back to article All good, leave it with you...? Chap is roped into tech support role for clueless customer

Have you got that Friday feeling? Well if not, there's only one way to get it: reading this week's instalment of On Call, where readers share tech support triumphs and frustrations. This time, a story from “Trent” caught your Vulture’s eye. Now, at the time, Trent categorically did not work in tech support – but that didn’t …

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  1. Mr Dogshit

    What?

    That shit happened to me five times a day, for five days a week, for seven and a half years as a field service engineer.

    1. big_D Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: What?

      Yes, but that was the job you were paid for. ;-)

      1. 0laf
        Windows

        Re: What?

        Yep. That situation was basically just 'work' when I did it in the early 2000s. In fact we'd comment if we got out of a building without being roped into additional tasks it was so unusual. It formed a large part of our income.

        To this day it still happens, I walk into IT dept to talk about one thing an hour later I've have 6 different conversations about other tasks and issues. It's something I rely on to get the true lay of the land and not the Reader's Digest version of events form managers.

        1. MiguelC Silver badge

          Re: What?

          There are offices we do our utmost to avoid, which we informally call Bermuda Triangles. If you get near them you'll inevitably be sucked into them where you'll be asked about countless old tasks status' and as many new requests will be made.

          1. Bruce Ordway

            Re: What?

            >>There are offices we do our utmost to avoid

            I've also learned to stop asking too many questions of some people or locations.

            People tend to retaliate with time consuming ideas when prodded.

            1. The IT Ghost

              Re: What?

              I had one problematic user (really nice person when not breaking stuff) who kept going back and forth between our office and a client site, and had problems with her laptop just about every week, and always something different. So I nicknamed her Computer Killer, or Killer for short. She even used it when calling 'Hi, its Killer...'. I met her husband at the company party, and she'd told him about the nickname, trying to get sympathy. Instead, her husband started calling her that at home too. Apparently, her malfunction-inducing skills were regularly applied to their home machine too.

              1. Manolo

                Re: What?

                You met my wife?

                1. The Nazz

                  Re: What?

                  You obiously haven't met mine (ex) else you wouldn't be here to tell us.

          2. MrDamage Silver badge

            Re: What?

            I used to be polite, but firm with them. Do it a few times, insisting they need to log tickets, then if they continued, explain to them that spending so much time with them without a valid ticket was affecting my performance review, and because they didn't have the courtesy to do things the right way, I am now lacking the courtesy to do favours.

            Get the rest of the IT team on-board for "work to rule" for a few months, and you will suddenly find various members of the black hole, will become semi-regular contributors to Friday night drinks. That's when you can go back to doing the odd favour for them.

            1. JimC

              Re: What?/Log Tickets

              But the first thing you do is help them log a ticket... Then you do the job, then when the ticket reaches the top of the queue you've got a fix that doesn't need a site visit...

        2. PickledAardvark

          Re: What?

          "To this day it still happens, I walk into IT dept to talk about one thing an hour later I've have 6 different conversations about other tasks and issues."

          Spot on, Olaf. Unless I have to be somewhere else in 30 minutes, I assume that a visit will take as long as it takes. My colleagues don't complain because they understand that while I am dealing with the trivial stuff, I'll try to pick up some gossip. Who is shagging whom, how much surplus in the software budget (that we know they'll spent on something mindbendingly awful if left to their own devices), that they are completely dependent on application X which they promised to desist using, that my bosses told them something completely different to what we agreed with the bosses...

      2. Mr Dogshit

        Re: What?

        Er... no. Ensure any hardware faults are rectified and if replacing the HDD, reinstall the OS and drivers.

        Not "When I press SHIFT ALT CTRL F3 on a Tuesday, my mouse cursor disappears, can you fix that?" or "Can you install Sage?" or "When little Johnny gets to level 12 on <random game> a pink pixel appears in the top right-hand corner of the screen for a split second."

        (Spends the next four hours dicking about with DirectX, gets home at 20.00 if lucky)

      3. wallyhall

        Re: What?

        This, is precisely, why when I meet someone for the first time and they ask me what I do for a job, I say “A very interesting job actually! I work at the museum cleaning bones and other artefacts, let me tell you about the intricacies of choosing non-destructive polishes on ancient enamel teeth...”

        Because if I mention IT - I’m suddenly in another voluntary support contract for life.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: What?

