Networking

The top 10 peeves of a support tech

IT pro Becky Roberts discovered that in the support field, certain workplace aggravations seem to persist regardless of the industry or environment. See if your annoyances match hers.

IT pro Becky Roberts discovered that in the support field, certain workplace aggravations seem to persist regardless of the industry or environment. See if your biggest annoyances match hers.


We all work in different environments, in different industries, with different departmental structures, different installed bases, and different users. But as support techs, we share the common goal of helping people and computers live in harmony. Over the years, I've worked in a variety of industries, from commercial aircraft manufacturing to management consulting, from a chemical plant to a ceramics factory. And although the hardware, software, and people have changed, the irritants have had an alarming tendency to remain the same. So here, in no particular order, are my top 10 persistent peeves.

Note: This article originally published in 2005. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: Users who insist on giving you their diagnosis of a problem rather than a neutral description of the symptoms

A classic example of this is the VP who constantly tells me that the T1 is down whenever he can't browse the Web or log into SAP. Instead of describing the symptoms, the VP tells me, "The T1 is down; fix it." This type of behavior is doubly annoying. Not only does it complicate the troubleshooting process, but it is also often difficult to disabuse the user of his misconception, leaving him, in this instance, with a false impression of an unreliable T1.

2: Users who hover around asking questions while you're troubleshooting -- and worse, making suggestions

As much as I like to share my knowledge and educate users, I don't want to do so while I'm struggling to figure out exactly why Ethel can't print. This is particularly irritating when dealing with an apparently insoluble problem, as the user's probing questions, which I can't answer, are a reminder of my incompetence.

3: Users who deny having done anything that may have caused the problem

This is the "What? World of Warcraft is installed on my computer? I have absolutely no idea how that could've happened" phenomenon. In one instance, a summer intern from the local university MBA program called the help desk to complain that he couldn't access the network. A quick survey of his computer revealed that it no longer contained any files beginning with the letter n. The intern vehemently denied having deleted any files whatsoever but eventually confessed that he didn't have anything to do so he thought he'd delete all the files he didn't recognize. Why he started with the letter n remains a mystery.

4: Being treated like a user by tech support from another company

I dread problems that result in a call to the manufacturer's tech support department. I will experiment, read manuals, Google the error message, and sacrifice chickens on the keyboard before I will call a tech support number for a problem I can't resolve. My pride simply can't handle answering the most basic questions: Have you checked that the printer is in fact plugged in and turned on? ARRRGGGH. Get me out of here. Please, please, please, put me straight through to your highest support level because I can guarantee that I have tried everything you are going to suggest at least three times. Oh wait, never mind, the power strip was turned off....

5: Purchasing departments that change purchase requests

I understand and appreciate that part of the role of the purchasing department is to find the best possible price, but I do not appreciate it when they substitute what they consider to be an equivalent item because it is cheaper. One particularly irritating instance of this was an order I submitted for Kingston RAM for a Lexmark printer. When the RAM arrived, I failed to notice that it was Golden RAM instead of Kingston. It simply didn't work. A quick check of the Lexmark documentation confirmed that Golden RAM was not acceptable, but as the RAM was now "used" it could not be returned. The purchasing clerk had made the substitution on the advice of our VAR, as there was a special on the Golden RAM that made it a third of the cost of the Kingston RAM. This proved to be a very expensive attempt at cost savings.

6: Internal junk mail

We go to great lengths to minimize the junk mail being sent into the organization, but there seems to be little we can do to eliminate the jokes, photos, and movies being shared internally. Policies preventing or in some way restricting personal mail are of limited use unless mail is manually screened or spot checks are made. Merely using the corporate e-mail system for sending the occasional personal message is not a big deal, but when people start liberally using "Everyone" or create folders for "Recipes," "Baseball," and "Boy Scouts," I tend to get a little annoyed.

