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Top 5 Difficult Help Desk Callers and How to Manage Them

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Part of my job title is “System Support Engineer” and thus I talk to many different types of users everyday. Although no two users are identical, there are some certain user types that can be difficult to manage. Here is my “top 5” list.

Expert User

This user type is by no means an expert. In an accidental conversation about computers with his cousin or a friend in a café, he hears something interesting and applies to his work computer without questioning. This “interesting” piece of information varies from “deleting unnecessary files under C:\Windows directory” to “uninstalling the unnecessary Acrobat Reader program that is occupying his start menu.” When this type of user discovers that he has done something wrong, he continues to fix the problem himself, which results in a much worse situation. Finally, he gives up and calls the help desk “to fix his computer or replace it immediately because the boss is expecting a very important report that cannot wait.”

The best way to manage this type of user is to start the escalation process: tell the user that you understand the problem and the urgency but it may take some time to fix it. There are two key issues here: understanding the problem and “some time” to fix – my “some time” equals rebuilding the computer plus restoring the user files. The user will yell that this is unacceptable and the boss cannot wait. Now escalate the problem by saying that although you understand the urgency and this is a crisis situation it is best for you and him to explain the problem to his manager because you do the same also when you get back to your place.

Since the user knows that he is the one who messed things up, and knowing that you can uncover what he did, he will most probably tell you that there is no need to speak to the manager and you can do it as soon as possible. Don’t laugh if he says that the boss can wait some time for the report.

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“That’s All from Me” User

The furious but the easiest to manage. The user had probably spent weeks to solve his problem himself (without asking any help of course) and finally gave up his pride to call the help desk. There are three types of solutions to those users’ problems:

  1. He did not read the first page of the instruction manual or he failed to interpret the error icon on the screen,

  2. Neither the software nor the hardware is capable of what he wants to do (there was a user who tried to manipulate an ordinary LCD screen with his fingers and called the help desk because the screen did not respond to his touches. We told him that the screen is not a touch screen and he closed the ticket.)

  3. The user has solved his own problem and called the help desk to say how furious he is.

You just need a calm and friendly voice to speak with this type of user. A 5-minute psychotherapy from you is all he needs.

“I know IT too” User

Tech Magazine Inline

No, this magazine has nothing to do with Active Directory Domain, Exhange or Linux environment.

We all know the consumer electronic magazines, which feature half-naked women on their covers that hold phones and tablets on various parts of their bodies. This type of user purchases at least one of this type of magazines every month and thinks that his ultimate knowledge of the number of the processor cores of the next phone from the Korean manufacturer makes him also know the Active Directory, Exchange and SharePoint infrastructure. In almost all cases this user does not have a problem. All he wants is discussing his knowledge with a professional from the industry and evaluate his opinions from an IT pro’s perspective. He justs wants to discuss deeply why this cool Apple products are not employed in the company!

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Managing this user is easy: just make up something complicated and present to him. In one of these conversations, I told the user that we also admire and discuss deploying Apple products but that there are known issues between the Appletalk protocol and the Active Directory Sysvol replication which makes us hesitate to introduce Apple products to our environment. In this case “admiring Apple products”, “discussing deploying” gives the user the comfort that he is understood, his opinions are not worthless but the complicated issue of “Appletalk protocol and the Sysvol replication” (OK, I, too, know that this is an idiotic sentence) makes the user understand that there is a certain limit beyond where his knowledge does not apply to.

Paranoid User

This is my favorite type. This type of users think that the computers are mystical evil beings that are so smart to do things on their own: the computer closes her files without saving them or changes her passwords without letting her know. This evil being feeds upon her word and excel files that she worked overtime to complete instead of electricity. You can spot this user by her support ticket. If you receive a backup/restore request that says “the word file on my desktop which I worked on until yesterday late night was deleted” you are facing a paranoid user. And never ever tell her that she, herself, deleted the file. You will start a war.

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Although you are tempted to offer her a psychiatrist to get rid of her hallucinations about computers, workplace ethics forbid you to do so. To manage the user, no matter how hard it is, wait until she finishes telling her fears, tell her you understand her and say that you have a backup in your hands and deliver her files from the backup, although you cannot guarantee what time the backup was taken. The user’s pain will be eased knowing that at least some part of her work will be recovered.

If you can restore her file to the original location (say she deleted from Desktop\Accounts\June and you restored her file to the same folder), she will believe that you can command dark forces.

Logical User

She tells you calmly and in relevant detail her problem, listens to you carefully without interrupting and applies the procedures that you tell her (of course she does not take control of the mouse when you are working remotely on her computer). You can spot  this user when she says “please” and “thank you” and treats you well. Since this type of users think before they act, you rarely receive a support ticket from them. They are rarely seen.

Encounters with this type of users are hard at first; we do not see them all the time and thus we do not know how to behave. It is like your eyes adjusting to a dark environment.

There is no such thing as managing this type of users. With mutual conversation and assistance the problems are easily solved.

This is my “top 5” list. Hit the comments to share your user types.

Featured Image by Scott Adams


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