Really need to be put out to pasture.
Welcome again to On-Call, our regular look at the things readers have been asked to do on duty as paid fixer-uppers. This week, reader “Raoul” writes from Germany, where in the early 1990s he worked as a customer support guy at a commercial bank. Raoul's lot included on-site support as well as picking up help desk calls, one …
Yep, it could be me at the other end ...
When I get the inevitable "Microsoft have reported your PC has a virus" phone call on a dull day I rather enjoy playing up to it on the basis the longer I can keep them on the line the less chance they will be fleecing some poor vulnerable person.
A standard part of the script is press the START button. They never check you are running Windows first. So starts a rather difficult discussion on exactly where this button is and what it looks like and why the windows key doesn't work. As long as you sound really dim they sense easy prey and hence are blind to spotting you are having 'em on.
"Oh but I have a funny button there with a K on it ..." KDE users will appreciate where the conversation goes from here.
Thank you, kind Sir.
Your valiant efforts protecting the vulnerable from being ruthlessly fleeced are duly noted and appreciated. I will try to keep your idea in mind, should a similar opportunity arise... Might pretend I still have a DESQView installation and see how that goes.
And KDE is indeed rather nice.
Yep, I've done that. It's awesome fun.
Strangely, at this point, they tend to lose interest in helping you fix your computer, and go away.
I've started a similar thing with spam offers to improve my website. I correct the English in their email and ask them why I'd trust somebody who writes such crap to work on my (non-existent) website.
The Microsoft Virus Scammers have got wise to the fact that other operating systems exist besides Windows. Sadly their attempt to identify which OS you are running seems to consist of asking you if you have a key with a Windows symbol on it. They have not yet grasped the concept that such a keyboard can still be connected to a computer running Linux, and so I can cheerfully waste 30 minutes of their time taking them through a KDE desktop. The frustration in their voice when their Windows remote control executable refuses to run is a joy to hear.
I agree keeping them on the line as long as possible is my goal but to stop from being too bored i try to get words in to the conversation without them twigging. first is always "The computer says NO" in the best Little Britain impression i can.
I also record the conversations for Posterity...
Yes Stuart 22, But then again what was there for you to gain. Who ever they are selling what ever they sell they are probably under payed and hoping to find something better to do. So why fuck with them. It's not that I don't get disturbed by those phone calls but I cut them off with something like "sorry I am broke" or "my wife took all my money" or "I am just going to jail" or whatever. Why should I fuck with them. You mentioned KDE and that reminds me of something that happened to me some five years ago. On my journey to the country side I stopped in a town and got a dongle for my laptop. Hell if I got that working, but I did phone that ISP and having spent 10 sec him assuming a Windows problem I told him I use such and such Linux distribution, and to my surprise he was a Linux user at home if not at work and promised to phone me the next day. And that he did, and it was all RFM due to me but then again the RFM was on the internet. Am I getting old, fuck yes, but on the phone no.
This sounds like the old landline joke:
A friend once called me, we chatted for a minute, then he pipes up, where are you? *awkward silence* Where number did you call?
So this guy is calling computer support with out a computer needing help? Frame this one and hang it on the wall!
I used to support HP-UX back in the late 80s. A lot of our customers used their systems to run CAD packages, typically HP's own one. Most of these people had their workstations configured to boot straight into the CAD package and so never used the keyboard.
It was typical to get a call where you'd ask the customer to type something and there'd be this awkward silence.
Me: Do you know where the keyboard is
Customer: Errr I think it's around the back somewhere
Me: OK can you go and have a look for it.
Pause: followed by a few banging sounds, some muttering, the occasional swear word then the sound of the phone being picked up.
Customer: OK got it, now what was it you wanted me to type?
Eventually you'd get them to having a terminal window
Me: Lets start by find out where you are on the system, please type p w d
Me: OK you'll find the "p" key on the top row of letters at the right hand end
Me: Now you'll find the "w" key towards the left hand side, but still on the top row of letters
and so on
Talking them through a "vi" session was so much fun.
Of course keyboards were do much tougher back then, the modern ones would probably have cracked in two halfway though the first command.
Can't really blame most of the customers, they'd bought a fancy new drawing board as far as they were concerned. Things like keyboards were just a distraction.
Best I can come up with is about 12 months ago when I worked for a charity in the UK as their IT Manager. I should name and shame, but the BCFH (Bastard CEO From Hell) with her arse licking "Comms" Manager aren't afraid to use charity money to throw lawyer balls around.
Anyway, I had to deal with 1500 volunteers who used various systems but to them this seemed to extend to all sorts of IT support. The one call rang me up and spoke to me like an arsehole because obviously it's my fault that her computer doesn't work. 5 minutes in to this conversation she's trying to print something off and her printer doesn't work. I told her that if her printer isn't working it isn't my place to fix it as it's her own personal printer - not one given to her by the charity.
Transpired anyway that she was trying to print off her laptop and that she hadn't plugged the USB cable in. But you know that was still my fault. And it was my fault that she had to print something off to fill out and return it to the charity even though I had built an online portal for the charity for this information to be filled out on. But she doesn't like computers, she doesn't know how to use them, and that I should be training her how to use it.
I don't know how I spent 3 years working in that place with cockwombles like her.
Reminds me of when I did Dell tech support. One lady asking for help adjusting her monitor WOULD NOT STOP trying to mouse the on-screen menus. I'd get her to do one thing using the buttons on the frame, then her hand would apparently shoot back to the mouse for another playful round of "nothing happens".
This post has been deleted by its author
Quote: Hmm. I sense a business opportunity involving the production of widescreen mouse mats.
Don't forget to brand them as HD Ready.
You can then get them to upgrade to the True HD version later on, and then even later still, to the Ultra HD version. :-)
> I've heard of people asking for a bigger mouse mat because with their
> small one their pointer can't reach the whole screen.
