Dear clueless user: Please stop calling

Help desk is left hanging on the line when an especially dense employee can't see the simple answers to their tech problems

Dear clueless user: Please stop calling
Credit: iStockphoto

We know that not all users are technically inclined, and we allow the benefit of the doubt in obvious cases. But at times, you can’t believe what you’re hearing.

Under such circumstances, I offer this advice as an IT pro: Listen carefully, use your smarts, and beware the hazard of facepalming so hard you hurt yourself in the face of such cluelessness.

At the time, I worked as Tier I tech support. I got a call from one of the more important employees in the company -- a high-up manager. She told me that her mouse and keyboard were not working. As a slightly junior-level IT tech, what would be the first option to consider in this instance? Drivers? Extra hardware?

The simplest solution

I headed to her office with an external drive, almost every driver known to man (figuratively), and an extra mouse and keyboard. There I found her using her work laptop. Fair enough, it still could be a driver issue.

I tested the touchpad and keyboard, and they both worked. I inquired into the problem and she showed me her new wireless keyboard and mouse, which she had nearby. I checked each, and indeed, the equipment was not working.

I unplugged the receiver/transmitter from her Windows XP machine and reconnected it to see if it mentioned anything about drivers failing to load -- no such message. Thankfully, we had the drivers for that make/model of keyboard and mouse in the form of a vendor-supplied disk, so I installed them with the transmitter. It still failed.

At this point I was confused and looked at the equipment, then I saw that the switches were in the off position. Oops on my part, right? But wait! It wasn’t over.

The devices still failed to function, though I gave them a few minutes to see if they would start working on their own. The hamster in my head started running, and I realized the classic Sherlock Holmes analogy: "Eliminate the possible and impossible, and whatever remains, no matter how improbable it is, invariably is the answer."

I opened up the battery compartment to find there were no batteries in the devices.

Before I mention the conversation that ensued, bear in mind that this took place at the beginning of 2008, no later than March.

Me: Um … did you know that the batteries are gone? Could one of your colleagues have taken them to use in their own device?
User: Batteries? I thought it got its power wirelessly.
Me: You will need two batteries for each. Looks like AA batteries.

I fixed the problem, left her office, and buried my head in a double facepalm.

Here we go again

The next day, I got a call from the same user. She informed me that the network printer was not working, and it made weird noises. After the previous events, I braced myself for checking the basics.

My first discovery? The printer was turned off. It was now Equipment 2, User 0.

To make certain there were no other problems, I turned on the printer and checked to see if the NIC lights came up, which they did. The printer went through the usual process of powering up, which included sounds similar to printing.

Ensuing conversation:

Me: Are these the unusual noises you heard?
User: Yes.
Me: Print something for me, please.
User: Hey, there are the noises again.
(At this point the printer spit out a print job successfully.)
Me: The noises mean it’s printing. Is this what you printed?
User: Yes it is! What did you do to fix it?
Me: It's … complicated. Have a nice day.

Later on, I noticed I had a slight red mark from a hard double facepalm following this call.

Certainly, we can expect a test of our patience and people skills while on the job. However, this user contacted us so often that eventually our boss limited her help desk calls unless it was a dire emergency. My forehead is thankful for the decision.

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