanned. This was going to be the next 15 minutes of my day, for which the store would make $2.50, because these scan jobs didn’t require computer time, just mine. And I wasn’t willing to charge $2.50 per item scanned, that seemed insane. $2.50 per ten items, that I could live with, because if you’re handing me 50 pages to scan you ain’t getting that for $2.50. That never happened but it was nice to tell myself that’s what I’d do.

There was one really easy scan job. A guy came in, said “I need to scan this and print a copy.” To which I replied “Or we could just… photocopy it?” Which he was relieved to learn was an option.

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