Well what's wrong with that? Would you want to spend all day lifting your mouse and re-placing it under the circumstances? Yes, you know that it's possible to "gear up" the mouse movements. They don't, so a larger mouse mat is a reasonable solution from their point of view. And since it would actually work, what's the problem?
Customer: My little box that i click to launch my word processor has gone off my screen.
Me, Can you see the "my Computer" icon on the desktop?
Customer, what do you mean "Desktop"?
Me: The main picture on your screen where you launch your program from after your computer has started uo..
Customer. Oh yes, i think can see it.
Me, right can you put the mouse pointer over it and double click the left mouse button.
Customer. What does double click mean.
Me. Sigh, i'll come out...
Sometimes, the time spent pissing around on a phone call is wasted. Just go to the job..
Well, I was present when one IT manager described a "gadget that moved a pointer on the screen"; I said I thought that was a "mouse" - but that was in 1982 - about a year before the Apple Lisa or the Microsoft Mouse appeared.
Could have been a digitizer puck on a CAD workstation, or even an early mouse driven environment like Visi On or Epson Valdocs
Doing some basic IT training for classes of novice adults at a college I asked folks to point at the Word Perfect icon (yeah it was... a while ago) with the mouse and one feller physically held the mouse to the screen and then glanced around awkwardly with that "Am I doing this right?" look on his face.
Many moons ago when I worked at Escom (remember them UKers?) I had a guy do exactly the same thing so it wasn't that uncommon.
I also had someone ask about a printer - B&W inkjet. He asked whether it could print with a single colour background. I got him to clarify and he said something like "Print with black text but on a red page". I said that you could put whatever colour paper in you wanted if you wanted a coloured background, thinking this can't be what he meant. He said "So I can buy red paper and feed it in and it will come out red when it prints", I did confirm that it will print black text or pictures onto red paper and he was quite amazed... Still sounds as weird now as it did then, but he really did not seem to understand that coloured paper doesn't turn white when you put it in a Black and White (yes, yes pedant monochrome...) printer.
"physically held the mouse to the screen "
Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do - if this is the very, very first time you have ever used a computer.
When teaching absolute beginners, please do remember that things that you don't even think about are utterly unknown to them. Even stuff that can be perfectly obvious the second time you use the computer. You've introduced them to several things and words that they've never met before - it would be weird if they all got them all right the first time!
"Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do - if this is the very, very first time you have ever used a computer."
No, I would argue that it really isn't. That would be like me not having ever driven before thinking it perfectly reasonable to drive around on the pavement or backwards everywhere. Thing is, because I have what's called common sense, I didn't do that, because I observed drivers driving on the road where they are meant to be and certainly not going backwards. So if someone was going to be learning how to use a computer, as computers have been around for even longer than I have, I would at least expect that the learner has been able to observe how others use the computer (specifically the mouse at this point) either on TV in pictures or perhaps even around them at the college while they are sat there. I used to do the same job as you some time back and this mouse on the screen thing actually happened while I was watching. I fear there is little chance of someone who hasn't learnt via observation at least a little bit is not going to get very far with a computer. Children learn by observation and they are unlikely to do this having never used a computer before.
@ Martin Summers
The chap up the screen mentioned the word perfect icon so we are talking about some time ago. There may have still been a lot of DOS computers around, and the Amstrad PCW may have been more common than a Windows machine.
I'm seeing the other end of this one - 16 year olds today spend many more hours on mobile interfaces than they do on Windows and it is beginning to show. Try asking about backups of work...
"physically held the mouse to the screen "
Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do - if this is the very, very first time you have ever used a computer.
Indeed. I never saw anyone fail to understand what to do with a light pen. I don't know whether this was because they expected more from personnel back then, or if it was genuinely a more natural way of running a pointing device.
 Albeit inferior to a mouse in every other way I can think of...
That reminds me of a South African TV advert for an insurance company (shown on one of the BBC's Commercial Breakdown clip shows), showing a bunch of IT no-hopers clicking on the screen, pushing the mouse off the edge of the table, and of course, the coffee mug on the CD tray.
Best quote: Our website is so simple even a six-year-old could use it. Of course, if you don't have a six-year-old available you can always give us a call.
Ha, ha ha, yes nothing funnier than playing the idiot when you get a tech call from "Microsoft's" subcontinent division. The fun I had doing everything the guy told me to do and truthfully conveying the results, he was getting really frustrated that none of his nobble the computer tactics were working and spent almost half an hour trying to get me to install his "useful and totally necessary" program.
It was me in the end, who got bored and started dropping ever less subtle hints about how Windows is not the only OS, but no, he had no idea other operating systems existed and continued to punch through his script despite me telling him I was running a Linux distro. It must have been at that point that I realised why some people have no other recourse than to turn to crime, because he honestly hadn't got a clue.
Very similar thing happened to me 3 years ago, albeit I was using a Mac at the time. Strung "Microsoft support" along for over an hour, including two ten minute spells of leaving the 'phone sitting on the table whilst pretending I went "to the east wing of the house to see if the router was switched on".
Eventually started to draw to a close when I got bored and asked how he slept at night.
That would at least have been vaguely amusing.
What I got instead proceeded rapidly through the three stages of:
1. I have no idea what you could possibly mean. I *am* an honest IT expert just looking to help you
2. Well, this is the only way I can earn any decent money, even if it means ripping off your granny.
3. A bunch of English expletives, delivered in a thick, Indian accent,* followed by him hanging up.
* to be fair, number three was also amusing
Speaking as a parent who takes his daughter to guitar lessons every Saturday morning, and for at least the first 4 weeks we were there another parent brought his son along, but didn't seem to feel it necessary to actually bring a guitar along too...
So sadly I have to report that it's not just tech that suffers from such people, although the look on the tutors face by about the third week of it happening despite his repeated hints, prompts and suggestions to get one was priceless..
something about "tech" seems to send *some* brains into some sort of FUD-crash.
