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 …

Page:

      1. Lilolefrostback

        Re: "While you're here, could you just..."

        And the tickets may show a pattern that might lead to a more effective resolution.

        "Gee, printer XYZ needed to be repaired N times last year. Replacing it would actually save us money, now that it's past warranty."

  1. Giovani Tapini

    I have ended up helping the field engineers that are proudly billiing me...

    I remember diagnosing issues with services running on IBM iSeries with IBM field engineer. I also recall teaching him how to use the low level tools to perform the diagnostics at both software and hardware layers.

    To be fair on the engineer these tools are fairly obscure on the platform, however obscure low level stuff is what is expected of them!

    I don't remember all the discussions but I do recall the engineer saying "Thank you, I really had no idea any of these tools existed. This will be very useful on some of my other sites"

    Also in this case they were called because any time there was an issue the management say "call the vendors, call the software suppliers" with no thought that the IT team may already know exactly what is happening but the answer is... er.... unpopular...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I have ended up helping the field engineers that are proudly billiing me...

      Aaah the cyclic argument of the csuite that an engineer is an engineer so can look after anything, without training or documentation and a complete failure to differentiate between a level 3 mainframe systems CPU specialist, who is a god in his domain but knows almost nothing outside the silicon with a more general engineer who's skills are not as deep but go up to the software stack. These 'expensive dinosaurs' were pushed out into the field by both ICL and IBM in the 90's until they started to realise that having the best cpu/disk/ tape guy in Europe fixing minor niggles on mid range equipment suddenly stopped being cost effective when BT, HMRC of one of the water companies stopped dead because of an esoteric hardware fault that the diagnostic software couldn't locate. ICL also pushed the other way taking level one retail engineers who were only qualified to swap out devices to look after small servers. I was on site performing some mainframe updates ( I was Software not h/w) when I had to physically prevent and engineer removing the hard disk unit from a server controlling a wool mil because 'it's hot swappable' only problem was it wasn't there was no disk error and removing the disk in use would have caused a head crash and would have lost all the manufacturing data since the last backup.I watched this happened to 2 generations of engineer, realised I was in the next tier and left to become a tech support manager.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: I have ended up helping the field engineers that are proudly billiing me...

      I don't remember all the discussions but I do recall the engineer saying "Thank you, I really had no idea any of these tools existed. This will be very useful on some of my other sites"

      Training, or the lack thereof, is rife in the industry, although I'm surprised it's the same with IBM (not the IBM of yore though). One of the vendors I deal with only offer online video "training". You can't touch their stuff until you pass their exams. And if you employer won't stump up for some kit to play with, then the first you see of the kit in real life is when you roll up to a customers site to fix something.

      (it's possible they offer proper training too, but I'm not aware of it and no way is my employer going to spend real money on proper training.)

    3. Olivier2553

      Re: I have ended up helping the field engineers that are proudly billiing me...

      I also recall teaching him how to use the low level tools to perform the diagnostics at both software and hardware layers.

      I had a similar situation when Sun released their first Sparc stations in France. Their maintenance engineer knew Sun OS 3 very well, but OS 4 had everything changed, swap place, etc. I had to guide him to find the various configuration files that were no more where they used to be.

      1. Down not across

        Re: I have ended up helping the field engineers that are proudly billiing me...

        I had a similar situation when Sun released their first Sparc stations in France. Their maintenance engineer knew Sun OS 3 very well, but OS 4 had everything changed, swap place, etc. I had to guide him to find the various configuration files that were no more where they used to be.

        Even bigger change when Solaris 2 (Sunos 5.x) came out due to the BSD to SysV change. Many were sticking with 4.1.3 and avoiding Solaris 2 for quite a long time.

  2. chivo243 Silver badge
    Stop

    This is the reason

    I never do favors anymore. Give em and inch, they take a mile, or give em a finger and the take the hand.

  3. Wenlocke

    The Bane of Tier 2 and above

    Is when you've just finished fixing something tricky and long-winded for a customer, and they respond with "oh, while I've got you, I've got this other problem...."

