Long before the commercial Internet, companies connected their computers via private networks. Most of the time, they built these networks by stringing miles of cable. However, if the distance proved too large for wires, companies went wireless by mounting microwave dishes on top of radio towers.

It was the early eighties and I was working as a Co-Op student for Motorola Communications. A few days after we’d installed a microwave system for a bank in New York City, the manager called complaining of intermittent problems. He described wonky behavior, such as the datalink failing for a few hours before mysteriously fixing itself. We dispatched a technician to investigate, but everything checked out.

Intermittent problems are difficult to diagnose because you’re trying to eliminate variables. If a transmitter fails, you fix the transmitter. If the receiver fails, you fix the receiver. But in this case, all diagnostic tests indicated that both performed flawlessly.

So, we studied the failures. We learned that the outages occurred on random weekday mornings. Curiously, the system never failed on the weekends.

We finally caught a break when the system failed with our technician onsite. He noticed that the signal level at the receiver had dropped significantly and that gave him a clue. He scrambled to the roof to check the line-of-sight between the microwave dishes.

And that’s when he saw her.

When the bank installed the system, it took advantage of a straight shot from the roof of one branch, between two apartment buildings, to the roof of another branch. The scheme worked well until one of the apartment dwellers decided to hang her wet laundry on a clothesline!

It’s so easy to overlook our best business stories. We’re so focussed on the details of our products that we forget about day-to-day activities that tell volumes about us and our companies.

Take this story for example. It has everything that prospects want to know before they buy. It showed the reliability of the equipment, the post-sales care of the technician, and had an unexpected ending. Isn’t this the type of story that you’d like to hear if you were in the market for a microwave link?

It’s easy to get caught up in our day-to-day business activities and forget about the interesting things that happen inside corporate walls. Look at the internal stories that employees share. Perhaps such stories can be adapted for external audiences? Some of the best business stories take customers to places that they normally can’t go.

Back to the bank and its intermittent datalink. Do you want to know how we solved the problem?

The bank bought the woman a dryer.

Photo Credit: Library of Congress