I've seen perfectly intelligent adults (teachers, actually - when I started "Computer Studies" in 1980) completely freeze in terror when confronted with an Apple][ and treat is as if it were some sort of demonic box. But because they had already convinced themselves it was "sorcery", they had no chance of mastering it.
What's more worrying is, I still see it to this day.
One of my earliest - and possibly greatest - insights at school, was that people who started off anything saying "I couldn't possibly ...." almost invariably never did.
"something about "tech" seems to send *some* brains into some sort of FUD-crash."
So does something about the presence of tech support. The moment someone on the helpdesk answers the phone, many people's brain will basically go limp and they go into a kind of malleable blank state. They respond to questioning and will accept orders without question, but won't actually think in the slightest. I'd estimate that about 50% of the workforce at any given company fit into this category, and it used to be much, much higher.
This applies at literally every level of the company, too - I've had MDs on phone calls who would happily tell me if they wore women's underwear if I'd asked during an outlook support call, finance directors who hand over the passwords to the salary database to minimum-wage contractors working on issues that have nothing to do with it etc.
I think this actually makes IT staff think users are thicker than they are. In my current job, we work in an open-plan office with all the rest of the company, and it's noticeable that most users will generate about 300% more calls if they are seated next to IT. If we move them just a desk or two away, this falls dramatically and instantly, because they can now either think about how to deal with a problem themselves first, or else thy have to stand up.
many people's brains will basically go limp
I've seen this in techies too.
An old colleague of mine took great pleasure in seeing what ludicrous things he could get other techies to do "as a quick favour"
"Could you check something for me? Go to the desktop. Press ctrl-a. Now hit Delete? ...
Yep, I thought that would happen" <walks away>
Yeah, I don't think it's a techy/non-techy divide tbh. It's just more obvious for techies because even the most junior members of the department are likely to encounter it within an hour or so of starting their first day. It's more likely to be a cultural thing in the way companies work - the techy is in control, and so all higher brain functions are shut down to prevent the user being distracted in case they're given an order. Medical doctors probably see it a lot too.
completely freeze in terror when confronted with an Apple][ and treat is as if it were some sort of demonic box
Strangely enough, I used to do that every time *after* I was first confronted with an Apple][ network in 1987. In fairness it was probably something to do with that godawful Corvus box sellotaped to it.
(actually it was an ITT 2020).
AIR Apples had no intrinsic networking, and I don't recall an interface card to do it either, although it did have 6 expansion slots.
For some reason the standard one for the disk controller was 6. I can still remember the command "PR#6" to initialise the peripheral on slot 6. I realised I was the schools (actually the boroughs) tech expert when reading the manual revealed that "PR" was to initialise for output (PRint - geddit ?) and "IN" was to initialise for "INput" (possibly a light pen) and that for the disk controller (being both, either would work).
I've had the pleasure of attempting to help a user get started with an application when the following conditions applied:
1) Not familiar with "double click to launch application from shortcut" concept
2) Not familiar with "double click" concept
3) Did not know there was a "left" mouse button, and preferred using the "right" one
4) Neither of us spoke the other's native tongue
5) User did not want to use application
The user was not happy to have been stuck in front of a computer in the first place, as they were a pilot, and they really didn't see the need to be sitting at a desk when they could be flying. I agreed, really.
You think that's bad - my son's left-handed, and to prevent RSI he not only puts the mouse to the left of the keyboard (obvious) but swaps the mouse buttons over (not so obvious). And when working with test equipment like multichannel oscilloscopes -- with channel control buttons and knobs helpfully colour-coded to match the on-screen traces -- he changes the trace colours so he can distinguish them (he's also red-green colour blind). Watch people trying to use it when the red buttons now control the (some other colour) trace...
"It always puzzled me why it was called 'clicking' in the first place.
A click is a sound, not an action.
Wouldn't 'tap' have been a better word to use?"
Those of a certain age can remember when mice were more robustly constructed.
So pressing a mouse button did produce a very loud "click".
With regards to "tap" the image this gives me is of an air space between the finger and the mouse, pre and post tap - as I sit here tapping away at a keyboard.
Oh, and my venerable Logitech Track Man Wheel does still produce an audible "click".
[I say venerable because I turned it over for a look and it has a sticker on to confirm that it is my personal mouse. Added when I took it into work to ease the beginning of RSI. That was *cough* years ago.]
So... you have a user who isn't familiar with the concept of 'double click', and you're suggesting that he instead talks him through the process of opening the control panel and re-configuring the mouse settings?
Might be difficult when you get to the bit where you say 'now double-click on the Mouse icon...'
1) If it's possible.
Many "lock down everything" IT departments remove the mouse settings. Happened to me once, when I attended an interview. They had a technical test on a standard RHS mouse PC. I asked for the mouse to be set up left handed, and it took 30 minutes for them to find a tech who could log in as admin to make the change.
2) If it's practical
There's quite a few industry-wide mice that are clearly intended to be held in the right hand. So even changing settings won't help.
FWIW, ever since I started suffering a touch of RSI, I've found I'm ambidextrous when it comes to mousing, so use my left hand now.
ever since I started suffering a touch of RSI, I've found I'm ambidextrous when it comes to mousing, so use my left hand now.
20-odd years ago, I damaged my right hand quite severely, and couldn't use it for ~6 months. So I learnt to use a mouse left-handed.
It didn't half freak out the guy sat to my left when I got the wrong mouse...
 I deliberately didn't use left-handed settings, as that would mean changing things round every time I used a new computer.
2) Not familiar with "double click" concept
you can set it to single click since XP
You could set it to single click in Windows 95! However, as others have pointed out, that takes effect on the computer immediately in front of you only, and only if your user account is permitted to make such changes.
Reminds me of my days on Tech support for Iomega (back before the turn of the Millenium). I had one German customer call who asked to be put directly through to me (I was Tech Spec at the time). The guy was obviously agitated- so the team leader asked would I take it. I agreed. The call went along the lines of........
Can you help me really fast please?
Certainly- what appears to be the issue?