7: Users who think part of my job is to spend my lunch break telling them how to fix their home computers

During one particular job interview, my prospective new boss announced that he would hire only people who "eat, breath, sleep, and think computers 24/7." I stood up, shook his hand, and told him I was wasting his time and wished him luck. Not that there's anything wrong with being computer-obsessed; it just so happens that I'm not. If I were, I would probably welcome having my peanut butter sandwich interrupted by, "Uh, every time I try to access the Internet, this message pops up and then the mouse freezes. What's the deal?" I'm more than happy to help people out. I just resent being asked at work where I'm a captive audience.

8: Users who complain about not being able to use a new application, when they "didn't have time" to attend training or read the documentation you painstakingly prepared

I find this situation especially irritating because in most cases, the user really didn't have time to attend training or read the documentation -- so it wouldn't be fair of me to vent my frustration on the user. This is a symptom of the far bigger problem of expecting too much of too few employees. Instead of being irritated at these people, I find that they have my deepest sympathy, as they are usually the most overworked and pressured people in the organization.

9: Being summoned to a user's office to resolve an urgent computer problem, only to be kept waiting

This is extra annoying when the person in question is on a personal phone call with her husband to discuss plans for the weekend. I never know how long to wait. Leaving instantly would seem churlish, but once I have waited beyond a certain length of time, leaving and having to return a few minutes later simply increases the total time wasted. Fortunately, in all but the most intractable cases, treating the user as a used car salesperson by starting to walk away usually elicits a cooperative response.

10: The positioning of the IT department in the organization

During the course of my career, I have reported to an office manager who reported to a regional office VP; to an IT manager who reported to the CFO; to an IT manager who reported to another IT manager who reported to the CFO; to an IT manager who reported to a committee; and to a department head who wasn't sure who he reported to. Whereas most departments know where they are positioned within a company, no one seems to quite know what to do with IT. All too often, the IT department is made into a subdivision of some other department, which then has unfair control over the IT resources. In other instances, each department or division has its own IT function, which may or may not have a well-defined relationship with corporate IT.


Peeve-a-thon!

Okay, you know what bugs Becky -- now it's your turn. Do you face similar aggravations -- or are you plagued by other issues? Feel free to jump in with your opinions and your own pet peeves.

69 comments
calvinbrock7351
calvinbrock7351

This type of behavior is doubly annoying. Not only does it complicate the troubleshooting process, but it is also often difficult to disabuse the user of his misconception, leaving him, in this instance, with a false impression of an unreliable T1.

girlsdoporn

bobball1
bobball1

Every social function we had (and our firm had a lot, it was nice) people would come over and sit down next to me and start in on their technical question. I didn't mind it that much if the function was at work but once it started happening at the Christmas party I started looking for a new job.

Steve Pitcher
Steve Pitcher

I don't like it when people use the word robust to describe everything and anything. I now challenge for a definition and explanation about the robustness of whatever is being talked about. :)

DWPNS
DWPNS

Most annoying to me: A central, mission-critical CMS system gets flaky and it's all hands on deck in the I.T. Department. Everyone is working quickly and feverishly to get the system back up ASAP midst the phone calls of, "When's it gonna be back up?". This is normal but the maddening call is the one from the "Insert customer-facing" Director with, "Do you know the CMS is down?" Me: "Yes sir. We're experiencing a problem and working at getting it back up as quickly as possible. It's our only priority right now." Director: "Oh. Well, we're flyin' blind up here. Everything is down and we've got "insert exorbitant number" of customers just starin' at us so we've gotta have this up ASAP." Really? I want to say, "Oh, well.. that changes everything, Sir. Allow me to ask the department to put down their coffee, take their feet off the desk and talk politely to this System and explain your situation so it gets back up quicker than "as fast as possible", because we were just lookin' at it wondering if we should fix it or not but THANK GOD you called." Another favorite: user: My computer is not working. Of course this is almost never the case so I can't help but to indulge in, "Okay. I'm sorry for your inconvenience. Let's make sure we've got power. Can you tell me if the lights on the PC Tower are green or none at all?" User: Oh, no, it's on. It's just my email. It won't open up." Oh-yoy. I can have fun at this for hours. Great article.