    Neatly bypassing all that First Line investigation, all the stuff that's designed to filter out crap, and all the stuff that shares jobs around amongst the team on a fair and impartial basis, so you're basically stuck with looking at whatever it is they've been forgetting to tll anyone about for three months.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Bane of Tier 2 and above

      I think sometimes, the presence of a IT bod just jogs their memory about the other problems.

      What's worse in some ways, is when they see you, memory is jogged, however they don't bloody tell you, but log the call with the service desk instead. You only find out when you get back to the office, with a cup of tea, look at your PC, and "Oh, FFS, I've just come from there!"

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: The Bane of Tier 2 and above

      "Neatly bypassing all that First Line investigation, all the stuff that's designed to filter out crap"

      In a lot of cases, for one very simple reason - that stuff isn't helping the customer, it's actively obstructing him getting it fixed, so when he finally gets someone - _anyone_ - competent onsite he'll grab the opportunity with both hands.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Bane of Tier 2 and above

        Oh, the number of times I (as a consumer) have called "Tech Support" and known more about the hardware and problem that the Tier 1 support folks. "I've already rebooted it 3 times, but yes I'll do it again just to make you happy. The lights on the modem are out, so why would rebooting my computer help? I see, I have to do it anyway..." Etc. Really makes me wish I could just tell them "shibboleet" and move on...

        https://xkcd.com/806/

        1. RancidOrange

          Re: The Bane of Tier 2 and above

          Upvote for xkcd reference.

  4. Lee D Silver badge

    The magic phrase

    "Sure... it's £100 for the first hour."

    And then wait and see if they ever ask about that, let alone the second hour.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: The magic phrase

      that's actually relatively cheap for tech support - well, certain KINDS of tech support. Of course the tech isn't being paid that, but it's on the invoice.

  5. joewilliamsebs

    On hourly work, I'll take as many "whilst you're here" and "could you just"s as I can take.

    There's a very very good reason I stopped doing fixed price work years ago.

  6. dXter

    What about the social tech support requests

    You know the scenario - at the pub, in the gym or visiting new friends (your SO tells you they will be new friends) and as part of the conversation you are asked what it is you do. As soon as any mention of the word computer is uttered the conversation suddenly switches to - my broadband isn't working, the printer eats all my paper........

    So these days I simply say I am in finance.

    1. Snarky Puppy

      Re: What about the social tech support requests

      "So these days I simply say I am in finance".

      I usually say "I'm an office admin assistant". Which ain't no lie as I'm a sysadmin, assist my users and am based in an office.

      1. CountCadaver Silver badge

        Re: What about the social tech support requests

        I'm just a pen pusher, you know shuffling paper all day, typing up boring reports, sitting through dreary meetings - keep it vague and uninteresting, people stop listening

        That or if you slip, spew out a pile of ultra technical and extremely nerdy gibberish until they glaze over and make their excuses.....

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: What about the social tech support requests

        "I usually say "I'm an office admin assistant". Which ain't no lie as I'm a sysadmin, assist my users and am based in an office."

        Nice one! Field service engineer here, and I'm very civil to people. I think I'll starting telling people I'm a civil engineer :-)

        1. Mark 85

          Re: What about the social tech support requests

          I think I'll starting telling people I'm a civil engineer :-)

          Be careful with that one. It's a loaded weapon of self-destruction in disguise. At some point, someone will as you to "take a look at these plans for our extra room" or "can you help me make some plans for "x:" where 'x' is whatever they want to do.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: What about the social tech support requests

      "As soon as any mention of the word computer is uttered"

      Which is why I tend to describe myself as an IT storage systems specialist and have a script for those questions ("Your ISP is the best outfit to talk to for that, yes I know XYZ helpdesk is bad, have you tried one of the independents such as ABC?", "Printers have rubber pickup tyres that wear out, Have you checked yours aren't glazed and are you checking the curl in your paper to ensure you're putting it in the right way up?","Oh I only use Unix systems. I hardly ever touch Windows, Macs etc".)

