How to solve user problems without really trying

When IT chops and mechanical know-how aren't enough, a techie plays amateur psychologist to get the job done

When you're a desktop support technician, it soon becomes obvious that no two end-users are alike. We often remember the most churlish users, but you sometimes see real humility and curiosity, as I learned from my days on help desk at a corporate bank in New York.

The placebo effect

One day, I was the sucker who answered a call from a gentlemen in the M&A division. None of us liked to help this particular person. He was rude and obnoxious, and he complained about anything and everything that wasn't to his liking.

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His complaint this time was that his mouse was not moving the same or as fast as it had previously. We had recently done some upgrades to his PC, so of course he blamed us for causing the problem and demanded I get to his office immediately.

I made my way upstairs, and while he stood there telling me how terrible the IT staff were, I worked on figuring out the problem. I first checked the mouse to see if anything was wrong. No, everything was fine.

I then started poking around on the settings on the computer. Needless to say, I could not find a thing wrong or out of place. Everything worked smoothly. I moved the mouse around the screen, and again all looked great.

I told him that the mouse seemed to be working without glitches, and I left, assuming that everything was all right and glad to be done with his unpleasantness.

The next day I got another call from him. He was again complaining that the mouse was not working to his liking.

I went back to his office to investigate and still couldn't find anything unusual. I looked at the computer, the mouse, the settings, anything I could think of, but all was fine. I asked some questions to figure out if it was working OK for him at that point and to better understand what he was seeing, but he brushed me off. I left, thinking it must be OK.

On the third day, he called yet again with the same complaint. I traveled the now all-too-familiar path to his office, this time with my manager.

After we got through the general unpleasant remarks from the user, my manager took a look. He couldn't find anything wrong, either. The mouse worked as expected and all appeared peachy.

The user wouldn't accept that as the answer, so my manager kept clicking through the settings and found some obscure one that he changed, saying, "Let's try this." I couldn't see any variation afterward and neither did my manager.

But the user insisted the change made all the difference.

The easiest fix of all

Then there are those who are pleasant to work with, even if their understanding of tech is, shall we say, surprising.

I got a call one day that a user had gotten a CD stuck in her computer. She'd been trying to retrieve it for a while with no success. I figured it'd be an easy fix: Take a paper clip, stick it into the CD drive eject hole, retrieve the disc, and make sure all was working properly.

When I arrived at her desk, I briefly explained what I thought had happened and how I was going to fix it. She said she wasn't sure what I meant by ejecting the CD drive. I was a bit surprised by that remark, so I explained what I was doing as I went to open it, expecting it to stay closed.

To my surprise, it opened easily. No CD. I looked around on the floor to see if the CD had dropped to the ground or behind the desk. Nothing.

I asked her to show me where she had put the CD, and she pointed to a slot on the front panel of the computer. The CD had fallen down inside the machine -- not a hard fix.

She was a bit embarrassed and asked a few questions about the CD drive and how to use it. She didn't call us again for that particular problem, but compared to that earlier ingrate, she would've been a welcome voice.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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