      "That shit happened to me five times a day, for five days a week, for seven and a half years as a field service engineer."

      Ditto, and, of course, it's my job. But only of it's actually covered by the contract. Hardware only, and if it's a PC we supplied, we'll install the OEM generic image of the OS if they insist on it when an HDD is replaced. 99 times out of a 100, that's a pointless exercise for them and me. Luckily for me, these days we primarily deal with larger customers who have IT departments and network installable images for which I, as an external contractor, am rarely given credentials for.

      And, from the article "Do the words “just in case“ also fill you with foreboding?"

      In my case, the words I dread most are "While you are here...". Having said that, if it's something I can deal with, it's on contract and I have the parts, great, I'll book the job, do it, and save myself a trip for tomorrow and up my ob count for the day with little effort.

      1. IceC0ld

        Re: What?

        And, from the article "Do the words “just in case“ also fill you with foreboding?"

        In my case, the words I dread most are "While you are here...".

        ===

        for ME, I had been on service desk for a while, and was sort of into the script thing, so on getting a field service contract, some things carried over, and on one job, at the conclusion, I uttered those immortal desk drone words, "and while I'm here, is there anything else I can help you with" ..............

        NEVER again ffs :o)

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: What?

      sometimes happens with relatives and friends (over the phone even), but nothing in the line of business. Do friends, neighbors, and relatives even count for this?

  2. ColinPa Silver badge

    Went for a coffee - stayed two weeks

    After a big conference in a US city, I had an hour to spare, so I popped into see some guys I had had a lot of dealings with over the phone, put faces to names etc. We went for coffee, when one of the guy's pagers went off. They had an abend in my product, please could I have a quick look before I go...

    We went back to the office, met their manager who said "that was quick". "What was quick?" I asked. "We've just raised a problem, and asked for on site support for a performance problem". After two weeks the performance problem "magically went away" (we were not told why) and I managed to escape. We suspect they cleared out 10 years of unwanted "temporary" records in a database. We called this a hostage situation because you have to exchange your passport for a badge to get access to the building, and so they had your passport!

    1. PM from Hell

      Re: Went for a coffee - stayed two weeks

      it could be worse a colleague of mine was persuaded to go to Zimbabwe for a 5 day consultancy visit and was kept there for 6 weeks by the Zimbawe division's manager he used the ' i'll look after your passport' ruse. My colleague saw nothing but data centres and a hotel room as it was too dangerous to leave the hotel, he even had to fight for the overtime he accrued as the Zimbabwe division only paid for the first 5 days.

    2. Trygve Henriksen

      Re: Went for a coffee - stayed two weeks

      Never ever give away your passport to a company. Ever!

      And if they 'insists', you will later take a taxi to the nearest embassy where you tell them that your passport was stolen, and can they please help you...

      1. MonkeyCee

        Re: Went for a coffee - stayed two weeks

        I'll add, never give your passport away to anyone, full stop. You can allow them to inspect it, and many nations make this easier (France and UK have transparent booths so you can see they aren't doing anything funny).

        Many many stories of them being stolen. A stolen kiwi passport is worth $10-50k on the black market, so if you leave yours to rent a motorbike in Laos, don't be shocked if you come back and the guy claims some other white dude took it.

        Don't sell it either. Knew one of chap who tried that, when Internal Affairs (NZ home office or state department) got wind of that they got his residence revoked, got him deported from Oz when he went there and locked him up for about the same amount of time as killing someone.

        It's government property, and you can refuse to give it up to anyone other than the issuing authority.

        "Holding on to your passport for safe keeping" is what gang masters do.

        If you can get dual passports or dual citizenship if you travel a lot, having a second option is always nice.

        1. liquidkristal

          Re: Went for a coffee - stayed two weeks

          Also all it takes to cancel a UK passport is the Name of the person it has been issued to, the issuing office and the passport number..

