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10+ dangerous species of help desk callers

Support techs are well aware that end users come in all shapes and sizes. And thanks to IT pro Jeff Dray, they can now be classified. See if this list of user species matches up with the folks who keep your own help desk hopping.

During my years working in IT support, I have become more and more interested in the many types of people who call IT help desks. Like a biologist, I have found that having a classification system is critical in understanding the users I help on a daily basis. With this in mind, and with my tongue in my cheek, I have categorized users into the following species.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: "The Expert": Userus expertia

"The Expert" user is the curse of most IT support establishments. Experts try out something they heard about from "the bloke in the pub," an unqualified expert on everything who offers advice to anyone who will listen. Experts usually make a complete mess of their systems when they follow the bloke's advice. Then they compound the problem by trying to fix it themselves, often destroying their machines. As a last resort, they call the help desk and demand that their machines be replaced or mended immediately, as they have urgent work that can't wait. There has been an Expert at every place I have worked. I leave it to you to decide who your resident Expert is.

#2: "The Fiddler": Userus manipulate

The motto of "The Fiddler" is, "I wonder what happens if...." I've placed these callers next because they are closely related to the Expert. These callers don't realize that some files actually make their computers work. If they don't recognize a file as one of their own, they delete it and are surprised when something then stops working. Unlike the Expert, they don't say anything about the problem; you only discover it months later from a casual remark, such as, "Oh no, that hasn't worked for ages. I meant to call you." Fiddlers are usually very pleasant people -- who will drive you mad.

#3: "The Mouse": Userus rodentia

"The Mouse" is more common than the previous two and fortunately, less harmful. For this species of caller, the big gray box is a source of blind terror. I can remember talking on the phone to a Mouse at a UK communications company. She had worked in a telephone exchange for years and was suddenly given a PC to help her. She had not asked for it and didn't want it. The screen was making strange noises, and she was concerned.

"I don't want it to explode or anything," she wailed.

"No," I said patronizingly, "They don't explode. There's no explosive in them."

Then I heard a loud "BANG!" through the phone.

"What was that?" I asked.

"My screen has just exploded," she replied.

#4: "The Train Spotter": Userus geekissimus

"The Train Spotter" is most often the offspring of an Expert and a Fiddler. These callers are usually harmless and don't have many computer problems. What they do have is an IT magazine, which they have read from cover to cover. The Train Spotters will invariably corner an unsuspecting help desk tech and proceed to bore the tech rigid by sharing their knowledge. The main difference between Train Spotters and other callers is that Train Spotters do not usually phone the help desk; they visit in person.

I'm not quite sure what they want from the help desk, but they take up a lot of time asking various questions about new innovations, about which I usually know nothing. I have found no explanation for the existence of this user other than that the Expert and Fiddler conceived the Train Spotter on a trip to a computer trade fair.

help desk

#5: "The Paranoid User": Userus newbigata

"Paranoid Users" are convinced that the computer has an intelligence of its own and is out to get them. The machine is constantly doing something that causes a problem. It will maliciously alter their documents, obliterate all references to their passwords, and lose work they have saved. If a machine is ever going to break down, it will be while being used by a Paranoid. This species' one saving grace is determination. They never give up, as much as you wish they would.

#6: "The I'm-Building-a-Case User": Userus fabricatum

"The I'm-building-a-case User" is grinding an axe to get some new gadget brought in or to have an old one taken away. They report hundreds of trivial problems, hoping upper management will buy them the latest all-singing and all-dancing machine. The real problem with this species of caller is the fact that they are usually not trying to replace computer equipment. This user doesn't see the difference between computers and any other piece of office equipment. I have often been required to pass opinions on all kinds of electrical equipment even after pointing out my lack of knowledge on the subject. I do not evaluate coffee makers. I do not drink coffee, and I know nothing about the black arts involved in its production.

#7: "The Just-Testing User": Userus gustulata

"The Just-Testing User" is not even using a computer but wants to test your knowledge and, if possible, trip you up. The best technique for dealing with this species is by answering questions with "I don't know." They cannot deal with this straight capitulation. Most Just-Testing Users would love the chance to show your boss how useless you are or how little you know. They are thrilled when you give a wrong answer and will crow about it incessantly.