There is smoke coming out of my monitor!
Unplug the computer and monitor at once- and call the Fire Services!!
No, no, no- I want you tell me how to back up my documents folder- really really fast!
At this stage- I advised I was terminating the call and calling the Fire Department on the customer's behalf- as I didn't trust them to do so themselves.........
Stupid calls would get closed down as category "user error". Then you have a metric for amount of time wasted and unprofessional behaviour affecting efficiency.
Compare it to say, not parking within the lines in the company car park - the FM can complain and get people to stop doing it. Or leaving litter and expecting the cleaners to sort it out. This type of misuse would be out of order, so the same should apply to IT.
<quote>Stupid calls would get closed down as category "user error". </quote>
Around my company, we have instituted a requirement that all employees must demonstrate a minimum level of computer "competence". They are expected to know and understand many computer related basic concepts, like what is meant by "double-clicking". At the time this dictate was imposed, many would have failed miserably, executives included; so training classes were instituted, and everyone had to demonstrate their competency. A few """dinosaurs""" who abjectly refused to learn were eventually let go. New hires will not even get past the first interview if they are not """computer literate""".
It cost us some serious 'pocket change' to train people, but the effort was worth it, as we don't have to tolerate that bullshit any longer. Now, these days, if we get a 'stupid user' type of help desk ticket, and the reason is due to user incompetence, they get written up, and directed to the proper training, or are shown the door. It helps that our salaries are somewhat higher than what is typically paid in this area, so we do get to pick the 'cream at the top' as opposed to 'scraping the bottom of the barrel'.
wish we did that! It bugs the hell out of me. We have a load of admin staff who spend their whole life using Word or other office products, yet they still come to us to ask how to do something in Word! FFS I packaged it and installed it I don't really use it!
A problem I've seen at several employers / clients is that there is no 'expert user' or whatever for applications, so people turn to IT support. I use Word pretty much every working day, but there are many many functions within it I've seldom/never used. So, when I want to use one of these functions it's just me and Google to try and find out how to do it. Microsoft's major league dicking around with the GUI over the years doesn't help either.
> I wonder how you dealt with illiterates in high places.
They have PAs to do menial computing for them, surely.
<anecdote>We once had an IT manager who advertised for a 'Principle Secretary'. We thought this was a brilliant idea, for he had no principles of his own...</anecdote>
Sorry, this piss-take of a 'stupid user' is a fail!
Yes, it's been fashionable in IT circles for the 4 decades I was in DP/IT/whateverthe millenialscallit to deride 'dumb users', but not knowing anything about the organisation this alleged episode happened in it's impossible to know what expectations the end-user being jeered at would have had when he placed the call, however the support person who supposedly took this call made a fundamental assumption which we cannot know if he was entitled to make.
We don't know the remit of the 'support' department, so don't know if he was entitled to presume the end-user had a 'computer' problem without checking, and even if he was so entitled then clearly he didn't ask sufficiently general enough question to have realised the end-user wasn't using a computer payment system.
In any case, sneering at the user in this article is simply fatuous, he was asked questions and answered them, dealing with 'tech support' people that's what I do.
I also love many of the user-jeering replies made here, so typical of 'IT' discussions everywhere.
Me? I was a programmer/systems programmer/ database designer and more for 42 years until retiring in December, so I know full well the attitude of many in the 'computer industry' who deride non-techies.
Perhaps a bit like calling a "transportation support" agency. Sure there may be a series of mistaken assumptions about whether you're calling about a problem with your car, but when the support person asks you to engage the ignition, "I don't have a car" is considerably less unhelpful than "It's not there" even though both are technically correct responses.
I'm casting my mind back to my first encounter with these things as a schoolchild.
I stared in absolute wonder at an early electronic calculator, imaging some sort of organic brain at work inside.
I couldn't understand why a ZX81 that I saw didn't have a bank of flickering lights and I sort of expected it to be "threatening" in some spooky way.
Then I got a summer job in an IT company at 16 years old, I sat down in a lunch break at a disconnected VT100 terminal and tried to type in a BASIC program, finally typing "RUN" at the end.
I expected UNIX hardware to be covered in cooling fins, that they would be buzzing and humming at 50Hz and any wrong move would trigger a disastrous sequence of events.
I've had similar calls at my last job which usually started with me yelling at my "team" to answer the F-ing phones, I pick up the phone and deal with an irate customer, in one extreme case about there "internet" not working on the PC but OK on "eye-patch".
I ask why they are calling from a mobile, with bad signal....
Turns out the ipad has 3G and they canceled there phone line.
There is no excuse for being this utterly clueless in 2015.
About 20 years ago I had a user pop into my cubicle and ask if there was a problem with the printer as every time he printed his document, only one sheet of paper came out. I looked at the sheet of paper he was holding, took it out of his hand, turned it over and gave it back to him.
The printer was defaulted to double-sided printing and the poor guy had spent the last 30 minutes trying to figure out why it only printed one sheet of paper.
The look on his face was priceless and one I shall cherish for many years.
spent days off and on the phone with a customer who was having problems fitting an ISDN card to a Mac. He swore blind it wouldn't fit in the slot, so I sent him a different card thinking he'd got the architecture wrong (PCI not Nubus). After about the 5th call, I asked him where he was and luckily he wasn't too far from our office so he brought the machine in. It turned out that instead of taking the cover off the machine and inserting it in the PCI slot, he'd been trying to post the card through the small hole in the back where there was a missing blanking plate.
Another guy's machine simply would not save the preferences for his ISP set up. After an hour, I talked him through the procedure in excruciatingly precise detail and found out that instead of closing the control panel using the window button, he was force quitting the application .. he'd become so used to how flaky OS7 was, that was how he quit all applications.
I remember hearing one half of an IT support call. I was visiting a friend who happened to be the technical editor of a computer magazine. His father, a doctor who had very little computer experience - this was circa 1990 - called his son, because he'd encountered a problem. This is roughly what I head.
