10+ most dangerous species of help desk callers

10+ most dangerous species of help desk callers

Summary: IT veteran Jeff Dray takes a lighthearted look at the types of people who call the help desk.


 |  Image 11 of 14

  • Thumbnail 1
  • Thumbnail 2
  • Thumbnail 3
  • Thumbnail 4
  • Thumbnail 5
  • Thumbnail 6
  • Thumbnail 7
  • Thumbnail 8
  • Thumbnail 9
  • Thumbnail 10
  • Thumbnail 11
  • Thumbnail 12
  • Thumbnail 13
  • Thumbnail 14
  • This is a rather curious species. They call, ask a question, and if they don't hear what they want, they take it personally. I always wonder why they ask if they don't want to know the answer. It does not seem to matter that what they want is not possible. All they want is to hear the answer they're looking for.

    Caption by: Jeff Dray

    Photo credit: ©iStockphoto.com/biffspandex
  • This type of user is the angriest but, perversely, often the easiest to deal with. After spending weeks attempting to resolve their own queries, they finally swallow their pride and call the help desk. Calls from this type of user usually end in one of three ways:

    1. The problem’s solution can be found simply by reading page 1 of his instruction manual, which, of course, these callers haven’t done.

    2. Callers are informed that the operation they're trying to perform can't be performed with the equipment or software they have.

    3. Callers have already found a solution but phoned the help desk to let you know how frustrated, mad, or unsatisfied they are.

    Caption by: Jeff Dray

    Photo credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Nikada
  • Userus pleasantia was long thought extinct but has recently been observed by TechRepublic member Dennis R in the forests near Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. This user is mostly harmless and can be recognized by its familiar cries of "Please" and "Thank you."

    "The Nice User" listens carefully, explains his or her problem clearly, and follows suggested procedures. Because of their tendency to think before they act, calls from these users are rare. I have personally encountered this species of help desk caller several times during my career, and each time, they help restore my faith in the end user.

    Caption by: Jeff Dray

    Photo credit: ©iStockphoto.com/lektor1410

Topic: CXO

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I AM the resident expert.

    However, I restrain my impulses to fiddle with my work system for when I get home and have my own equipment to use and abuse. Aren't all I.T. personnel Train Spotters? I've been reading magazines cover to cover since my first subscription to BYTE decades ago.

    The "I don't know" response to Just-Testing users was spot on! Their usual follow up question is almost always, "But you're supposed to be the expert, why don't you know?" Best response I have to that is, "You could have a PhD in I.T., been working in the field since Babbage made his first card and Grace Hopper was a little girl, and still not know everything about it. But the experts do know how to find out."

    My kids are pig pens. <sigh>
    • RE: 10 most dangerous species of help desk callers

      I'm an IT personnel and I'm not a trainspotter. I don't really read magazines or anything like that. None of my IT-loving friends do so either... Though I know a few of them to lurk around sites like these. My previous boss lived on C-Net and ZDNet.
      D2 Ultima
  • picture shows incorrect 'Pig Pen' food items....

    Genuine Pig Pens feed from only two of the 3 major food groups during prime time work hours (Coffee Group, and Snickers Group), because items within the Deep-Fried Group are not available within walking distance at 3AM. This is when we do our best work. But many of us but continue to sit at their workstations, becoming less and less productive, until mid-morning. (By then, we've become useless zombies.) When the rest of you start coming to work at 6 AM, you find us surrounded by "Snickers Bar" candy wrappers, and five or ten crunched up styrofoam coffee cups. No soda, no onion rings. We're still wearing yesterday's clothes, of course, but they've become newly decorated with "artistic" coffee dribbles.
    Rick S._z
  • I don't fall into any of those classes... I think.

    I'm a do it myself kind of person. If I have a problem, I fix it. I do listen to advice from others, but I won't do something that sounds idiotic. I barely ever encounter problems with my PC, and people hound me for help when they see me face-to-face (but never remember to call me for help apparently...). But the few times when I call some sort of tech support, I must admit I'd sound frustrated and pissed off. But that's mainly because when I tell the desk people "I've done that already, it won't work" or "If I do that, the problem will disappear and re-appear at a random time later at which point I'll need to call you back, which is expensive since I live internationally". I mean... I call for Games For Windows Live support. I state my problem, the error messages, the issues I experience and the steps I've ALREADY FOLLOWED from other advisors (from official help forums or otherwise). Then they ask me to repeat the same actions. Wasting my time, theirs, and my money calling them (usually overseas).