          Now go and look thats handily on 1 page on your passport.. and once its cancelled its not possible to reverse the process

    3. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Went for a coffee - stayed two weeks

      In many countries all sorts of places ask you to hand over your passport. Hotels, car rentals, employers, contractors etc. Never do it. I usually tell them that British law makes it illegal for me to give my UK passport to anyone else (in case it is used for terrorism), so sorry, I cannot do that. But they can have my British library card instead, which is just as good. Another excuse is to tell them that I do not have my passport because the hotel/car rental/police is already holding it (they're not). In quite a few countries you have to take a photocopy of your passport and fill in a form with details of your stay if you want to buy a local SIM card or for several other services & purchases. I always take several photocopies of my passport and a few spare passport photographs with me so that I don't have to hand my passport to the shop to photocopy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Went for a coffee - stayed two weeks

        It's also a good idea to store a photo of your passport as a draft email on an online email providers servers - makes it easier for a replacement / emergency passport to be issued in the event you need to use the Embassy option - also keep another draft with Embassy contact details and address so you can quickly priint out in an internet cafe and give to a taxi driver - never assume you will have access to your phone or laptop....

        Keeping some local currency in a small slit made on the inside of your belt may also be a good idea - but not if it's a closed currency, if found you may be detained for attempted smuggling!.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Went for a coffee - stayed two weeks

        "I always take several photocopies of my passport and a few spare passport photographs with me so that I don't have to hand my passport to the shop to photocopy."

        Good idea. Also would help if you need to deal with an actual stolen passport, I bet.

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Went for a coffee - stayed two weeks

      "had an abend in my product"

      'abend' - there's a term I haven't seen/heard in a long time. I had to remember what it meant...

      ABnormal ENDing. Wasn't that an IBM mainframe thing? A quicky google search yields a few other unusual/obscure definitions for 'abend' but the most relevant seems to be this:

      http://mainframe.debugpoint.com/2015/07/system-abend-codes-s0c1-to-s0c9/

      IBM mainframe trap/fault codes, basically.

      1. Hazmoid

        Re: Went for a coffee - stayed two weeks

        I remember that term from Novell Netware when I was administering that network.

        1. J. Cook Silver badge

          Re: Went for a coffee - stayed two weeks

          Ah, Netware. ABENDS were that product's BSOD. (black screen of death, in this case)

          Unlike Microsoft, the server was usually kind enough to tell you the NLM it occurred in and an error code for you to raise hell with the vendor if needs warranted.

  3. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

    I used to earn a bit of cash on the side by fixing the home computers of staff and students at the college where I used to work. Twenty quid for a couple of hours' work one evening a week kept me in beer and kebabs on a Saturday night, and I was happy to leave it at that level so I sometimes had the luxury of turning people down.

    One day a tearful student (we'll call her V) came to talk to me, saying her PC had crashed the night before and she had an assignment due and [insert other heartbreaking elements which I can no longer recall]. Since I vaguely knew her because she was an old school friend of my then-girlfriend, I agreed to get the bus over to the adjacent town with her at the end of the day. We walked to her house, I met her family (to their great credit they did feed me) and I started looking at her PC.

    After about half an hour I was making good progress and reckoned I'd have the job finished in another 20-30 minutes. I left the re-install running and went downstairs to have a cup of tea, laughing and joking with V's kids (I think they were 10 and 11). V's partner had left for work and she said she needed to nip to the shops, so she asked me if I'd mind keeping an eye on the kids for ten minutes. No problem, I said.

    She was gone three hours.

    I was fucking furious, but I couldn't let myself show it because of the kids. I helped them with their homework. I played games with them on the PC. This was before the days of mobile phones so there was no way I could contact V (I couldn't even call my girlfriend because we lived in a flat with no phone at the time). The kids said their Nan lived in town but she was getting on a bit, so I couldn't really ask her to come over and look after the kids. They didn't really know the neighbours. I just sat it out.

    When V got back I made my exit. I didn't trust myself to say anything, not with the kids in the house. I cornered her the next day at work and she gave me a sob story about running into a friend in need. I got 25 quid out of her and just resolved to stay well clear of her in future. I know my girlfriend gave her a bollocking a week or two later, and we just let it end there.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

      Student computers are a pain, they usually crash just as the critical disertation is finished and needs printing and no backup exists.

      At one company I worked for, the head of international sales was good friends with the director of a Russian bank. The director's daughter was studying at Oxford and our company loaned her a PC.

      Come hand-in day for her diseration, her PC crashed. Completely. The daughter contacted her father, the director, who contacted the head of sales, who jumped on us. The PC was expressed to us, I then set about recovering the disk drive. Eventually managing to get it back in the land of the living long enough to copy a slightly damaged disertation off of it.

