Hardware

Lesson 1: Respond to end-user bloopers with professionalism

If you spend any time in IT, odds are you’re going to run across a few shocking examples of computer mistreatment. Successfully handling end-user bloopers requires technical know-how, finesse, and above all professionalism.

If you spend any time in IT, odds are you're going to run across a few shocking examples of computer mistreatment. End users, even well-intentioned ones, can do some pretty wacky things when trying to "fix" their computers.

Need a few examples? Check out our, "Computer bloopers and blunders from the technically clueless," gallery with pictures and captions from Rod Shelly. In his eight years as a retail computer technician, he collected a litany of computer maltreatment.

Computer bloopers and blunders from the technically clueless

Work retail PC repair and you'll see some pretty wacky end-user "fixes".

Successfully handling end-user bloopers requires technical know-how, finesse, and above all professionalism. It's also a key quality for IT support leaders.

Note: Your approach to customer bloopers may change depending on the support environment. Corporate IT equipment is company property. Employees should not be allowed to repeatedly damage company equipment without consequences. You can usually take a stronger tone with internal customers who frequently cause trouble.

Regardless of the environment you're operating in, the following 10 tips can help you turn your next customer mistake into a positive experience.

1. Gather all the facts. Before you try to fix the problem or pass judgment on the end user, get the facts. What corrective action, if any, has the customer taken? What was the outcome? It can even be beneficial to know why the customer took the action as it may help you understand their level of technical expertise, which can be helpful when implementing Tip 3. 2. Don't assume the customer knows any better. Sure, you know the difference between Outlook and Gmail, but to many customers these applications are just e-mail. Many customers still have a hard time understanding RAM and hard drive memory. 3. Don't overuse technical jargon. Spouting off a flurry of technical terms doesn't make you look smart. Instead, you'll likely annoy the customer and leave a negative impression. How would you like your doctor to diagnose a loved one with acute ischemic cerebrovascular syndrome and not explain the condition any further? The customer wants someone who can fix their problem and explain the solution in clear, easy-to-understand terms. 4. Fix the problem, but don't go overboard. This may sound obvious but, too many techs apply temporary solutions that fail to resolve the real issue. If a hard drive is starting to fail, a defrag and error check is just prolonging the inevitable. When recommending a solution, make an honest assessment, present available options, and let the customer decide. 5. Ask for help if necessary. You may be an expert tech with certifications galore, but it's highly unlikely that you've seen EVERY computer problem or customer's complaint. Don't be afraid to seek the help of your fellow IT pros. 6. Create a learning opportunity. If the customer is receptive, explain the problem, outline your solution, and then offer advice on how the customer can prevent the problem from occurring again. Hopefully, he will listen to and follow your guidance-saving you a future support call. 7. Look for innovative solutions. If a customer repeatedly ruins keyboards by spilling liquids on them, perhaps it's time to get them a keyboard cover or waterproof keyboard. 8. Be receptive to user questions. Don't be offended or defensive if the customer asks questions. Unless the customer is truly being difficult, they likely want to better understand the problem and know how to avoid their mistake in the future. 9. Realize not everyone will be happy with the solution. Some customers have unrealistic expectations when it comes to IT support. They expect you to recall a scathing e-mail they just sent outside the company. Others won't be happy with any solution. They just want to vent their general frustration with technology. If you fix the problem and are courteous and professional during the process, your dissatisfied customers will be few and far between. 10. Stay calm, cool, and collected: Above all else, never lose your temper. The end user is your customer and, while not always right, should be treated with courtesy and professionalism. This doesn't mean you should tolerate an irate customer screaming obscenities in your face but, even in this extreme situation, you should remain composed.

Armed with these strategies, you'll know how to effectively manage that end-user with a credit-card-filled floppy drive.

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

40 comments
tinyang73
tinyang73

But never accept F-bombs! :) I was taught long ago that the customer may not always be right, but the customer is always the customer and deserves to be treated as such.

golferguy1
golferguy1

one of my customers thought the CD drive was a good place to keep all her emergency vehicle (spare) keys til she tried to use the drive and the door wouldn't open! :O toooooo full!

uberg33k50
uberg33k50

Does anyone else here remember when TechRepublic used to be good and relevant? When did it change to the deplorable state of ???journalism (?)??? it is now? Too many articles are grammatically poor and are published with no evidence of spell checking or proof reading of any kind. This one in particular is written by a person who carries the title of ???Head Technology Editor??? ???REALLY an editor? The content is also sorely lacking compared to years past. This article for example would be better addressed to the office manager who has been pushed into the role of trying to help the employees with their computer problems. This is NOT what I would expect to see written for technical experts that work everyday in the field. The professional people that one would think are the target audience should very well know these points. Speaking of points???when did our profession become the late night comedy show of 10 points about this, or 10 reasons for that? It is painfully obvious that the magic number of 10 gets stretched to the point of stupidity at times just to get to the ???10???. Of course then there is the other side of that coin where the author cannot seem to count and titles the article ???Top 10???fill in the blank??? but there are 11, 12 or more bullet points. Then there are articles like this: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/10things/?p=336 by John McKee where it appears to have been written by some recently wronged employee or disgruntled customer out on a rant. John doesn???t appear to carry any editor credentials but there is an editor who is supposed to be responsible for letting this be published. I would expect that editor to monitor content. I know this is a rant and that I will probably be heavily criticized for writing and posting it but I remember when TechRepublic was good and actually provided information technical professionals could use. It is sad to see what is has become.

edematteo
edematteo

This brought back a lot of great memories. I'm going to have to track down some of my old retail tech dept. buddies and reminisce.