"Hi Dad, what's up? Say again? The mouse pointer doesn't go all the way up the screen? Okay, lift up your mouse. Move it towards you. Right, now put it back on the mouse mat. Try moving the pointer now. All good? No problem. See ya."
I had stupidly accepted a major contractor's role in setting up AOL's new AZ call center. I was mostly doing infrastructure (running pipes & wire ... AC, DC, voice, data, HVAC, H2O, halon, yadda). Part of my contract included spending a couple hours/week answering phones for the still-in-alpha (internal only) helldesk, and reporting back on the usefulness of the scripts the helldesk operators were going to be using. Most calls were fairly benign, as AOL was going through a lot of changes internally (including moving to a Stratus computer back-end in VA, if I recall properly).
Then I got this one brain-dead caller. She kept me on the phone for nearly 30 minutes. I knew we were in test mode, and she had to be internal, so I just played it straight, making notes. Finally, I just had to ask "Do you have a computer?" She busted a gut laughing, and said no ... Turns out she was a very heavily coached assistant to Ted Leonsis, testing the not-ready-for-prime-time system.
Ted apologized to me, and sent us both out to dinner on the company card ... I got him back, I hired the techie who coached the gal ;-)
I didn't get the girl, though. She was engaged. She and her now hubby are still happily married, and we are still in touch. Nice couple. Good friends happen in the strangest of ways.
Of mice, or is it of mouses, newer mind. The number of mouse "incidents" is staggering and some appear in different countries and languages but then again people make the same mistakes. A story I have heard only once was about a woman who took her mouse back to the shop claiming it was quite rubbish, just try it yourself!. The guy took the mouse connected it to his PC and the the woman went "Oh, on the table with your hand". There is actually some logic here as woman tend to be better with sewing machines. Is that a true story or not, who cares. Has anybody ever read a true book. (except the "Nautical Almanac").
One customer I remember I had to visit tweaking G-Link I think. In front of the first PC I politely asked the lady if I could temporally move the mouse to the right side. Turned out all, about 8, were on the left side. The reason they told me was that the teacher they had in the very beginig was left handed and the mouse was simply left on the left and they got used to it. Asking them why they don't move them to the right they told me it was actually quit good as they now had their right hand free for the numeric keyboard. Never tell me (all) women lack logic.
Then about us men. What I have learned dealing with customer service, although it never was my main task, is that when a customer phones you, they are in advance a bit pissed off, stressed unhappy and so forth. So, for instance, when "Lisa" phones you the fifth time that week you have two choices. Either you say "Oh it's you again, what is it now then". Or you can shorten your life with some minutes but save working hours by answering "Oh Hello Lisa, I was just going to phone you, any problems". I have come to the conclusion that you have about 20 seconds from the time you pick up the phone, 20 seconds to use wisely.
It's quite obvious that some of us men should not do customer service no matter how "stupid" some customers are.
While I like and read all these articles, all the memories, perhaps we could have articles about all the funny errors and missed opportunities we have made ourselves. I could write a book about mine, although, probably not totally true that book either.
I taught myself to use my mouse with my left hand so I could scroll and move around on the screen while taking notes. Made me more productive. People see me mousing and then, later, writing something down and consider e a genius for being ambidextrous. I try to say it's like playing guitar or anything that needs two hands, but no, for some reason a mouse in your 'off' hand is the ne-plus-ultra or brainiac. So now I merely smile humbly.
Being a left hander, I used to use a mouse on the left hand side. Somewhere along the way between using my Amiga and ending up with a PC (and all the shared PCs at work) I ended up with it on the right. I would still use a joystick with my left - if it was an ambidextrous one and not one of those ergonomic sculpted button-under-the-thumb designs.
I've seen the mouse on the left side to free up the numberpad too. A lady at my last job did that, even though she was right handed. She was in Finance, and it was pretty amazing watching her enter and shuffle data in a large spreadsheet. Most people speed this up by using enter and tab to jump around from cell to cell, but she keyed in data using her right hand while navigating with her left on the mouse, seemingly with no pauses. I've never seen anyone interface with a machine that fast.
I deal with people very skilled in their jobs but they are not IT workers. They are generally pleasant and decent people, just like anywhere else. Most people in fact are.
If nobody has explained that the thing they are looking at is a screen and not a computer, it is my responsibility to pick up on that when they say "it's still the same" after I ask them to switch it off and on again. I can tell them what they were calling the "hard disc" may indeed have a hard disc inside it and make them feel silly or annoyed at me or I can delicately inform them that the thing they look at is a screen and the computer is the thing that takes CDs.. They are not stupid, just uninformed about my world.
If I have to tell the same person the same thing 5 times in 5 minutes, am I doing it right? I have never worked with special needs people. Perhaps some of them find it hard to take in information. I don't know. I'll leave that to experts. The people I deal with this will take information in if they are given it in a usable form
But telling funny stories to each other? I see no problem with that. I bet just about every profession comes up with them about they lack of knowledge of outsiders.There will be funnies everywhere from the Police, to teachers (about parents I expect), butchers, farmers, dentists and other health workers, to lawyers. We just need to keep the tales anonymous and not show ourselves up as the one at fault!
Lack of knowledge may also be taught judging by my daughter's GCSE computing course. No, that's not "memory" that's a hard drive. I'm pretty sure we learnt more on the old Cambridge Computer Literacy course than today's kids learn as a full GCSE. Mind, I was one of the kids programming the ZX81 and ZX Spectrum using the free code printed in magazines (one issue had a broken version of frogger in it, resulting in my first ever attempt at debugging code. As a kid I was quite proud when I finally got it working).
"I'm pretty sure we learnt more on the old Cambridge Computer Literacy course than today's kids learn as a full GCSE."
Back in the late '90s, the full IT GCSE was basically a course in how to use spreadsheets and word processors. I'd been building computers from components for several years by the time I went in for my IT GCSE, and after I saw the content I only showed up half a dozen times. It didn't help much that the IT lab was still equipped with 1991 Acorns right up until 2000.