dhamilt01
dhamilt01

"Ya can't fix stupid!" Can you imagine the result if airline pilots learned to fly their aircraft the same way PC users have had to learn PCs ... on their own time and expense! All company employees who are required to use a PC as one of the tools of their job must be qualified to take training that is as in-depth and extensive as airline pilots take before they ever touch a company PC. A PC is NOT a childs toy to be played with. If ya don't know what yar doin' and why ... DON'T TOUCH THE DAMN THING!

pworlton
pworlton

I have a user who complains daily that her scanner isn't working like it is supposed to. The user in the next cube has the same scanner and I have switched theirs several times, but that user NEVER complains. I have a bottle of alcohol to clean rollers, and the complainer borrows it daily to clean her rollers. Bottom line: every time something doesn't work like she expects it to she is at my desk asking for help, regardless of whether something is actually broken.

matt.eberhardt
matt.eberhardt

10 is the best of all of them IT doesn't fit into the traditional business structure so managers are confused where to put it...so it gets stuck with sales, or purchasing or production and gets ingored in the grander scheme of running the business. IT is what facilitiates most business processes these days. Where I work, someone doesn't have a PC, multimedia HW, 1GB net bwdth, etc - they can't get anything done.

dmz17
dmz17

Whose bible has only two lines: 1. try rebooting 2. we'll put a new image on your machine

gjetson
gjetson

4: Being treated like a user by tech support from another company. I solve this problem by Lying. Me: Your software isn't working Tech: Restart the computer Me: Okay give me a second I read my emails or browse the internet. Me: Okay I rebooted.

techrepublic
techrepublic

my favourite is the helpdesk tech that takes a call and rather than try any sort of troubleshooting - simply comes over and asks me about it - 3 times so far today, from 2 different people - is it any wonder i'm grumpy?

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

I will agree that calling support at another organization only to answer questions as though you have no idea how to operate a PC is quite obnoxious. I wonder if this is done to prolong the call or add calls and raise the billable time spent. Cut to the chase already... help fix the issue I am calling about, do not ask if I have rebooted. If its a client machine, I have, if a server, I will as soon as everyone goes home.

KSoniat
KSoniat

My mangers boss used to burst into the department declaring we were in a state of "disaster" frequently. He'd rant and rave and leave to bother someone else. One upgrade ("disaster") he got into my face and asked when a very minor bug would be fixed. I told him point blank that as soon as I wasn't talking to him I'd be fixing the problem. It literally took less than 5 minutes (just a recompile). I had already worked with him for over three years and knew he was all bluster.

Cathe
Cathe

My pet peeve is a CEO's with buzz word fever. You know the type: the one who wants to implement new corporate IT policy based on what she overheard at the local bar.

MyopicOne
MyopicOne

My favorite was the user who needed more disk space and poked around Windows\System32, finally deciding she didn't really need kernel32.dll and several other rather important dlls. And wondered why her machine crashed and wouldn't restart. And then, being abolutely sure of her technical prowess, did the same thing to somebody else's computer. This during a week when over half the department was scattered around the country rolling out new sales force laptops.

sidekick
sidekick

If only I could replace the receptionist with a spam filter. If the word computer or engineer (no, sorry, this is the IT department, we don't hire mechanical engineers) or phone or anything that runs on electricity is mentioned, it gets put through to Mr. IT. While most of my vendors are pretty good, checking in once in a while to see if I need anything (and reminding me they exist), I was just interrupted (during lunch) by this one really annoying vendor. <RANT>He quoted me a renewal on something the company originally bought from him before I started, and calls everyday about it. And he has had to requote it twice now because he keeps screwing it up. Oh, and while he had me on the phone, he just had to tell me about a special on HP computers they were having (I started tuning him out when he said HP), and suggested I could get one for home when I told him we weren't looking to replace any systems right now. Oh, and this was for preferred customers. I haven't ordered anything from him in the year I have been here. Preferred my butt. We're all preferred. What does he think, I'm an idiot.</RANT> So, can anyone recommend an anti-spam program that runs on a receptionist-based OS?