      I then imported it into WordPerfect (you can see how long ago this was), then reformatted the document, fixed some spelling errors and managed to reconstruct the original wording from the corrupted section.

      The document was then printed, bound and expressed back to the student, along with a disk with the document on it. It arrived just in time for her to meet the hand-in deadline.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

        "Student computers are a pain, they usually crash just as the critical disertation is finished and needs printing and no backup exists."

        Even more so when the student's one of your own kids.

        Again a long time ago, daughter arrived home after finishing her PhD. Backup was no problem. In fact all she had was the disk with her data on it as she'd used a departmental PC. Trouble is it was one of those proprietary disks so I had to buy a drive to get her data transferred onto something more portable.

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

          My daughter has USB sticks, 1TB of cloud storage and had everything only locally on her MacBook Pro... Which she threw in her backpack along with her coffee flask.

          You know where this is going, right?

          The coffee flask was still full and she forgot to reseal it before putting it in her backpack.

          By the time she got back to her flat, the screen hat a lovely Mandelbrot style pattern across it - only it wasn't on! The whole thing was dripping coffee. And she tried to turn it on...

          By the time I got hold of it, the sugar had done its job on the circuits as well. Even the hard drive wasn't in a state to be rescued. She had to re-write the whole of her disertation using notes and a week old printout.

          She learnt a bitter lesson and allowed me to install automatic backup software on her replacement machine.

          1. Ilsa Loving

            Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

            I have great difficulty mustering sympathy for Mac users, considering that it comes with Time Machine.

            It is the single most intuitive backup system I have ever used. Hell, it even asks you "Do you want to use this for time machine?" when you plug a USB HDD in. The only way Apple could make it simpler is if they gave you a butler to plug the drive in for you.

          2. Gene Cash Silver badge

            Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

            > She learnt a bitter lesson

            "You don't convince family members to take periodic backups. Repeated, tragic data loss convinces family members to take periodic backups. Same as everyone else."

            1. it_guy_1983

              Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

              You don't convince family members to take periodic backups, you set it up for them without being asked and wait for the crash, then save the day :-)

        2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

          My daughter, too. Undergraduate thesis, though. Open Office Writer let me down.

          She has a habit of leaving things like this until the last minute. Still does. My wife and I joke about her and her always needing to use someone else's printer because her's isn't working and she needs to print something due today.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

            "always needing to use someone else's printer because her's isn't working"

            Always cheaper to use somebody else's ink. And maybe somebody else bought more expensive paper as well. Are you sure she has a printer?

            Said daughter of mine now works from home for a firm based about 150 miles away. They provided her with computers and printer. My HP all-in-one printer is of considerable vintage. Superficially "her" (ie. firm's) new, shiny, printer looks quite like it but all black. The HP badge on mine looks more solid than any component of hers. One day she asked me to look at the printer. There was some problem with the paper tray. It looked like no amount of fiddling with it was going to fix it and would most likely break it. In the end the whole printer got taken back to head office on her next visit and swapped. How are the mighty fallen.

            1. Lilolefrostback

              Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

              In the early 80s, when I was in UNI, I loved Hewlett Packard. Now, nearly 40 years on, I hate Horrible Products.

          2. Nick Kew
            FAIL

            Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

            A very modern dog ate my homework.

            1. BebopWeBop
              Facepalm

              Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

              Been there done that for two of my kids. On the positive side, they had actually listened to me (a first for everything) and backed up to both a cloud service and and external USB disk. The downside, I footed the bill for two (secondhand) Mac Laptops and flogged off the remains of theirs for spares (the better financial option for me) and also lost my own laptop in the interim as,. yes, they were finishing dissertations.

            2. EGeee

              Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

              As a teenager my dog actually did eat my homework. I lied and said I didn't do it.

      2. JimboSmith Silver badge

        Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

        I once got a call late one night from a family friend asking me to help with something. As it wasn't too late and it was just a simple thing I said yes. I needed to fix a copy of some university work in a Word document. From memory it might have been a dissertation but not sure. Anyway when I turned up and was shown a folder with a couple of word documents in it. They then double clicked on one of them and it came up with a request for a password. This predates any encryption of password protection on word docs. So all the text was in the document but Word wouldn't open it sans authorisation. So I opened it with wordpad (I think) and there it was to much relief all round. However it wasn't formatted properly as a result and I was then asked to help with this as I'd be 'quicker' doing it. Why did they password protect it? Well yeah they didn't know why they'd done that either but I suspect alcohol was involved. That would also explain why they had no recolection of the password. We then backed up the repaired file to a couple of floppy drives and told her not to do it again. I was asked to help with installing some tricky software 'as I was there and could help'.