I totally agree with you - sharing anonymised stories between ourselves harms no-one and brightens many a day (even if only by causing someone to say "Thank God! It's not just my users!")
If you have friends who are policeman and come to be trusted enough by their colleagues that they will share work stories in front of you, you need two things:
A strong stomach, and a robust sense of humour.
That said I have spent evenings with two friends who are detectives in a large city police force that have been funnier than any stand-up routine I have ever seen. They have not only seen some very bizarre things, but manage to tell them in a way that makes them tear-inducingly funny....
"There will be funnies everywhere from the Police, to teachers (about parents I expect),"
a long time ago I was a member of the Institute of Biology which was supposed to be the biologists professional body but turned out to be largely populated by teachers, or at least it was largely biology teachers who contributed to the journal. Their funnies were mostly about exam answers.
I once got asked by a remote customer to make his web site masthead the exact same colour as his letterhead. Despite using a carefully calibrated screen and matching the colour as closely as possible, he still wasn't happy. No amount of explaining the vagaries of CRT screens would convince him that if we set the colour by trial and error to match on "his" screen, that no one else would see the same colour on their screens.
I once wrote a Fault Reporting system. The system allowed a user to record a fault and then subsequently record information about how the fault was cleared.
I turned up on-site and asked if I could see how many faults had been recorded in the last month. To my surprise - none! So, I asked if there had been any faults. Yes the user replied. So asked asked where they were. The user said that they had all been resolved and cleared. Ok, I said, but surely there would be lots of cleared faults. No, said the user they are all cleared. I stood in confused silence for a little while. Show me, I said. The user then entered a fault with all the details. Ok, now clear the fault (I already knew what was coming...). He then cleared every field on the screen and then deleted the fault.
Suffice to say he was re-assigned a couple of days later. And, I re-wrote the interface to take account of unexpected user behavior.
It's the 90s *puts on floppy hat, smiley t-shirt and wallabies*
Ok, its 9am, the phone rings, its Angry Lawyer, and they are angry at me, IT guy in the legal department.
Cue a 5 minute rant about PC is not working, they are late, they are busy, the PC never works and they hate all this new technology.
Walk to office, greet glowering lawyer. Screen is indeed blank. Monitor shows green light and is working.
Check the PC, and the PC is ... PC isn't switched on. Switch it on, smile at red faced lawyer, walk out.
Walk back to office, open my little A-Z of IT jargon, flick to P
As relevant now as it was then.
All of this pales into insignificance compared to the joy of being an unpaid 24x7 365 technical resource for EVERY SINGLE technology related issue for aged relatives. Because of course if you "work in computers" you know every single thing about them.
My most recent task was also to figure out why the Windows Start button wasn't working.
Turned out that when installing facebook (sorry for swearing) my m-i-l had also installed an alternative launcher called Pokki. Because it doesn't matter jow many times I tell them not to install free stuff, not to click on Yes, they always do.
phone tech support is generally crap.
You need two skills "adaptable inqustive problem solving" to solve the problem
and "consistent grinding social skills" to FIND the problem
Very rare to find both unless they are just passing through on their way up
Which means you cant keep enough off them around.
A better way to put that is "some peoples reaction to phone support is generally crap"
I have had people require my presence to fix a problem. because they "know" that this works better. I then have to go back to my desk and fix the problem because it cannot be fixed from their PC
Modern phone tech support has nothing to do with either finding or solving problems. They're a customer service firewall to keep users form bothering real techies with useless calls about how to adjust the margins in Word. Most places, the 1st line team not only don't know enough to identify a problem, they don't even have the necessary permissions to perform a rudimentary root cause analysis, so even the ones who know what they're doing can't pass salient information onto the 2nd and 3rd line techs.
This is particularly grating when you are one of those real techies trying to raise a support call from a 3rd-party provider.
We've been having problems signing people onto Adobe CC on BYOD devices. Last week, in order to try and clear it up, we logged the call with Adobe. The first call, an Adobe 1st line support guy tested single sign-on from a non-domain attached device to see if it worked... when it didn't, he reported this back to me like it was some kind of significant finding (no, really? Single sign on doesn't function on devices which aren't signed in to the domain? Amazing! Give the man a banana!)... and then closed the call ten minutes later, having completely failed to even understand the problem. Two more calls raised via their support desk were likewise closed with no resolution as the outsourced 1st line team couldn't understand the technicalities of the issue being raised. In the end, we went via back channels directly to the third line guys who had identified the actual issue and fixed it within about twenty minutes.
I had an equally bad time with Mimecast, an email services company whose 1st line support guys don't understand the difference between an email address and a mailbox, and responded to actual email diagnostic information with stunned silence. Again, the only way we were able to get serious support was to circumvent the ITIL system completely; our Ops director rang their European head of distribution (who was extremely embarrassed by the sheer incompetence of her staff) and they had a real techy ring me back ten minutes later. Twenty minutes after that, we'd identified the problem in their infrastructure and shortly after that it was resolved.
ITIL works fairly well for end-users, given that about 70% of their calls will be either user error/training calls, password resets, or people who want tech support on the phone 'just in case' while they figure something out for themselves. But it fails really badly badly when the customers are commercial IT guys who are only calling because the call has gone through internal troubleshooting already. Having some muppet ask me if I've tried turning my PC off and on again when I'm ringing because a whole site of 5,000 users fell offline is just getting in my way and pissing me off at an already stressful moment.
"who was extremely embarrassed by the sheer incompetence of her staff"
She should have been embarrassed by the lack of an effective escalation procedure in her operation. At the very minimum, even if the front line staff aren't capable of realising they're out of their depth, a problem that keeps coming back should be automatically escalated so that (a) the immediate problem gets fixed, (b) the front line staff are trained to handle it in future and (c) if there's a systemic problem that gets fixed. You were luck, there was someone higher to deal with it. I suspect that in most cases there isn't anyone behind the front line and that's why they can't escalate.