#8: "Pig Pen": Userus perfumia

Based on the Charles M. Schulz Peanuts character, "Pig Pen" has the messiest, most unhygienic work area in the company. Pig Pen's personal hygiene is fine; it is only the workspace that is a hazard. It is a graveyard for old coffee cups, half-eaten green sandwiches, used Kleenex, and moldy sock collections. Pig Pens are some of the nicest and most technically able people you know. They usually give the help desk very little trouble except when their keyboard needs replacing, which is often. Pig Pen is a mainstay of most companies, the backbone of whatever department he or she works for. If that were not the case, the company would have let him or her go years ago.

#9: "The I-Don't-Want-To-Hear-That! User": Userus headinsandia

This is a rather curious species. They call, ask a question, and if they don't hear what they want, they take it personally. I always wonder why they ask if they don't want to know the answer. It does not seem to matter that what they want is not possible. All they want is to hear the answer they're looking for.

#10: "The End-Of-My-Tether User": Userus adlimitus

This type of user is the angriest but, perversely, often the easiest to deal with. After spending weeks attempting to resolve their own queries, they finally swallow their pride and call the help desk. Calls from this type of user usually end in one of three ways:

  • The problem's solution can be found simply by reading page 1 of his instruction manual, which, of course, these callers haven't done.
  • Callers are informed that the operation they're trying to perform can't be performed with the equipment or software they have.
  • Callers have already found a solution but phoned the help desk to let you know how frustrated, mad, or unsatisfied they are.

#11: "The Nice User": Userus pleasantia

Userus pleasantia was long thought extinct but has recently been observed by TechRepublic member Dennis R in the forests near Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. This user is mostly harmless and can be recognized by its familiar cries of "Please" and "Thank you."

"The Nice User" listens carefully, explains his or her problem clearly, and follows suggested procedures. Because of their tendency to think before they act, calls from these users are rare. I have personally encountered this species of help desk caller several times during my career, and each time, they help restore my faith in the end user.

#12: "The I-Don't-Believe-You User": Userus suspictica

These users will ring for assistance, ask a question, listen carefully to your answer, and promptly refuse to accept any information that does not exactly match their own preconceptions. They are closely related to the "The I-Don't-Want-To-Hear-That! User": Userus headinsandia.

All in fun

Yes, it is possible to provide good customer service, take people seriously, and maintain a sense of humor at the same time. There are lots of wonderful people out there calling the help desk. These individuals have made the last 15 years of my career a pleasure. I have laughed and cried with users, shared their highs and lows, been shouted at, sworn at, threatened, praised, complimented, and commended. I have received unsolicited cards and small gifts on my birthday, as well as the ultimate compliment (being asked for by name).

Sadly, the nice users, who incidentally are by far the most common, don't have much mileage in them when it comes to comedy. The ones we remember most are those who fill the help desk hall of shame. It should be remembered that there are two galleries in that particular edifice, callers and help desk workers. Perhaps one day I will start a complete classification of help desk analysts.

24 comments
lord_beavis
lord_beavis

#6 just floored me. Turn in your IT card and report the the BSAFH for remediation.

mad tabby
mad tabby

You show up at their work station, and start working on their computer trying to figure out what the issue is. While discussing the issue the user is having problems with, they finally admit that it is not the company computer at all, but actually their home computer. I've even had them go as far as bring their computer in. Now if it's an issue with VPN networking or something, fine, but when it's how do I get onto my email with my Mac? Yeah, not a Mac trained technician, contact your ISP or the Mac store.