Jude1708
Jude1708

I work in a small organisation without a canteen or staff room. My desk isn't in a cubicle, or behind a wall so it's obvious at lunch time if I'm eating my lunch. Yet users still think it is perfectly acceptable to bring their problems (work or home IT issues!) to my desk and interrupt even when I'm trying to eat hot food, not just a sandwich that could be put to one side. What's worse, is when a polite "I'll come and see you after I have finished eating" doesn't work and the user still insists on "just telling you this, please don't stop eating"....

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

Training the outsourced replacement for you. I have a few friends at different firms that are now in the position to train the outsourced staff that will be replacing them by the end of the year. Fun times for sure!! :_|

CavalierX
CavalierX

Best service call I ever recieved, back in the days when I worked a helpdesk, was from a user whose monitor was dead. "I think I know the problem," she said, "the light bulb behind the screen is out." She was deadly serious. Clamping down on the laughter, I entered "The user feels 'the light bulb behind the screen' is out" into the ticket and sent it to Hardware. Next morning, I found on my desk a white Christmas light bulb bearing a Sharpie-drawn GE logo. It was my favorite desk decoration for years.

smudge
smudge

So true.....I'm off to get a job trucking. I've had enough. Remember, "No plan survives contact with the enemy". And you don't need me to tell you who the enemy is!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I can't tell you how many times I've had to fight my way past Level 1 to get to somebody able (or allowed) to function without a script. In some cases, I'm the on-site warranty tech and Level 1 is [u]still[/u] required to run the checklist before they can pass me to Level 2. WTF? What moron set THAT up? [b]Inaccurate, outdated, or poorly written technical data.[/b] There's nothing worse than going to the docs for a piece of equipment only to find that the model you are working on is five years newer than the docs you were given and the only thing that's the same is the model number on the case and the location of the power button. Unless it's the server recovery documentation that includes a screen shot for every step, even "Click OK." You don't even let junior techs in the server room; why did you write the recovery docs for HR? [b]Provisioning.[/b] Last year you spent days on the phone and exchanged dozens of emails with me so we could determine the minimum parts load for my territory. Then you not only didn't fill that load, you won't even replenish what I use, so I have fewer parts now than I did then! Part of my performance evaluation is based on my parts management...how can I manage what I don't have? I love my work. The job, I'm not so sure about...

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

something to cause the problem. In a round about way. I have two clients who refuse to follow instructions. I regularly get called to clean up machines that wouldn't need cleaning up if they had. I've dropped one of those clients. The second may get dropped soon. Pretty damn tired of it. Money's only worth so much...

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

poor documentation -- and this does not only refer to technical items. If I gotta sort through for 2 hours to figure out the process for something that should take minutes, I get PO'd Interruptions -- this is especially true if I am working deeply on something, and being interrupted for something non-urgent. Especially if I tell someone that I am too busy for a non-emergency, and they insist to continue. Also, interrupting an interruption -- WTF people, if I am already helping someone, dont interrupt when we are conversing, to ask something. Hall Stops -- If I am walking (especially if carrying something) down the hall, I hate being stopped every 2-3 rows with someone wanting help 'now'. Call it in, send an email, or IM me.

SilverBullet
SilverBullet

best discribed as a psychopathic narcisist. After 5 years working for a private business owner who then passes way and junior takes over Daddy's company. This spells big trouble for the executives and managers who's loyalty lies with "Senior" and was around to see "Junior" born (with the silver spoon). Logic & knowledge is no match for this situation.

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