"I suspect that in most cases there isn't anyone behind the front line and that's why they can't escalate."
Or there's 4 guys trying to do 3rd line support for 80,000 people, as was the situation at one well-known British conglomerate I worked for. They'd built up a giant helpdesk team of people who knew nothing about tech (and then proceeded to get them to train each other... uselessly), and used that to try and fire off 50% of 2nd line and 90% of third line. The result, predictably enough, was an 18 month backlog on 3rd line calls and constant politics as any call that wasn't absolutely perfect and 100% done to the letter would be bounced back to the previous line, simply to reset the 'not my problem' timer.
When I arrived, the first 3 calls I tried to deal with involved 1 user who'd left the company a year earlier, a piece of equipment which the manage had simply replaced from his own budget after waiting 6 months to hear anything (i.e., still 12 months before I was ringing), and a branch who'd given up using the computer altogether and had left it switched off in a cupboard. It was only really used for email, and the branch manager had taken to just leaving her company mobile lying around and teaching all the staff how to unlock the phone and access the mail app.
What's even worse is when you work for an organisation that hasn't implemented ITIL, and yet has a "Service Desk" with very few of the supposed ITIL processes and functions to even get the job routed the right way. Sometimes we don't see jobs till 6 months after they were originally logged.
To be fair, ITIL does specify the escalation path if the first level support can't solve the problem. I doubt there is an escalation path for "fails to correctly understand and log the issue". Then again, just because people aren't doing so these days, there's no reason in ITIL you can't hire reasonably skilled triage staff to log or properly categorise inbound calls.
In general, if you are knowledgeable in tech, the 1st line tech support will have less knowledge than you, so to get anything done, you need to speak to someone above them. I've learned to ask to escalate the problem as soon as I realize the person I speaking with is incapable. Usually, they have a procedure and eventually you can talk to someone who knows something.
We had a user who, despite working for us for years (actually still works for us and uses the computer every day), claimed during one support call that he never used the keyboard.
Also had a site IT administrator who was always ringing because he couldn't log on and had to be told how to spell administrator every time.
Mind you, I tested a CRT monitor, moved it and it stopped working. Took me ages to realise that I had turned the screen brightness down by resting the front edge of it on the desk while I was moving it, and had slid it sideways a bit, rolling the brightness wheel down to nothing...
Took me ages to realise that I had turned the screen brightness down by resting the front edge of it on the desk while I was moving it, and had slid it sideways a bit, rolling the brightness wheel down to nothing...
… and when you returned that knob to its former position, you were enlightened?
I used to support a user who operated the mouse with their right foot.
Remote support worked well enough as he'd not changed the settings.
However a hot summer forced him to change to the more traditional mouse method, but he span the mouse round and used him palm to click. That was an interesting remote support session for the first 30 seconds or so whilst he explained this, and helpfully put the settings for me back to 'foot' mode.
And he wasn't doing any of this to deliberately wind me up either. Nice bloke. Smelly feet though.
I remember a call to our team from a user:
User: I can't login
Me: To what
User: To the application
Me: What application
User: I don't know
Me: do you know what it's called
User: No, don't you know?
Me: We have several hundred applications, what's your username? (might work out the app from the username)
User: I don't know
Me: Speak to one of your colleagues to find out what you're trying to do, if you're still having problems, call back.]
I've also had "The toilets blocked" to which my response was "speak to facilities management"
The all to common "The printer is out of paper" to which the reponse is "Look, in the cupboard under the printer, take out a ream of paper and put it in the tray", get the answer "Aren't you going to come and do it" to which "No" is the response :)
"I've also had "The toilets blocked" to which my response was "speak to facilities management""
They then call back and reply, 'No one's answering there. And BTW, the toilet's now flooding out of the washroom!"
The all to common "The printer is out of paper" to which the reponse is "Look, in the cupboard under the printer, take out a ream of paper and put it in the tray", get the answer "Aren't you going to come and do it" to which "No" is the response :)"
No, the answer becomes, "There's nothing in there!"
"The all to common "The printer is out of paper" to which the reponse is "Look, in the cupboard under the printer, take out a ream of paper and put it in the tray", get the answer "Aren't you going to come and do it" to which "No" is the response"
That's another cost savings lack of training problem. New printer arrives, office staff get shown how to add paper and deal with simple paper jams, maybe even learn how to swap out toner carts. But as staff leave, no one shows the newbies, the staff who "know" do it. Eventually there are no "staff who know" left. If there ever was a printer manual, it was taken away by IT because the users will lose it anyway.
All from a previous job:
The person who asked me, completely serious, when the lifts would be working because "lifts have computers in them, don't they?"
The person who came storming up to IT to ask why no-one's computers were working and demand we fix them all now. In a power cut. And this was someone who was in a position to know we had no emergency generator etc
And the person whose computer wouldn't turn on and "yes of course I've checked the power strip under my desk". said power strip was, of course, unplugged.
Someone brought this article to my attention by printing out the story and then typing in my reply on his computer.
"You shouldn't trust computers you know but you also shouldn't call for help about one when you don't HAVE one."
"And the mental health facility you're housed in shouldn't let you make these kind of telephone calls."
We made a blast monitor system for mining.
Had a customer in Australia who were desperate to buy one, email them the manual so they can learn to use it in advance, fedex them a unit express etc.
Get a call in the middle of the night. It's not working, won't turn on.
Did you charge it for 24hours like it says in the manual (we can't airfreight charged Li batteries)?
No we just got the delivery and brought it underground.
Do you have the charger - it might work while charging.
No, no power down here - what you are going to do to fix it?
You are 12,000 miles away, a mile underground and no power - exactly what do you expect me to do to "fix it".
But you have to - were blasting in an hour !