      My father learned the value of my work when I spent a day or so one visit cleaning up his computer on a visit (and told him he needed more memory at a cost of about $60). After I left, his kids (second marriage) removed the AV to play games & got reinfested. As I wasn't able to visit (10+ hour drive away) he took it to a local shop who charged him $400 for the delousing and quoted $200 for more memory. That entire branch of the family got a lot more respectful of my time afterwards.

  7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    OK, so it was invoiced. But at what rate - field tech or project coordinator?

    1. Swarthy
      Thumb Up

      Which ever is higher.

      1. Anonymous Custard
        Headmaster

        Nah, if you're doing it right the combined total of both, as you're doing two jobs at once...

  8. Jaspa

    Left holding the Baby

    Literally left holding a Baby on a Home visit for Apple.

    Customer was having a new windscreen fitted and Autoglass arrived just after me.

    Fix Mac, 10 mins, hold Baby, 25.

    Did get a rather nice coffee and cake for my trouble though.

    1. CountCadaver Silver badge

      Re: Left holding the Baby

      Never held children in any job, "I'm sorry I'm terrible with kids, I dropped my nephew on his head once, Dr says the brain damage isn't too severe"

  9. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

    "...but it's a chop-chop job..." "...will take only a few minutes..."

    yeah right...

    never such a thing as that, so stikkit in yer trakkans.

  10. Killfalcon Silver badge

    Sometimes it's worthwhile, though.

    I was working operations support - not hardware, but various flavours of Excel-derived hell, deep in actuarial hell where they work out how dead you are to five decimal places... for each month for the next 100 years. Lots of people with very good degrees and years of further training in deep statistical alchemy.

    I had a ticket from the Annuities team about something *dumb*. Like "When I open the spreadsheet there's a yellow bar at the top and the macros don't work" dumb. Read the message, click the "enable macros" button, carry on. But I dont't talk to that team often enough, so it's worth occasionally doing a desk visit just to make sure they know we exist.

    When I get there, you can feel the tension in the air. People are visibly stressed, staring are screens full of numbers that refuse to be the right numbers. More than a few are muttering swear words under their breaths. There is a definite sense of a Deadline lurking overhead. So... I start with my ticket, and fix it with a smile and a few words like "anyone can do it, I've done it myself". The next desk over says "can you help with...?", and then so does the desk opposite. I fix a few simple blockers with smiles. Be the second-pair-of-eyes that spots a formula error the author couldn't see after an hour. Mention to one that the same thing happened to that guy over there, ask him how he fixed it. Un-hide a shared folder someone had accidentally Hidden. Easily a dozen small fixes, took maybe an hour, all on the back of a super-stressed maths graduate completely forgetting how "Enable Macros" works, but knowing enough to email IT for help.

    You could genuinely feel the mood lift in the room. Days like that make it worth dealing with customers - the machines might be better behaved than people, but even an introvert like me can recognise the value of genuine gratitude.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      I think the important thing to take note of here is that you were fixing problems for intellignet people with good degrees, and technical jobs.

      Now try the same thig with a room full of salespeople or project managers, and see how much gratitude you get. You'll probably get back to your desk and receive a pile of complaints about how you didn't offer to make anyone a coffee.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "but various flavours of Excel-derived hell, deep in actuarial hell where they work out how dead you are to five decimal places..."

      I can understand working as an actuary (or supporting them), but any actuary worth his salt should know that using Excel for this kind of thing is like willingly flagellating oneself with a lemon zester and then taking a bath in rubbing alcohol.

      This smacks of "We've been using Excel because that's all we know" - which is similar to the "when you have a hammer every problem is a nail" issue of "I use MySQL because it's the only database I know, never mind my requirement has grown to 5 dimensional JOINs it isn't designed to handle and another DB would be 50 times faster/90% smaller/[not need constant nursemaiding because mysql never shrinks its files] - it's too haaaard to learn 8 extra syntax words or even how to optimize my JOIN and WHERE syntax" (yes, that's my current rant after seeing a sub-2GB dataset causing 8GB+ query memory bloat and 30+ second execution time thanks to poorly chosen database and query syntax.)