    And then there are the people who refuse to accept that you've done the basics. "Okay, I need help with..... and I've tried restarting my computer, xxx, yyy, zzzz, aaa, ccc, ggg, and even uninstalling/reinstalling the application. Is there anything else I could do?"
    "Ok sir, first I want you to restart your computer for me."
    "I just told you I've already done that."
    "Yes, but please do it for me now and tell me what happens."
    *thinking to self* "Why am I talking to this person?"

    That being said, I think you really should do a list of the help desk analysts! I would love to have a laugh at their expense for once... I'm not saying I'm perfect, and I know I probably sound like a handful to some of them (because I've usually tried their most basic fixing advice and I'm only calling to find out OTHER things I could try that I haven't done. This, I suspect, makes them see me as a "The Expert" type? Or maybe a "Just Testing" type), but really... They have to listen to the callers too! We aren't all dangerous =D

    Oh, and sometimes the help desk users are the "I-don't-believe-you types". There was a time we had a new computer built. We had a single DSL modem; and my laptop ran off the ethernet cable and my desktop off the USB cable at the same time. The new desktop (using Windows XP) could not recognize the USB cable as internet-giving and refused to install the drivers off the modem's disc. Calling tech support, the idiot on the other end informed me that my modem "is not capable of providing internet access through both ports; only one at a time." Thus, he could not help me. Even when I explained to him that for the last eight months, we had been using both ethernet and USB internet connects at the same time without issue, he repeated the same thing. This person should not be a help desk analyst.
    D2 Ultima
    • Have you looked in the mirror lately?

      @D2 Ultima The Help Desk person is likely working from a script. Yes - i know it's frustrating.

      But, quite simply, he/she doesn't know that you've *actually* done all the things you are saying you have done, nor that you did them correctly, nor that you did them in the correct order. (Sometimes that *does* make a difference; when i was working phone support, we had one fix that had something like twenty-two steps, that had to be done in precisely the correct order - if done differently, it would appear to work but would later cause more trouble.)

      Also, he/she is required to document that the procedures have been followed for future reference if you call again.

      As to your DSL modem example - no, it very likely *isn't* capable of providing access through both ports simultaneously - reliably.

      It is *possible* to drive a standard passenger car off-road in deep sand or mud. But you're not going to get the manufacturer to recommend it or to fix problems you cause by doing so.

      Similarly, the modem manufacturer is doubtless aware that it is *possible* to use both ports simultaneously, but also that it's neither a stable nor reliable configuration. They are not in the business of advising you to do things that *might* work or possibly might for a while, but not if t here is some slight change in configuration.

      So their manual (which covers only things they *know* will - or should, anyway - work) says "It's not possible".

      You, sir, are "The Expert" crossed with "I-Don't-Want-To-Hear-That", and i am glad i never had to take your calls.

      Have a nice day.
      • RE: 10 most dangerous species of help desk callers

        Really? So because I called help desk previously and ran through a LIST of things that did not help, or I sought the proper help online, that when I call back they "lost" their records (When I tell them look for my name etc for previous calling, they tell me that they have no records of it), that I must repeat the process, at $2 a minute?

        Also, as per the time when I called for Games For Windows Live support, it was a known AND observed fact that when restarting my PC, the problem would disappear until later. That "later" could be any time from 5 minutes to one day. After that, I would be unable to log in once it was run through a GAME. It would enter an infinite looping process, where I could neither exit the overlay nor cancel the sign-in process. The only exit option was to end the process through Windows Task Manager. After explaining all of that, the person had me uninstall then re-install the program. After I told him that previously did not help but I would do it anyway, then confirmed that it did not in fact help, he had me try a few other things. Nothing he did worked; and then he asked me to restart my PC. I told him specifically that upon restarting the PC, the program will work FINE. He insisted, and of course, as predicted, the program worked fine. He then told me the problem was fixed, and to call back if I had any more problems. I told him keep a record. He gave me a code to recite so that any new Help Desk person would know what we did already, and I confirmed it with him twice.