I put the phone down - my boss thought it was hilarious
Between '94 and '96 I worked on a customer IT helpline for a well-known UK branch of stores. We had our fair share of wacky customer tales and I still have a 28 page Word doc with some of the choicest on - though some of the terminology is looking a bit dated now. However this is an accurate rendition of a call I had once:
Me: Hello, PC Helpline etc etc
Punter: Hello, do you do tubular models, one male and one female?
Me: ...I'm sorry, are you referring to models of computer?
Punter: I'm not sure.
Me: ...Well, are you aware that this a help line for computers bought from Dixons or Currys?
Me: So what you're asking is...
Punter: Do you do tubular models, one male and one female.
Me: ...I'm sorry. I'm not sure what you mean.
Punter: I'll call you back.
He never rang me back and to this day I am mystified as to what he was calling about.
And then there was the customer who rang back asking to speak to the technician who had helped him earlier: "No I can't remember his name...but he sounded like he had a beard."
I'm fairly sure I worked on the same helpdesk as lorisarvendu, had a beard and was asked if the call was for me!
I also took a call from a customer who was demanding an engineer with a new fax machine, as the one he bought last week had started putting a red line down the side of the page.
We also had a phone call complaining that all the text on his new computer was upside down. He was asked to turn it off. He asked which button it was, we replied "Bottom Left". He said it can't be, all of the buttons are at the top right.
If you worked in Nottingham then you may well have worked on the same helpline as me. Your name sounds familiar.
This one is my absolute favourite:
Punter: I have just gone into the mouse icon in the Control Panel and set the click speed to Max to see what it did.
Punter: I can't click my mouse that fast and I cannot get back into the Control Panel to set it back again!
This reminded me of being in on-site in 1990 the first week a new dealing room with our software went live. One user asked for help, both screens of his OS/2 system were nearly entirely black. Turned out he'd gone to the control panel and changed every color to black. Scroll bars, foreground, background, title bar, the lot.
Used another system as a reference to keystroke my way back to default colors.
"tubular models, one male and one female?"
Probably some kid read about teledildonics on USENET, and was hopeful. It was a fairly hot topic in the mid-1990s. The only reason I know this is because I was asked to setup a server for a startup building prototypes of the contraptions. I declined ... not because I'm a prude (I'm not), but because I thought it was a daft idea, and had better uses for my time.
A very long time ago when people still used a "Modem" to access the internet.
Caller: My internet isn't working
Bob: ok what happens when you click on the connect icon?
Caller: what connect icon
Bob: OK, what kind of sounds does the modem make when dialling in?
Caller: What's a modem?
Bob: (has a bright light moment) Do you own a computer and modem?
Bob: According to our records you have had an account for over a year.
Caller: Yes a friend said I should get on the Internet so I got an account
Bob: OK, well you will need to go and buy a Computer and modem in order to
join the Internet.
Although I think one of my all time favourites is the Mac user and clicking the right mouse button call.
Bob: Right click on the mouse and bring up the properties menu
Mac Caller: I don't have a right mouse button
Bob:(now remembering he is talking to a Mac user) What side of the screen is the mouse on?
Mac Caller: The left.
Bob: Aaah, could you move it to the other side and double click please.
Mac Caller: Yes that worked fine.... Do I need to do that everytime?
Working for a company based in Bath, one of the field engineers calls up, and in a delightful Zummerzet accent (which I won't try to emulate in text), begins this conversation:
Him: I've got this new laptop, and I've switched it on, and I don't know what to do next.
Me: So, can you tell me what you can see on the screen?
Him:Er.. . "Welcome to <company name's> computer network. Press key 'A' to continue".
Me: Can you press the A key on the keyboard please?
Him; <click> Oh, yes, that's done it. Thank-you very much.
And then near Newcastle, we had a chap with two different accounts (on a Amdahl mainframe, running VM), who kept forgetting the passwords. Password change was 3rd level support (2nd level was user support, 1st level the helpdesk). The call came through - Mr so-and-so has forgotten his passwords again, can you reset it? The rather grumpy team lead grins and adopts his most pleasant manner:
'yep, no problem, doing it now. Ok, the first account, the password is "head". Second account... that'll be "dick". Be sure to tell him in the right order.'
I once was helping a elderly gentleman set up his computer. Things were difficult for him but I was patient.
Finally he sighed a relief and said that now he understood this.
I smiled and was really happy for him and also happy about myself teaching something useful.
But alas, what he said then: "Now I understand! Those squares at the screen are not actually there, they are only images of squares."
Well, he was correct on that one.
Many many moons ago, we had a call from one of the business customer we had (im going back to when OCR was a fledgling tech) who simply couldn't get an image to scan. The new "secretary" was kicking off big time as the new shiny Canon system would NOT scan. Out I went, tested it with the MD present. All working correctly. When pushed to demonstrate how she was trying to scan, she was holding the document against the monitor screen and pressing the scan button on the software. The large machine on her desk making a noise with a bright light moving back and forth whenever she did so was, in her mind, was there merely to look good...
It's an easy to mistake the accumulation of methodology or information as intelligence, ie feeling clever because one knows how to do things that others don't. Programming oneself to perform tasks through learned behaviour is not necessarily intelligent, but can be a machine-like activity. The intelligence in the system is the recognition of similarity, if performing a task is deemed intelligent then it is intelligent to enable others to perform that task.
Stories like this don't happen much anymore, and I suspect it's old. Nowadays, almost everybody who has used a phone has also used a desktop computer to some extent.
I happen to be old, 62. I ushered in this tech, and once people felt comfortable saying "I don't mess with that computer stuff", but not anymore.
Nowaday, customer service can easily use remote access on Windows. The customer doesn't need to do much.
As I said in a previous post, I suspect this story is old. But anyway, someone who can not find the start button isn't uncommon. (BTW, it disappeared for one version of Windows; now in 10, it's back.)
Another common story is asking someone to press "Any key", and they respond that they can't find it. They were looking for a key with the label "Any".
More amusing are stories of people who really thought they broke the law when the computer told them that an "illegal operation" had been attempted.