Help desk? You need an analyst’s couch

When dealing with surly users, step lightly, keep your head, and let your expertise lead the way

Help desk? You need an analyst’s couch
Credit: flickr/JD Hancock

If I've learned anything while working in the IT industry, it's that our jobs aren't so much about fixing computers and technical matters -- it's about helping people. You're bound to run into many different personality types and skill levels along the way, but your goal remains the same: Resolve the issue.

Some users, however, can be less welcoming and gracious than others. The best course of action is to be patient and follow best practices -- and not to rub it in their faces when you figure it out.

Holding a grudge

At one company, I worked with an administrative assistant who happened to be the mother of the guy I had replaced. In fact, he had been dismissed from the job I was currently holding.

Although she was nice to me on the surface, she would make certain statements and go out of her way to try to belittle me and the other two IT techs. We learned to roll with the punches.

One day, it was my assigment to set up a brand-new PC for her. I unboxed it, got it up and running, transferred her profile, and tested the network connection and printer. After a few hours of updates, antivirus installation, and removal of the obligatory bloatware, it worked great.

The next day, she submitted a work order saying the sound didn't work and she had called her son and "he said the technician probably did not install the sound drivers." She then requested a tech come by and finish the installation, as if it hadn't been done properly.

I headed to her office. I knew the sound drivers were installed -- after all, this was a computer out of the box. The days of making the user install all the drivers were long gone.

After sitting down at her computer and logging in, I saw the problem: Her sound was muted! I had set it so that the constant reboots wouldn't play the Windows sound and disturb the rest of the office.

Once the sound was working, she exclaimed, "Oh, you installed those drivers." To which I replied, "No, the sound was muted."

The look on her face was priceless.

Password confusion

Another area that causes much angst: Passwords. The user reactions can be amazing.

I was new to a job in a school district, and a teacher needed a printer installed. The computer was a Windows XP Media Center Edition, so there was no joining a domain. Unfortunately, the only username on the PC was Administrator.

After trying several passwords that were on other computers at the school, I tracked down the teacher and asked her password. She declared she didn't know and became agitated -- and said she had been asking for the password but nobody would give it to her.

As she continued her tirade, she sat down at her desk, got to the login screen, and pressed Enter -- and the Administrator account logged right in. There was no password on the account!

I ended up installing the printer, and yes, we resolved the password issues.

Jumping to conclusions

Another user couldn't log in to a vendor website. She called me, I remotely logged in, and read the message to her: "Invalid username or password." I told her that it sounded like her password wasn't correct and to click on "Forgot password."

She insisted she was typing it in correctly, but before I could suggest toggling her caps lock she said forcefully, "I'll take care of it!"

Several minutes later she called and thanked me for "fixing the problem on our end." I had no idea what she was talking about, so I had her explain.

It turns out she called the vendor's IT department and told them something was wrong with their server. After a few minutes, the vendor checked everything and confirmed there were no problems, told her the issue was on her end, and walked her through the password reset sequence. After resetting her password she was able to log in, but somehow believed that I had goofed up at first yet fixed it so that she could log in.

Sometimes it’s easier to let a situation remain as is and permit the user to interpret it, even incorrectly. Then you move on to the next user problem.

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