perry_awm
perry_awm

I once had a Type 2 moment, one of those lapses that one really shouldn't have after three decades of using computers. I was trying to clear some space on my C drive, and Spacemonger showed that C:\Windows\Installer was taking up lots of space. "I've already installed all of those," I thought, "they must be just backups cluttering up the disc. I'm sure it'll be fine to delete a few of the bigger ones." For "a few of the bigger ones", read "sod it, just wipe the folder's contents, I won't ever need that rubbish again". Anyone who's ever deleted anything from that directory will know what happened next. Turns out the stuff in C:\Windows\Installer isn't useless backups, it's stuff that's essential for Windows, particularly when installing new applications. Or updates. Or critical system patches. Or Silverlight. And so on. So yeah. I managed to recover some of them, but nary an installation goes by without having to find silverlight.msi and C++ redists and things from file repositories. I learned my lesson on that one...

pizrround
pizrround

I remember one user of type #8: ???Pig Pen???: Userus perfumia. This user had opened a trouble ticket about her desktop having lost connectivity. I went to her office and saw that a loop of the network cable was on the floor in front of the chair. I figured that it had gotten snagged on her foot or one of the chair's wheels, and had been pulled hard enough that the RJ45 connector no longer had a good connection with the wires in the cable. This would be a simple fix of replacing the cable, I thought. However (I hate to see that word start a sentence) when I looked further under the desk and saw the toe nail clippings, old m&m candies, and the mouse droppings from the little visitors who came for the m&ms, I decided that problem was not going to be fixed that day. I left a note followed up with an email, both saying that I would return after the area had been vacuumed. Or if she liked, I would give her the new cable so she could change it herself. And by the way, she needed to have traps or bait put under her desk. She declined the offer of the cable and had the carpet vacuumed and traps set so I would finish the job.

kritifile
kritifile

That's me and I usually solve other people's problems. Recently a friend gave me a dictation program that will not install correctly. After several failed installs, uninstalls, resetting of security, I gave up. The very helpful three people now have sent me a removal tool for their program twice and always tell me to do everything I did before I called them. Now they just tell me to uninstall everything, reinstall and send the logs. I've read them and I've told them of several problems clearly reported in the logs so now I feel as though I'm doing unpaid work on a buggy program I don't know without the source code to try and find where the bugs are. My customers are often the best kind, know little, do what I say, and are happy when I tell them to do somrething simple that gets everything working. I would not want an end-user like me. But if I had one, after checking that they ereally did know what they were doing, I'd stop asking them to copy the program to the HDD and install it from the Admin account after turning off antivirus and if that doesn't work, remove the program, reinstall it and send the logs again. Which is worse, help desk or end user? I see no category that fits any of either group and it has to be a nightmare.

pleerschen
pleerschen

A response from a "friend" when I sent him the article... Btw, I am not classified by one of these - I would be "the helpdesk friend" user defined as: Perfectly capable, understanding, and practical yet because of their close relations with the help desk personnel, this user chooses to have the helpdesk solve their problem, no matter how simple it is. Not only does the "helpdesk" friend inquire about business related applications/hardware, he/she expects the helpdesk to provide support for their non-work related devices. The helpdesk friend prefers to hear a diagnosis from the helpdesk, though often times can find out the same information by a simple google search. Furthermore, the helpdesk friend does not follow standard procedure when an issue arises and will immediately confront the helpdesk in person. Unfortunately, the helpdesk employee fuels this vicious cycle, by offering the support.

printerguy
printerguy

Nice to read about what i have been going through for the past 2-3 years. I would agree to #11 about Userus pleasantia, I am yet to come across an end user from Canada who was rude, bossy and a Mr/Ms KnowItAll. They refresh my day and make it a lot easier for me to handle irate callers.

thomas vesely
thomas vesely

amusing article.the point that resonated was the canada reference vis a vis politeness/pleasantness. i have often been puzzled at the incredible difference between canadian and american society.one is sane.just a border,2 worlds.

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

And how many people can raise their hand and say "No i have not tried anything out or ask any IT people anything, ever, while working in IT or not." Didn't think so. I am new in IT, relatively, and while I have never had a job outside IT (not including high school jobs) I have always asked a ton of questions. These kinda of people can be the best ones. Wouldn't it be just peachy if noone ever had answered your questions, or discuss new tech stuff with you? My how we forget so easily...