        Finally our satellite receiver is not getting the channels we were getting could you take a look? That turned out to be the German version of VH1 which previously had been viewable but now was scrambled. I watched as the screen which was initially in the clear went scrambled. That didn't make any sense as it wouldn't show up clear only to then scramble something else was going on. I asked when this had first happened and it was after an equipment change. They'd bought a new IRD (Integrated Reciever and Decoder for our younger readers) to maybe get Sky at some point and had relagated the free to air box to the attic. When this was hooked back up the German version of VH1 came in clear. I said it was obviously being scrambled by the IRD for some reason and wouldn't use that box if possible. The actual reason was that Viacom had inserted an encrypted flag into the clear signal. The Videocrypt decoder/descrambler would see this and scramble the picture. I was taken out for dinner to say thank you for my hours of hard work which was nice.

      3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

        Said director's daughter owes you (at least) one of these.

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

          She promised me a bottle of Russina vodka.

          But I was reassigned before it arrived. :-(

      4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

        "director of a Russian bank...our company loaned her a PC."

        This is how the rich stay rich. They never spend money they don't absolutely have to.

        1. herman Silver badge

          Re: Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for?

          Ayup - Poor rich people. Fucking parasites.

  4. Chloe Cresswell

    Columbo clients..

    I name a few of my clients columbo clients, as there's always "just one more thing" - normally that takes more time than the issue I went to site for...

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Columbo clients..

      Definitely an upvote for the nostalgic naming, which I am of course now going to nick and use.

      Just don't tell the lieutenant, but have an early Friday beer instead...

  5. Shadow Systems Silver badge

    "This will only take a second..."

    Words that make me run screaming in the knowledge it will devour all your free time, energy, sanity, & migraine meds in the process.

    Boss' that hand you a laptop last thing on Friday claiming it won't take long, except it ends up destroying your life as each fix triggers another fix because the previous one broke something.

    Customers that walk in as you're trying to lock up & hand over their desktop with a cry of "Fix it p-p-p-PUHLEEEZE!"

    You do all the hardware steps to make sure that's not the cause & then go to fire it up to check software.

    Only to heave a huge sigh of relief that you didn't connect it to your network as you watch signs of every known virus, malware, scumware, & 128 different versions of AOL cascading through the damned thing as it powers up.

    The boot to an anti virus scan CD & scrub of the bastard requires a day & a half after all the reboots.

    You finally get it cleaned & now the fekkin thing won't boot because critical files have just been nuked.

    Grab a copy of the OS disk, reboot to repair mode, & have that eat up another half a day or more just fixing all the broken/nuked files.

    It finally boots on its own, you get to the desktop, only to find the arsehole is the kind that stores *everything* on the desktop & you can't find the mouse pointer through all the clutter.

    You start creating folders into which you can group like items, clean off the desktop until you can find the mouse again, & *NOW* you can finally see the problem that might be the reason the fool brought it in for in the first place.

    Namely someone had installed an RDP client, tried to "fix" their computer, & left a ransome note on the desktop with instructions on how to forward the demand money.

    But why didn't the computer stay locked up & refuse to let you in at all?

    You can thank all the crap on the system that made it impossible for the computer to have enough computational horsepower left over to complete the encryption process.

    You delete the RDP client, restore to a previous good state, and jump through all the hoops to get the system working properly...

    Only to have the customer ask in confusion "What have you done? All I wanted was for you to figure out why solitare wasn't working! Put it back! WAAAAAHHHH!"

    *Deep breath, must. restrain. fists. of. death., relaaaax...*

    And you can't refuse to do support for said person because it's your Mum and "I brought you into this world & I can take your ass back out."

    *HeadDesk*

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: "This will only take a second..."

      Family PCs - Many, Many of us have felt your pain. Take solice in -->

      1. 0laf
        Megaphone

        Re: "This will only take a second..."

        I had to have a conversation with my parents to tell them in no uncertain terms "Stop telling people I'll fix their computers! I don't need the money I need my evenings back".

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