In the early 1990’s, I was Sales Manager for the largest computer builder and repair shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We sold a lot of custom built computers every month, and our clients included Sandia Labs, Los Alamos Labs, Albuquerque Public School System, and thousands of professionals. We did very little advertising, we had no big yellow pages ads, mainly just a small ad every Monday in the Albuquerque Journal’s business section. We also had a large client base of personal users, usually obtained by referrals from our business clients. We even gave classes to new computer users on Tuesday and Thursday nights at our training center classroom, right in the store.
I personally sold a lot of computers every month, with most of my sales coming through the front door. There were a lot of options that we had to cover when someone would order a new computer system. Case style and size, processor type and speed, amount of RAM, hard drive number and size, operating system, how many floppy drives, (yes, floppies), perhaps a CD reader, monitor size and brand, mouse style, and selection of keyboard, as we carried about 10 different types of keyboards.
I had sold a new system to a retired couple, and they were taking advantage of our “newbie” classes. They had taken our “introduction to computers” class together, and he seemed really interested in learning about installing software. I was working the late shift one night, (we were open until 9PM, M-Sat), when in he came, madder than a wet hen. He told me, (in a raised voice), that I had sold him a “defective” keyboard. I said “no problem, let’s go pick out another one“, and we moved over to the keyboard section of the store. He looked over all the keyboards, and exclaimed, “but all of these are also defective“. When I asked what he meant by defective, he explained that he was installing a new piece of software on his computer, and when it finished, the message on the monitor said “Hit any key to continue….“. He had looked all over the keyboard and could not find the “any” key.
When I explained to him what the message actually meant, we both had a good laugh. I made sure that our class instructors added a section about the “any” key to our curriculum.
This experience taught me a lot about how you talk to new users. I learned that no matter who you were talking to, always start at bottom, in the simplest of language without being condescending, because you can always ratchet up the “geek level” if need be.
Years later, I saw that an enterprising entrepreneur had developed a raised “any” key that you could stick on your keyboard.