        When I called back the next day, after the problem, as I said it would, arose again; I recited the code and the person told me that that the code did not lead to any cases, and to just tell him what we did. After I was done, this person, actually listening to me, told me he had no idea what the problem was, and put me onto his supervisor. In the end he told me that he could not help me because of where I lived, and that nobody could help me from their tech support, or forums. That I was on my own. I was pissed, but neither he nor the person who put me onto him played around. They listened and gave responses as necessary, and asked me for more information about everything I'd done. Is that still my fault?

        Also, those were only two bad experiences I named. The fact is, each time I call someone, I'm treated completely differently. Some of them treat me like a textbook case, and give me rudimentary, "scripted" answers, while others listen to what I have to say then act upon that.

        As for the modem, while you may be right, what I asked the help desk person was how to find/install the USB drivers for it. He told me just use the Ethernet cable; I told him I use that elsewhere. He then told me it's impossible to do what I've been doing for 6 or 8 months and he would not tell me what I asked; which was where I could find/how to install the drivers. In the end, I plugged in the ethernet cable, then plugged in the USB cable in the same machine, then used the internet to automatically find the drivers for the USB cable, then unplugged the ethernet cable and put it back on my laptop.

        There was one time I could not install bitdefender 2011 because it required signing in with an account (or creating a new one) and it refused to let me sign in. It gave me an incorrect error message (I took screenshots of all possible test circumstances for entering account info; wrongful info, correct info, no password and with net connection severed) and I told them all the info. I was given a scripted response. The second time I called, after that person said he could not help me (after making me spend $60 for a 30 minute call), the representative listened to me, asked me to change my password on their website, then try logging in again. It worked and he said "you're welcome" and I was on my way. 5 minutes.

        Also, I'm not a "The Expert" because I don't mess up my stuff. When a problem arises, it isn't my doing... I also don't do madness that messes up my PC. I'll admit to a "I-don't-want-to-hear-that" sometimes, but only when people don't listen to me first >_>
        D2 Ultima
      • RE: 10 most dangerous species of help desk callers

        @D2 Ultima

        Stung, eh?

        If the records are lost, then that's their bad. But that brings us to the next case you cite:

        As to your new example of alleged help desk incompetence, the person on the phone had only your word that the problem recurred as you said.

        And, i'm sorry to say, the user's word without supporting evidence to back it up is useless in troubleshooting.

        So the tech did the only thing he/she could - told you to restart (which, in her/his opinion or experience, <i>should</i> have cleared the problem), gave you a case number, and said to call back when the problem recurred, thus establishing that it was, in fact, a reproducible problem.

        I suppose he could have waited online until the problem recurred.

        You called back, cited the case number, the tech checked the file, attempted to cure your problem, and, when unable to, properly escalated it to the next echelon.

        And, as to the modem - you weren't "listening" to me any more than youi were to the tech.

        He <i>couldn't</i> tell you where to find the drivers you wanted, because he couldn't support (in any way) you in doing what you wanted to that the manufacturer of the modem specifically did not support or endorse.

        Let's go back to an example inviolving cars:

        Modern cars have pressurised cooling systems. If your car overheats, the temperature gauge rises (or the idiot light comes on).

        If it keeps doing that, you can fix it by installing new and corect parts, or you can defeat the pressure cap, and the water will never get hot enough to cause the gauge to go into the "overheated" zone.

        However, you will still ruin the engine.

        A mechanic who (A) advised you that you needed a new water pump or radiator, but then (B) helped you defeat the pressure cap would have some liability in the case.

        A tech who told you where to get drivers to use the modem in a non-supported way would be placing himself and/or his company (or both) on the hook for liability if (more likely when) the kludge he had helped you rig up failed.

        I am even <i>more</i> glad i never fouind myself on the other end of one of your calls.
      • RE: 10 most dangerous species of help desk callers

        As per your modem response, there seems to be a misunderstanding on your part. The modem manufacturer was not the one responsible for this. My ISP delivered the modem upon installation, and gave a DRIVER CD. I called tech support, because the driver installation kept hanging when run from the disc's setup.exe/autorun. The technician's default action to my stating that I wanted to use USB was that "just use ethernet, because it does not need drivers". My response was that the ethernet is used elsewhere, and he remained adamant that the modem cannot use both together, and thus HE CANNOT HELP ME.

        If this is still my fault, then you're seeing something I cannot.

