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Continuing education for staff important to success

User Friendly takes service seriously

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of computers has probably heard the term “user friendly.” Basically this means the ease and convenience of a computer`s use after the purchase.

For User Friendly, a Jackson-based computer hardware, software and services provider, the term is more than a concept and more than just a catchy name. It was the very idea behind the business` establishment and is the key to its continuing success.

“Today, everybody is selling computers – there`s no shortage of where you can buy one,” said Charlie Brown, co-owner of User Friendly. “Any `superstore` may have 10 people selling computers, most of whom don`t know anything about how a computer works, and maybe just one or two people working on them. That can be a problem. So we reorganized the store in 1995 and concentrated on service. We had seven full-time salespeople and now we have just one. Surprisingly, sales never suffered from the move.”

User Friendly is the exclusive Apple/Macintosh dealer in a 50-mile radius of Jackson, but occasionally is asked by Apple to cover areas as far away as the Gulf Coast. Though Mac-related sales and service remains the bulk of User Friendly`s business, it does sell and service Compaq.

In addition to repair, User Friendly offers installation and set-up of individual computers as well as networks, and consulting. And it just recently added Web page and domain design and houses and maintains several domains in the store.

User Friendly carries the entire Apple line, which has traditionally been tailor-made for businesses, and carry only Compaq`s business-oriented equipment. Thus, it probably comes as no surprise that the majority of the company`s clients are businesses.

“Most of our customers are small to medium-sized businesses,” Brown said. “One day we plan to go after some larger businesses. But we want to serve our current niche first. Most of our smaller customers have no redundancy. They can`t tolerate a shut down. They need to know if they have a problem on a Friday afternoon, we`ll be there. If we can`t serve a person with 10 computers, how can we serve one with 100?”

Brown said User Friendly`s goal is to have a customer`s problem solved within 72 hours, preferably within 48 hours. Obviously to do that, the company must have a motivated and well-trained staff. Brown said motivation is provided through talking, sharing knowledge and experiences and by allowing the technicians leeway to approach and solve a problem as they see fit.

On the training end, Brown said all his personnel hold four-year degrees. He said that`s important.

“You need people who have been through college because system engineering is much more extensive than it used to be,” Brown said. “For instance, Compaq`s training course takes months and costs $16,000. You need people who understand and can make that kind of commitment.”

With refresher courses required every six to 12 months to boot, User Friendly obviously has a lot of time and money invested in its personnel. Thus, retaining those people is crucial. Brown said retention at the company is excellent, and attributes it to the company`s employee contracts – or the lack thereof.

“We hire on a handshake,” Brown said. “If you`d break a handshake agreement, we didn`t want you here in the first place. They call that `old-fashioned values.` It shouldn`t be old-fashioned.”

About Wally Northway

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