      Excel (or any spreadsheet) is a useful tool for small tasks - but it doesn't scale up to sizes where a database is a better choice. The problem is that people start using it and keep trying to scale to infinity instead of realising that they've passed the practical limits of what you can do with it - I saw an entire Area Health Board with a bunch of hospitals and thousands of employees run on it - it's no wonder their finances were a mess (and changes took hours to ripple through)

      MySQL is a fantastic database for basic queries and small to medium datasets, but it doesn't scale up to multi GB datasets and complex JOINs (If you read High Performance MySQL chapter 4 you'll understand why - the book is 2 inches thick, and it's all about getting MySQL to do stuff that "just WORKS" on Postgres and others.). The problem is that people start using it and keep trying to scale to infinity and don't realise they've gone past its practical limits.

      A large part of our job should also be telling people that it's time they graduated from a cargo bicycle to a delivery van or a delivery van to a heavy hauler, because their support/performance/reliability issues are because they've outgrown their software.

      1. Killfalcon Silver badge

        You're not wrong! But neither were they. All the serious calculations were being done with serious, built-for-purpose, statistical simulation software on dedicated hardware.

        Excel was mostly just mucking around with summary data being prepped for powerpoint slides, and various hacky fudges that high command wanted but wouldn't budget for them to be built into the models properly.

        Last I heard (I left that team a few years back now) they are moving towards a proper end-to-end database solution that eats text files and shits slide decks, but the whole environment is something like 40% compensation for inflexible legacy systems and 20% working around flaws in previous attempts so it's been slow going.

  11. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    We have a customer who asks us to come over to fix something, and then when we get there, they present us with a handwritten list with vague stuff on it like 'Judy's daily mail home page sometimes doesn't appear' or 'our jobs website crashes' or 'some emails aren't getting through'. We then have to give them an emphatic 'NO', and ask them to re-write the list, and email to it to our ticket system, and put some details on it. They then invariably say 'Oh, just one more thing' as we are trying to get out of the door.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Went down to fix - can't remember what. Finished job, tools away ready to go to next job....

      "Can you have a look at this printer, makes a funny noise when printing"

      It's an inkjet, so you when open a door and it all stops moving. Nornally I would poke a small screwdriver in the sensor hole as I can observe it printing. Spotted a tea spoon on the desk, so used that instead, poking the handle into the hole. I could see that it was a tube that had come loose, so (safety first!) powered off printer and reattached tube.

      Arrived back at the office to find my boss waiting for me - user had been on phone.

      "Why did you put the spoon in the printer?"

      "Because the fork was too big."

      1. RancidOrange

        Forking hell!

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "We then have to give them an emphatic 'NO', and ask them to re-write the list, and email to it to our ticket system, and put some details on it. They then invariably say 'Oh, just one more thing' as we are trying to get out of the door."

      Tell them that if won't raise the tickets you'll have to and there's an extra charge for every ticket you have to raise. Sorry, company rules. More than my jobsworth etc.

  12. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Just A.N.Other Day in A.N.Other Office, El Reg ‽ .:-)

    Have you ever ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for? Do the words “just in case“ also fill you with foreboding?

    :-) Paints a picture very much like every normal day in an El Reg Office, Rebecca? Can you imagine what the Future brings or will AI and IT Present it to You with the Phased Arrayed Introduction to a New COSMIC Discovery ..... Heavenly Performers.

    FVEY's Greatest Fear Realised. .... with Advanced Beta Copy Development Environments .... in Internetional Intelligence Competition for the Hearts and Minds/Thoughts and Deeds of a Choice Few Enabled to Lead Oft the Many.

