Double trouble at the IT help desk

In this IT tale, both the caller and the help desk techie lose their tempers -- and are forced to face the consequences

The IT help desk can at times be a strenuous and mind-numbingly boring place to work. Perhaps the biggest challenge is staying patient and polite when dealing with hostile callers. But another is troubleshooting the same exact problem with caller after caller -- over and over and over again.

And then there are those calls that, for good or bad, are memorable. Such calls earn their place in the help desk's proverbial history books and become stories told to help ease the daily grind.

[ Want to cash in on your IT experiences? InfoWorld is looking for an amazing or amusing IT adventure, lesson learned, or war story from the trenches. Send your story to If we publish it, we'll send you a $50 American Express gift cheque. ]

I worked as a trainer at the help desk of a major HMO. At the time, we were training a few temp employees to take the calls for some of the more basic issues, including password and provider login resets. "Joe" was one of the better trainees.

Joe was a nice guy. He took the help desk job to help pay for college -- he hoped to one day to be a graphic artist. His IT experience was minimal, but he had a great work ethic, learned quickly, and always asked questions to ensure he was doing the correct thing.

After about a week of non-phone-related training, we jumped on the phone queue. I used a double headset so that I could listen in on Joe's calls and give advice if needed. The first handful of calls went really well, and I was impressed with some of his creative ways to approach issues.

Then Joe received a call from a very rude administrative assistant at a provider's office. She told us that the provider forgot his user login and password for the site and had her call to reset it. She was very impatient and wanted to get the password reset as soon as possible.

Joe started off by saying that he would be able to help, but first he needed her to verify their tax ID. The verification of the tax ID assured us that we were speaking to the correct office or provider due to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations, which addressed the security and confidentiality of patients' data.

The assistant was incredulous and would not comply. She gave the name of the provider, the address, and the phone number, but not the tax ID.

Joe placed her on hold and asked me what to do. I advised him to tell her that we were not to reset anything until the tax ID was verified and to explain that HIPAA regulations force us to do so.

Joe returned to the call and explained that he could not proceed without the tax ID. The caller, using every expletive in the book, screamed at him, saying that he was an idiot, that patients were waiting for the provider, and that Joe was holding up the process.

Joe interrupted the caller's tirade and began to curse at her.

She replied, "What!?!? What did you say to me?!?! I want your supervisor!"

I alerted the supervisor, and she took over the call. Unfortunate but not surprising, that week Joe was fired for losing his temper -- and the rest of us were reminded why the turnover rate for help desk and call centers can be quite high.

But things didn't work out well for the caller, either. It was later discovered that she was a former employee of the provider's office she claimed she was calling from. She was arrested after it was reported to the provider that she was attempting to reset the account. The rumor was that she wanted to access the account to get information to blackmail the provider. We didn't hear how the case ended up, but I guess rules like asking for the tax ID are there for a reason.

And, well, it's nice to see a hostile caller get their due every once in a while.

This story, "Double trouble at the IT help desk," was originally published at