Technology

Post-crash Confidential

When troubled hard drives go bad, computer users can come unraveled, too.
John P. Mello Jr.April 17, 2006

Former suicide hotline manager Kelly Chessen has never heard of someone actually killing himself because his computer’s hard drive crashed, but she hears a lot of talk about it. Chessen, now the data crisis counselor at DriveSavers Data Recovery, was hired to help re-weave the psyches of clients who’ve come unraveled after a computer mishap.

“When push comes to shove, they really aren’t serious about it,” she says. Some customers have called DriveSavers in dismay; others have actually attached a suicide note to the hard drive they sent in for repair, and Chessen followed up with by telephone. “Whenever I call, it’s always the same thing: They were only kidding,” she says. “But to someone with my training and background, it’s not funny at all.”

Clearly, however, hard-drive meltdowns are no joke, and data-recovery companies should expect continued calls from frazzled corporate and individual clients. Indeed, fully 30 percent of the hard drives on the market today should never have been sold, claims Alfred Demirjian, chief executive officer of data-recovery company Techfusion.

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“We’ve seen a serious uptick in hard-drive failures,” agrees Andy Trask, co-founder of Geek Housecalls. Only two years ago, he says, his computer-repair company had no hard-drive-recovery business to speak of, but late last year Geek Housecalls opened a new lab for just that purpose — “the machines in our general lab were all getting tied up by recovery projects.”

Trask attributes the growing failure rate less to the quality of the hard drives than to the increasing number of aging computers still in use. Rather than upgrade the whole machine, he observes, customers with one eye on their tech budget often squeeze a little more service from older PCs by adding memory and upgrading the operating system, while ignoring the hard drive. That’s ironic, says Trask, considering the attitude that users have toward their data today. Only a few years ago, he says, most customers who brought in a damaged hard drive simply wanted it wiped clean. But today, he observes, “with irreplaceable digital family photos and painstakingly acquired music libraries practically standard on any home machine, people are less likely to have a trash-it-all attitude.” That may go double for a key computer at a smaller business.

“We haven’t had to hire crisis counselors yet,” adds Trask, “although our service geeks end up in that role — they’re like bartenders and hairdressers in some respects.”

Listening is important in calming down the tech-stressed, counsels Chessen. “You can’t remain silent while they’re venting,” she says. “You have to give them little verbal cues to let them know that you’re listening, because they want to tell their story and the local tech guy doesn’t care. He just wants to fix their hard drive.”

A sense of humor also comes in handy. Demirjian recalls one hysterical customer who showed up on Techfusion’s doorstep insisting that her problem was a virus — the “Monkey Virus.”

“Oh,” Demirjian told the customer, “for that virus, what we do is hold a banana outside the computer and, when he tries to grab it, we grab his hand and pull him out.” She laughed, and calmed down. Techfusion recovered her data.