Lost in translation

This retailer is having a big sale, and right in the middle it, one store's phone system goes down, reports a pilot fish on the inside.

"This is a highly promoted sales event where failure to sell product can make or break the profitability of a retail store -- and a store manager's career," fish says. "IT help desk gets a call from an excited store manager who is using his personal cell phone to tell them the good news."

Store manager drafts an employee with more technical ability than most, and hands him the phone. "Restart the IP phone system," help desk tech tells the employee.

The results are predictable: Without more detailed instructions, the employee translates "restart" to "reset," finds the recessed reset button on the rack-mounted IP phone system and pushes a ballpoint pen tip into the reset button hole.

The phone system performs the reset -- which scrubs all the phone system's configuration data and sets everything back to factory defaults.

The factory default language for this particular IP phone system? German.

Which no one on the store's staff knows how to speak. For that matter, no one on the IT help desk knows how to speak it, either.

"An interesting dialog then ensued," says fish, "with the store employee reading the LCD display of the IP phone system -- letter for letter -- and the help desk tech using Babel Fish to translate each message from German to English.

"Eventually the language setting was changed back to English and remote control was re-established with the rogue Germanic device."

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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