Awkward conversations after a computer repair fails

Last month I had a three-day battle with a broken RAID setup. I eventually brought it back to life, returned it to the client and, after a few days, sent an invoice. Then, a couple of days ago, it broke again. They called me in.

It’s a tough one. It could be the power supply throwing the occasional wobbly. It could Random Motherboard Kak with the RAID chip. It could be user error. It could be something totally unrelated. Most of which are difficult to diagnose, and would involve trial and error see-if-it-lasts-this-time. They’ve decided to get a new computer instead. They also said they’d pay for my previous work, but made it clear they aren’t happy about doing so, as it “wasn’t repaired”. I think it unlikely they’d use me again.

Ugh. I hate these situations. I can see their point. But I did, in fact, get it working, and there was nothing to suggest the problem would recur. I didn’t charge anything extortionate, either. I’ll talk about it with a more knowledgeable friend to see whether there’s anything technical I should done differently, but that’s kinda irrelevant – there are certainly situations where this could happen through no fault of my own.

I suppose from my perspective they’re paying me to attempt a repair, but to them they’re paying for a repair. I tend to assume people are aware of the former, and although I try to explain what I’m doing, maybe I need to be much more explicit about it. 95% of the time they amount to the same thing, and of the remainder it’s usually something I can tell them about pretty quickly, and charge a nominal fee. But in this kind of situation, the difference becomes important. Maybe I need to get a properly-written contract, so I’m covered. I’m probably leaving myself wide open without one, to be honest.

In the end I caved and offered to fit a couple of components into a separate machine for no extra charge, which mollified them somewhat. But I still feel like I’ve messed up, one way or another.