        As for the user's word without "evidence" in troubleshooting, fine. But as I told you, I listed things I already tried from their official FAQs, help desk, forums, etc. I decided to call because I could not wait a few hours to a day or two for a reply for a single new thing to try, then if it doesn't work I reply and wait the same period again. Even you must agree that's not a feasible method. With your car example, imagine you take it to the mechanic, he attempts one thing then sends you home, and tells you come back if you still have the problem. Then you go back again, and he repeats the process, without actively taking information about the issue.

        Would a user really call a tech support line without doing anything official prior to that call, then claim to having done many general, FAQ-like things that are listed online/etc? What's the purpose of him doing that? You might say that troubleshooting while relying on my information is useless, but you still have to get my information anyway to determine the problem, and ultimately, fix it.
        D2 Ultima
      • The old &quot;I've done that already&quot; response is sometimes a lie

        The old "I've done that already" response from someone you are helping on the phone is common even if they have not actually done it. There have been a few times I have had to go to a house to fix a problem with the WiMax gear installed at their house only to discover one of the steps they swore they had done was not done. I asked them to check the power cable was plugged in firmly both ends and all the eternet plugs are in firmly. When I turn up with a replacement Power over Ethernet unit for the WiMax radio 99% of the time I find one of the plugs was partly pulled out and it was not faulty at all.
  • Way Way back in time...

    ...i worked phone support for a Big Name Company's machines. (Said Big Name Company is no longer in the business, BTW. I do not see a causal relationship there.)

    In fact, i hit the phones live the same day Windows 95 went live.

    We had one desperate customer who was in the database as having called something like twenty-three times; all of her work on her thesis (i think) was in Word Perfect, and it wouldn't work on her new W95 machine.

    Apparently, she hoped that if she just kept calling, eventually someone would tell her that it WOULD work, after all, and all of this was just a Bad Dream...
  • Working from a script

    OF COURSE we're working from a script. Any troubleshooter worth his or her salt is going to use a step by step methodology to identify or rule out known problems as quickly and efficiently as possible. I've lost track of how many times a user has said they tried something, yet when I perform the operation the problem doesn't occur. 99% of the time hwat they said ISN'T what they did.
    • RE: 10 most dangerous species of help desk callers

      Yet every time a help desk representative has given me a scripted response without listening to me, it's been a long waste of time... Each time I find someone that hears me out first then starts from there, we're done fast.

      Are you trying to state that the instances which I describe never occur? Or that I'm some abnormality? I've done help desk work myself too, and I always listen to what people say first, ask as many questions about what's going on, then I'll start from there. Of course that was just inter-office troubleshooting while working as IT personnel... I don't have a script to work with per se.
      D2 Ultima
  • RE: 10 most dangerous species of help desk callers

    It's not just PC support -- Cable companies are notorious for demanding that you do the same troubleshooting steps you've already done all over again.
    • RE: 10 most dangerous species of help desk callers

      Not everybody knows nothing about the tech they're dealing with... Even IT directors will eventually run into a problem that has to be handled remotely. Why they must be treated like a kid learning how to ride a bike I don't get.

      And thankfully I've never had to call cable support.... Though I'll tell you. International Microsoft support is the worst. Like, for the caribbean, their base is in argentina. All the people have a HEAVY accent while speaking (maybe because I think their native language is spanish?), and you have to ask them to repeat what they said many times over.
      D2 Ultima
  • RE: 10 most dangerous species of help desk callers

    Back in my Navy days we used to say that a maintenance man's worst nightmare was an operator with a screw driver.
    • RE: 10 most dangerous species of help desk callers

      @sckenney@... actually sometimes the worst nightmare is the maintenance person that decides to set everything to default values while doing their pm's and not setting everything back to a working configuration.

      I was a signals analyst with several ieee488 pieces of equipment in which the default settings was to set each piece of equipment as 'master' the problem being that on the bus you can only have 1 master but have several slaves. I would come back to work and find that certain tests were not run because of equipment problems that the tech's always stated that the equipment was working and the answer was to give each device it's own unique id rather than the factory manual default.. I fought for and won the battle of keeping the backs of the equipment racks unlocked.
  • RE: 10 most dangerous species of help desk callers

    Been a repairman since 1984 on commercial electronics which are computer controlled.
    He is pretty much correct with those species.