Presto! Practical magic at the help desk

When a user's new PC is missing a vital workflow piece that seems lost forever, a stroke of good luck saves the day

Users view tech support as magicians who can solve problems with a flick of a wand and bring them back to the land of the living. But what looks like magic is often a mix of solid foresight and sound processes. Other times, you need a dash of good, old-fashioned luck, as we did when we replaced a PC for an older employee.

At first, we followed standard procedure. We verified that the desktop and Internet favorites were stored in the user's profile on the server and that they took a look at the new machine to see that everything feels the same as the old PC. Once this is done, we shelve the old unit for a couple of weeks in case we missed a detail.

Once that time period has elapsed, the old hard drive is reformatted and put to use elsewhere. (Sometimes the entire machine is even passed off as a "new" computer to an unsuspecting highly placed muckity-muck.)

When all seems well

A month had gone by since the PC was installed, and I assumed everything was fine. Then I got the call.

"I can't find my one website," the user said.

"Which one?" I asked. 

"The one that was in the upper-right corner of my screen," she replied.

Cue the dramatic music.

I tried to get more information. No, she had never saved that site to her Favorites. No, she hadn't been to that site since she'd received her new machine -- it only contained our monthly invoices and she hadn't needed the site until now.

At this point I had to figure out what was going on and not delve into Internet best practices with her. It was time to retrace as much as we could.

A Web search did not reveal the site she needed to log into because it was a vendor-issued portal.

I asked the user for the paperwork for when she was granted access by the vendor. Of course she didn't have it, but she could produce a small scrap of paper containing her username and password, which had issued -- as if that would help.

I tried calling the vendor, but the person who could help me wasn't available. OK, what next?

Try, try again

At this point my stomach grew uneasy, but I fell back to plan B and went to the IT employee who refurbishes the units in our company. Luck was with me that day, as the individual was way behind in his work. The user's old PC sat dusty in a corner.

Powering it on, I discovered that somehow the user had saved a site to her local desktop and not to her "favorites" in IE, which would have guaranteed a nightly backup. Within a few minutes it was recovered and restored on her new PC, and the user was mollified.

From now on, I will propose that we make images of all old hard drives before we scrub them. Storage is cheap, and we have a reputation to maintain.

We can try to cover everything, but we simply cannot predict exactly how users utilize the tech tools or how their workflow makes sense to them. Though it's not our job to do so, it is our job to help make it as easy as possible -- and maybe save ourselves future hassle.