Back to basics: 5 baffling tech support tales

Kill this key! Use your bionic vision! Play family counselor! These requests are all in a day's work at the help desk

What's the most difficult part of helping users with tech problems? Maybe stifling the urge to laugh -- or to get angry. Also, doing mental gymnastics to step back from our learning and experience and instead try to see the problem through their eyes. Sometimes, the challenge is in finding the right question that best illuminates the issue.

No matter what, it's a test in patience. Just ask anyone who's been there.

[ For more real-life IT tales, check out the slideshow "Step away from the button! 6 touchy tech disasters." | Pick up a $50 American Express Gift Cheque if we publish your tech story: Send it to | Get your weekly dose of workplace shenanigans by following Off the Record on Twitter and subscribing to the anonymous Off the Record newsletter. ]

Lose this key

I was working at a small computer repair shop when a customer came to us wanting the Delete key removed from his keyboard. Several of us were present, and we thought we'd heard wrong, so we asked him to repeat his request. No, we had heard correctly: He wanted his Delete key removed.

Very curious, we asked him why. His explanation was that he had hit the Delete key by mistake one day and wiped out his entire operating system. He said he spent hours reinstalling Windows, over and over again, because of that Delete key.

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, we didn't ask him for specifics or explain at that point why we wouldn't remove the Delete key. We simply said we'd see if we could figure out the problem.

We put the machine through a full diagnostic, removed a virus (Stealth B), and had him bring in all of his floppy discs for scanning and removal of the same. We then explained the problem to him, educated him on proper use of the Delete key (word processing and so on), and warned him against saving or removing files in any folder other than My Documents (or similar).

None of us mentioned removing the Delete key again. After our explanations, he didn't ask for it, either.

Why can't you see?

I was working at a call center and finishing up on one case when a manager came to me and placed my phone offline. He said he wanted me to step in on a call with an irate customer and take over for another tech who was having trouble.

I asked him and the other tech what was the problem, but they both shook their heads and said, "Ask the customer." The other tech looked frazzled and was glad to turn the call over to me.

I patched into the other tech's phone and introduced myself, then asked the customer about the issue. The customer was enraged and launched a long rant about how bad technology is and how we techs weren't helpful and he didn't know why he'd called us at all.

Finally, his tirade started to wind down, and I asked him again to identify the problem.

Shouting, he explained that his laser printer wasn't printing the pages he was sending to it. He said it was "printing garbage." Then he rattled some papers near the phone and yelled, "Look at this! See what it's doing?!"

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