I can’t help but think that in my 1970’s TV servicing days, the job card had a secret life of it’s own.
In our busy service department, when a customer phoned in to report a faulty item, the receptionist would determine the nature of the call and transfer the caller to the control room.
Due to the large area that our service department covered, the control room was a very busy place, manned by a team of ladies who might well have been the same type of RAF controllers who pushed planes around on the large board, in the film The Battle of Britain. The maps on the walls signified the different service areas that we covered and the engineers who covered them. At fifteen years old, I spent the first week of my apprenticeship in there and apart from wanting to mother me, I’m sure they competed to see who could make me blush the most.
Once the customer’s call reached the control room, the job card was launched and it was a typical affair of that era; a top copy and carbon paper imprinted plain white card whose life began with a job number consisting of a loosely disguised date and identity of the operator. I suppose for us engineers that part was irrelevant anyway because we always recognised the girls’ neat handwriting, each having their own familiar style. They were from a different generation to me; they were taught to write properly at school and like my own parents, would almost certainly have received a whack for their troubles if they didn’t.
Firstly, the address details had to be legible and they always were, followed by a checked box which would record whether the TV was a rental, warranty or billable repair. I should explain that when our retail outlets made a new sale or rental agreement, all the customer details were recorded on bin cards and filed in the service department control room. When a call came in, this information was cross-checked and validated by the operator before the job card was issued. On the rare occasion this box wasn’t ticked, it became the responsibility of the field service engineer to verify any documentation alluding to warranty, for example if the customer was saying it was warranty but the details couldn’t be located. In other words it was billable unless proved otherwise!
For field service engineers it was fairly vital to have the correct fault description and this is where our girls came into their own, they recorded the model of the TV and deciphered the customer fault description’s. In my first week spent in there, I learnt their technique and technical vocabulary; something as simple as “doesn’t work” could be narrowed down by a series of questions until a correct fault description such as sound, vision, dead etc was determined.
A “fuzzy picture” might translate to “Snowy picture but ok on BBC1” and these girls were on the ball, if they saw more than one occurence in the same area they would call the aerial rigger team to find out if there was a transmitter issue. Field service wasn’t easy, but I think it was a lot easier due to the efficient way the job cards were written out.
An amusing frame linearity fault was often only realised when the customer was watching News at Ten and would phone the next morning with “Gordon Honeycombe’s head is too big”. This was a fault where the ITN newscaster appeared to have a massive head but miniscule shoulders. This usually provided a laugh as the job card would simply read Gordons’ frame fault, or the ultimate in shorthand was a hand drawn icon of Gordons head!
Once the job card was completed, the top copy went onto the control room “spike” and the job card would then go into the field service engineers pigeon hole. All of this information was crucial to the smooth daily running of the field service engineer who would usually have a quick read through his calls before setting off for the day. The job card would enable him to plan ahead and carry some additional spare parts that he might need. Some job cards might contain subtle codes such as irate customer or repeat fault and sometimes both!
One of the most feared comments on the job card was a time constraint such as “before 10:30” or “after 3:30” because that single comment might upset the planning for the whole day. An engineer might have more than a dozen calls to plan and complete covering different districts and a timed call could severely disrupt the planning, forcing them to backtrack to an area they had already visited.
Each service van or car was equipped with a radio telephone and occasionally, a field service engineer might be given a call whilst he was out on the road and therefore write the job card himself. The means to write your own job-card allowed some engineers to abuse the system by ripping up their calls with a time constraint. They would then write out a new job card minus the time constraint and all that remained for them to do was to pop a NI card (not in) card through the letterbox, thus ensuring the next engineer who called would get it in the neck. They would just plead ignorance if the question of time constraint came up.
It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that it was the same engineers who found some customers so scary that they took system abuse to new levels. To avoid customer confrontation, or maybe a set with a bad name, they became adept at parking their van around the corner then sneaking back to silently pop a not in card through the door without getting caught. The (now irate) customer would then phone up and complain and because the engineer appeared to be “out of radio contact” the job would be re-issued to another engineer. That other engineer was often the float engineer, so named because he would float in and out of the various districts we covered without actually having a patch of his own.
When the television had to go into the workshop, the job card was semi-completed by field service with what work had been done and then returned to the control room where it would be re-issued to the collection team. (It was very rare for the field service engineer to take the TV in) The collection/delivery team would collect the set with skill and diligence ( ?) taping the job card to the CRT. At the same time they also returned sets that had just been to the workshop so things were tight on those vans.