    Are information powder kegs liable to spontaneous combustion, El Reg? Too much new secret sensitive information very quickly becomes an almighty burden when and wherever not served and shared/savoured and enjoyed. As a wise precaution ..... Be Ensured of Right and Sound Mind for Madness and Mayhem abound in the Realms Controlling Information ....... with Internetworking Service Providers Supplying Vital Engaging Content ..... Extremely Attractive Views and Truly Addictive News.

  13. WonkoTheSane
    Headmaster

    Stories like these are what drives the sale of this t-shirt:-

    https://www.thinkgeek.com/images/products/frontsquare/388b_fix_computer_fb.jpg

  14. Keith Langmead

    Columbo'd

    At work we refer to that kind of thing as being Columbo'd, eg we've gone to the customer to do one specific job, then just as you're trying to leave they hit you with a "ahhh, just one more thing...".

  15. Alan Bourke

    "Have you ever NOT ended up being roped into doing more tech support than you’d bargained for? "

    FTFY

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    After I'd left ....

    I was made redundant from my first job: someone in a different country decided on the basis of my job title that the company didn't need me.

    After I'd been gone for a couple of weeks I popped back in to say "hi". "What's up?" I asked the forlorn lady on reception? "The VAX is down, engineer has been here all day and no sign of it coming back". "Mind if I pop in the machine room?" "Sure".

    In the machine room, the field service engineer was looking blankly at the messages that had been printed on the console as the VAX was in its death throes. I looked over his shoulder. "It's the UDA-50. Look, here, that's the error code you need." (It might not have been, this was 30-odd years ago, but that UDA-50 was a right bugger.)

    Five minutes later, replacement card installed, machine up. Everyone happy. I left never to return. No idea what happened next time one of the machines died.

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: After I'd left ....

      Shown the door....

      My ability & desire to resolve your problems ended the moment you handed me my notice of termination & severance pay.

      Also a unauthorised access & security issue.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Down voted, only because you are too nice, I wouldn't have helped out like that!

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Seconded.

      That was a $1000+ consultancy fee you just walked away from and a point lost on whoever made you redundant (who was probably paid more than that)

  18. jch

    Helping out friends

    The receptionist and the remaining sysadmin were both friends: I wasn't about to leave them in the lurch. Both had left a few months later.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Helping out friends

      Too be fair, last time I was made redundant, the bigwigs of the company had stood in front of the whole company and explained that there was a management buyout, but don't worry everything is going to be fine, business as usual.

      Two days later - a third of the company was made redundant. During the consultation, they offered me a QA management position, because they had made the existing bod redundant - but I wouldn't get a pay rise. So they were trying to do it on the cheap, didn't want to work for a company like that.

      First time, was 3 days after my 21st birthday - happy birthday me....

      1. ICPurvis47
        Devil

        Re: Helping out friends

        " they offered me a QA management position, because they had made the existing bod redundant "

        They broke the law then, you can't make a person redundant, only their job. If they still needed a QA bod, they had to retain him - BY LAW. He should have taken them to a tribunal, and he would have won.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Helping out friends

          "they had to retain him - BY LAW"

          Not necessarily. Different countries have different laws.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Helping out friends

            It was in the UK, but it was some time ago.

        2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: Helping out friends

          It doesn't make sense anyway redundanting an employee if you actually still need that job filled. But what I think we're talking about is like firing the database administrator then asking the bloke who cleans the telephones to do database administrating too but without a change in job title or money. This is still four-letter-word behaviour but harder for DBA person to be in possession of the facts or prove a breach of the law. It's where a good union should help but that's s bit last century for a lot of IT people.

  19. Kiwi
    Coat

    I have a rule these days.

    If a tool or driver or some other 'item' is touched by me or comes to mind while I am preparing to go somewhere, it goes in the bag.

    By making sure I have the tool/etc on me, I can gaurantee I will not even come close to needing it.

    But if I didn't put it in the bag "just in case", you can bet your bottom dollar that it will be the most critical tool when I am at the other end, and no there will be no one within a day's drive who has one available. If it's software, the net will be down etc etc..

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like