Between the bad guys--viruses, pop-ups, internet intruders--and the good guys-OS upgrades, broadband access, firewalls, and downloadable drivers for everything under the sun--the general user public is getting overwhelmed by ease of use. To do the simplest of things, such as searching the web or printing a document, can be confusing and even risky. The Boise State AITP student chapter sensed that the general public in the Boise area may be in need of some help. There was a need, and then some!
On Saturday, March 19th, the AITP Student Chapter at Boise State University staged its first free computer repair fair for the Boise community. This was the most ambitious and visible event we have ever attempted. In all, fifteen students assisted over 80 customers working on more than 100 computers. The planned four hour event turned into a thirteen hour day. Even with long waits and customers turned away, it received rave reviews from the community. We are geared up and loaded with ideas to improve upon it next fall.
We will describe the overall event first, then discuss some of the important things which worked or need to work to be successful.
The Repair Fair
The publicity was minimal: an email to the Boise State University student, staff and faculty community, an article in the business section of the local paper and some posters sprinkled around the campus. Interested customers were asked to pre-register for start times on a web site and request the following possible services:
Removal of viruses and spyware
Cleaning up the hard drive for optimization
Installation of purchased programs
Installation of operating systems
Installation of Freeware and Shareware
Helpful tips on how to keep your computer running at its best
Answers to any questions
The Student Union provided a large room to host the Fair. Equipment was borrowed from the college IT department and club members to set up 30 repair stations each with a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and cabling plus power and network access. The repair stations were grouped by type of problem: 1) Anti-virus and Spyware, 2) Installation, and 3) a Tier 3 Troubleshooting area.
The facility included a large entry room for the intake process. Two people briefly interviewed customers to jot down repair needs on a Post-It and sign a waiver. CPUs were queued up along a wall for repair staff to pick from. Customers could accompany repair staff while they worked, to ask questions or provide information. Afterwards, they were given a document we prepared called 'Things You Can Do Yourself', explaining various PC maintenance tasks.
Nothing prepared us for the pandemonium that ensued. The pre-registration time slots filled up quickly, and dozens more showed up without pre-registering. In effect, we fell behind before we started. The line began forming a half hour before the first time slot, and continued through the entire 10:00 to 2:00 scheduled event. Repair work continued past 2:00, then past 6:00 when the pizza arrived. At 8:30 pm, as we began knocking down tables, the last two repairs were just being finished. After the dust cleared, over 100 computers were worked.
What Made It Work, Or Not
We did a few things very well. With the long lines, however, a number of areas need improvement next time around.
Customers were asked to pre-register on a web site, where limited time slots were available. When the customer selected a type of repair work and start time, they received from two to four 15-minute slots. Pre-registration helped to restrict the number and timing of customers. Extra customers did come, but it would have been much worse without pre-registration.
2. Time Scheduling
By far the trickiest part was scheduling the repair times. Our time estimates were far too optimistic, and often impossible to estimate without opening the computer. Longer initial time estimates for specific types of repair problems would have helped the backlog. However, too many factors can vary the repair time. The simplest approach is for customers to drop off their computers with a number to call when their computer is ready for work or pickup.
3. Intake Process
The separate staging area helped prevent chaos and excess frustration, given the long lines and very long delays. Customers were extraordinarily patient, but delays caused some frustration.
4. Problem Diagnosis
The part of intake that most needed improvement was recording diagnostic information. 'Post It' notes left too many questions unasked. Next time we will prepare a consolidated form filled out initially on the pre-registration site, then is reviewed by the intake staff asking follow-up questions. It will cover reservation, waiver, contact, and problem, to which repair notes can be added.
5. Customer Involvement
Customers were invited to join the repair person as they worked. While it often added to the repair time, it was worth it for many customers who could ask questions and pick the repair staff's brains. It also made the experience more satisfying for the student doing the repair, associating the machine with a real person.
6. Peripheral Set Up
With all the peripherals set up, customers only had to carry in their system box (CPU). Customers lugging around their monitors and the rest would have been a disaster.
Missing software was a recurring obstacle. Most customers did not bring in their CDs of their OS, applications, or drivers. Next time we will ask about versions and prompt the customer to bring in their original CDs when possible. Also, we will set up a dedicated computer to download drivers from the web.
The quality of repair work was high, although the time varied widely from person to person. One very helpful tool was a CD full of common freeware and shareware for use by the repair staff. While a good start, we needed more training time together walking through diagnostic checklists and installation processes.
By all accounts, the first AITP Student Chapter Computer Repair Fair was a success. It provided a needed service for the community, including some education of home computing maintenance. It raised awareness of our organization, and over $300 was donated to help members travel to the AITP National conference.
We learned a great deal about PC maintenance. Even more important, though, was the appreciation of customer service and relating to customer needs. By improving on our experiences this coming Fall, the second time around, we can further improve the efficiency of service as well as its quality.