Once in the workshop, the set would get a permanent name and address label (if it didn’t already have one) and the job card would then join the pile of “to do” job-cards. Each set had to be removed for repair in strict order of arrival. The job card would now reveal the history of the set from the time the call had been originally taken to what work had been carried out. If an engineer had made an unsuccessful attempt to visit because the customer was out, then this would be recorded on the job card with the code NIC (not in card left). Because the repair would have already been delayed, a NIC set might well jump the queue. It was a system that was designed to be fair although some exceptions to the strict rule would have been TVs coming in with repeat repairs (irate customers), OAPs sets, oh and did I mention apprentices?
As an apprentice, I was allowed to pick and choose my jobs off the pile in no particular order and my favourite jobs were CRT replacements. Let’s face it the hard work had already been done for you and a bonus of 20 pence per completed set was a fine inducement in any language. Occasionally I would notice that having replaced the CRT, the job would turn into a complete nightmare such as an IF re-alignment with an intermittent AGC fault requiring soak testing.
I soon wised up to this as it was not uncommon to find that certain field engineers would rewrite the job card with something like “o/c heaters CRT required” This is when I discovered the true power of the job card. I would go to the control room where my previous maternal bonding allowed me access to the job card “spike” Remember the spike contained the original job card top copy and would ultimately reveal the original details recorded such as ‘ same fault again intermittent loss of sound and picture, engineer been twice already” So how did that fault turn into a CRT with open circuit heaters?
I suspect the root problem was that there was often a bit of rivalry between field service and workshop engineers. This stemmed from the fact that if field service couldn’t fix a tricky fault and the workshop chaps could and did, the latter would tend to regard themselves as better engineers and let the field service guys know about it. So if and when they couldn’t fix a fault, to save face, certain engineers would destroy the original job card, write out the new job-card and send the CRT to heaven. I suppose the philosophy was that a CRT was unquestionably a workshop job and ripped up job cards couldn’t tell tales.
The job card wasn’t done yet, often on a billable job, before a repair could be carried out an estimate had to be sent to the customer so the job card went to the accounts office and an estimate was phoned or posted. When the estimate was finally approved, the job card was returned to the workshop engineer who had created the estimate. However, if he was off work or on holiday, to avoid any unnecessary delay, it was usually passed to another engineer or the apprentice. Nice work if you could get it, as once again, all the hard fault finding work had been done for you.
Occasionally, (actually more frequently then I dare mention) televisions suffered cabinet damage despite the care and attention paid to them by the collection team. It was the job of our full time french polisher to remedy these unfortunate incidents before the television was returned to the customer. This would be recorded on the job card as the TV would need to go through the polishing shop before being returned. I should mention that the collection teams were skilled in a type of polishing otherwise known as the craft of hiding scratches. Their kit consisted of assorted boot polishes and a tin of brasso for scratched crt’s and plastic bezels. Needless to say, these “scratch repairs” would have escaped most folk, but a vigilant customer would have had none of that and would have been quick to phone up and complain. The same job card would then be reissued to accompany the polisher who was often able to complete small repairs in the customer’s home.
Once a workshop repair was ready to be returned to the customer, the completed job card would find it’s way back to the control room via accounts and the job card was then re-issued to the collection/ delivery team. If there was a time constraint on the original job card, it would probably apply to delivery team also and this really did make life hell for them. This is because they started work earlier than everybody else to load up the empty van with the day’s deliveries. It was also the same van that would be doing the day’s collections, so on the basis of drop a TV off and pick a TV up, a timed visit might mean there wasn’t enough room on the van, especially when you consider that some customers would have had a “loan set” loaned to them whilst their TV was in for repair which needed to be collected.
Occasionally, a customer would have declined the estimate to have their TV repaired in which case the faulty TV would be returned and a small fee would be payable. You can imagine that these customers were in no hurry to get their faulty sets back because they didn’t want to pay this fee, so very often they would be “not in” when an attempt was made to deliver, again compounding problems for the delivery drivers. In any event it was not uncommon for the set to be left on the doorstep without collecting the fee, just because of the hassle.
Sometimes when a TV was returned, the job card would mention that a loan set had been left with the customer and this would normally be collected during the delivery of their television. I say “normally collected” as some customers were like squirrels and would hide the loan set away in another room on the day that their television was returned to them. They would deny all existence of the loan set until the job card was thrust under their noses with the loan set number on it, then they would suddenly remember that they did indeed have a loan set after all.
Finally when all activities were complete the job card would be paired with it’s top copy and perused by the depot manager. An excellent engineer in his own right; he was not a man to be messed with as he knew every trick in the book and he wasn’t afraid to double up as the float engineer when things got really busy. This was the man who didn’t have a computer or spreadsheets but from these job cards, he could tell you how profitable TV service was, he could tell you who the best engineers were, the worst engineers, the fiddlers, the incompetent, the slackers and pretty much everything you could ever need to know.Simple really – he knew the secret life of the humble job card!