OxfordRob
OxfordRob

How about the "Drop it off and Run" Leaves a voice mail saying they have an issue and will be dropping their machine off. You arrive in the morning to find the machine on your desk with a note saying it doesn't work but there are no contact details on the note or on the Voice mail. Having spent hours fixing a completely screwed up system and restoring any data that you can you then call the user who logged on last to the machine to get a reply of "Well it didn't work so my boss bought me a new one, I don't need it now so you can have it".

tokunbo007
tokunbo007

let me add my own to this one: "The Always problematicos" Always-problematicos are always calling, and calling. In fact, as you resume to work, the first people you remember are problematicos. These would call for every little thing, as if they are not meant to do anything by themselves. 'How do I do this?, how do I do that?' - even if you had explained it to them, only yesterday. They are the first to call-in to report an issue in the morning, they are the last to call before the close of the day. Worse, problematicos have an expert system problem database to which they always refer. They would first go back and re-iterate in 'amazing details' what and what: when they last called, what you told them to do, what they did, whether the problem was resolved or not, and how they have analyzed right and left to conclude that their last case is definitely related to the new issue at hand. After making their case, they would feel they have given you all the necessary leads to resolving their latest-problem. "The 'it is not working, it is not working'" These guys just call in and report 'it is not working, it is not working'. Then you ask: 'what is not working', they reply 'the computer is not working'. They will soon start a very long story at the end of which they haven't made a point. You'll finally have to ask such to start all over again, you'll have to ask them what they want to do and what they have done. The end of the story will be that what they have been doing is not related to what they wanted to do, yet they call in to report "it is not working". example: trying to use Microsoft Excel to open the contents of a CD ROM containing video files. definitely, 'it is not working'

Carrion
Carrion

Ever hear about the user who called support about his cup holder breaking on his PC? Oh, how rich!!!

seanferd
seanferd

What actually happened there? At first blush, sounds like the user had one of those experiences which would tend to justify her outlook, at least to herself.

Jeff7181
Jeff7181

Hmmm... under what classification would the type be who just calls to tell you there's a problem... doesn't know any details about it, doesn't want to spend any time troubleshooting, just wants it fixed before they need it again?

ssharkins
ssharkins

....they visit in person Oh my... you made me laugh out loud. Thank you!

Jesse
Jesse

I love The Nice User: Userus pleasantia!! I have been in IT Helpdesk for seven years, and have had MANY Userus pleasantia encounters. When I read that one, I thought about the awesome feeling it gives me when I encounter this type. Just thought I would share that with you guys, they do exist. Plus I get paid to do what I do, so I don't mind which one you are, honestly

jgkljfdgjjd
jgkljfdgjjd

At last something we can read from someone who answers the phone for a living!People complain about products to make up for a miserable life they live.hahah thank you!!

pjschloemer
pjschloemer

How about the "Drunk" or intoxicated user?? them type of people are ones whom get out of control all the time because they always think they are right and it is very hard to communicate with them besides hanging up the phone and letting them sober up.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

I myself, am a fiddler, though in rehab! I have learned that some things are not to be fiddled with, at any rate. But this stops only my fiddling with those things I know not to fiddle with. I also now only fiddle at my own machines... My students fall into the categories you set, and I am quietly giggling as I type. Thanks!

lvn
lvn

Having done help desk support for 18 years (thankfully in a former life), you have clearly identified the major categories of callers...very funny descriptions, but nonetheless TRUE!!!

DarkWaterSong
DarkWaterSong

#4's are definably a double egged sword. While it is true I learn a lot when I set down and talk Geek with another IT (which sounds a lot like Greek to most people), I have also seen the other side of this type. I believe the author is referring to the Userus Sieveus - many questions, but no comprehension. I have encountered this type in two variations; 1) the ask a question that can only be answered by a detailed explanation of something. Example: Why did installing that service pack cause this error? 2) So this iPhone thing....can you tell me about it?

blackweaver
blackweaver

I wonder why the nice user is included in the list of dangerous species of help desk callers, far as i see it the nice user is not dangerous

razumny
razumny

Working in tech support, these users make my day. The glimmer of actual understanding in their eyes when they get what I'm telling them.