reisen55
reisen55

"Users" is a word I hate, for we are all people and as such we all make mistakes. On a server keyboard, a mistake can be magnified by the number of systems on the network and/or destruction of the company. WE have incredible power and I always respect that. To not do is to live in peril, not to mention lawsuits. When my customers make a mistake, the thing to do is to laugh about it, and I relate other tales I have done and always comment that we are all human. I then use it as a time for user education. I suppose this is the teaching of W. Edwards Deming: when you spot a quality defect, correct it instantly. It is also the best protection against going insane in this trade - to laugh at the insane, stupid and plain silly. Pardon me, I have to open the CDRom to hold my coffee now.

nick
nick

I agree. Treat customers with respect, don't laugh at them, don't laugh behind their back when they might hear, don't tell others about them if the stories may get back to them. The downside of this is that there are some difficult customers, don't take shit, but at the other extreme if they are venting and it isn't directed at you, recognise that and let them have their vent. Once that is over you can possibly resolve their problem. Message to the original poster, use your spell checker.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

The records that your company keeps are recorded in the Government Torrent.These records reside in the Torrent and should not be duplicated on a hard drive is my understanding.If something gets deleted it's because your computer has a hard drive in it.The Torrent acts as a hard drive.It just might be illegal to have a hard drive in a business computer.You must log in to the Torrent to access these records.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

End users, even well-intentioned ones, can do some pretty wacky things when trying to "fix" their computers. In this IT Dojo post, I share 10 tips to help you turn your next customer mistake into a positive experience. http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/itdojo/?p=105 But, end-users aren't the only ones who make computer mistakes. IT pros can cause just as much trouble. What's the worst mistake you've made in IT and what lesson did you learn from it?

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

uberg33k50, I beg to differ with your assertions that TechRepublic is no longer "good and relevant" and that our content is "sorely lacking compared to years past." If you're looking for the best technical information to help working IT pros solve problems, our long list of technology-specific blogs, articles, downloads, galleries, and videos can provide the answer. Check out these examples: IT Dojo: Create your own bootable USB flash drive for Windows XP http://video.techrepublic.com.com/2422-14075_11-199152.html How do I? Install and configure a DNS server in Windows Server 2008? http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/datacenter/?p=327 Learn to configure Cisco IOS NAT on a stick http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/networking/?p=486 If you're looking for expert insight, opinion, and analysis of enterprise IT, then Jason Hiner's Tech Sanity Check and John Sheesley's Decision Central are second to none. Here are examples: Prediction: Microsoft will leapfrog Vista, release Windows 7 early, and change its OS business http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/hiner/?p=664 Believe it or not, you CAN make a business case for Windows Vista http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/decisioncentral/?p=101 If you're looking for useful, sophisticated tools to help you navigate the current IT career landscape, our career and management blogs and comprehensive hiring kits will give you direction and helpful advice: What you need to know about the new Cisco CCDE certification http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/networking/?p=441 What?s better?An IT degree or tech certifications? http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/career/?p=256 IT Hiring Kit: SQL Server Database Administrator http://downloads.techrepublic.com.com/abstract.aspx?docid=353511 I also take issue with your statements that our authors "cannot seem to count" when it comes to our 10 Things lists and that by using a list of ten items we somehow transform the content into a "late night comedy show." Using lists, whether they contain five, 10, or 50 items, is a good technique for condensing information into easily digestible chunks. And if an article's topic calls for more than ten points, we expect the author to go beyond ten items and title the article appropriately. For example, the following articles' titles start with "10+" -- clearly indicating that they will contain more than ten points. 10+ useless interview questions? and what you should ask instead http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/10things/?p=341 10+ things you should do when you resign http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/10things/?p=326 As to your belief that the "professional people that one would think are the target audience should very well know these points," it's been my experience that a great many IT professionals, even senior ones, fail to view or treat end users as true customers. Instead, they harbor an "us vs. them" mentality. In today's highly competitive, global IT environment, neither enterprise IT organizations nor small IT shops can afford such a mindset. Lastly, I'll speak to your point about this post's grammatical errors. I will concede that when first published, this blog post contained a few typos--misplacing "as" for "at" and similar mistakes. We do our best to catch such errors prior to publication, but even the best of us slip up now and again.

Larry the Security Guy
Larry the Security Guy

I don't disagree that a little English grammar and spelling refresher should have preceded the posting. My parents drilled into my head the importance of being understood and, more importantly, not misunderstood due to spelling or gramatical errors. And to this day I cringe when I see the so-called higher-educated making simple and very common mistakes. I cringe mostly when I observe them in my own writings. I also agree that the general quality of TR articles, indeed articles found on many sites and in printed media, is (has been) falling below par. But I will quibble with you that this and the other you referenced are not TR articles but rather blog postings made by persons not necessarily employed or compensated by TR. TR are touting these blog postings but they do no service to themselves or the author when the post is the gramatical equivalent to scraping ones fingernails on a chalk board.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Ever here of the word 'and' or the word 'or' when finishing a comma delimited list? Message to the above poster. Please use your grammar checker, get a friend to check your work, do not post at all OR post correctly in the first place.

seanferd
seanferd

to fully revive a small business owner's only PC. For some reason, some critical drivers were not available on the drivers disk. Oops. Had to pull them off the internet and come back the next day, as the business had no internet connection. Thankfully, they really didn't use the PC for much of anything.

mlbryan
mlbryan

When I worked at a local newspaper during college, I accidentally deleted an entire days worth of pictures and stories. Luckily, I was able to pull the backup and restore most of it, but then I had to manually find the rest of the picture from AP online. This was about 3 hours from deadline! I was not popular for the rest of the week.

wolfshades
wolfshades

It used to be a sort of unintended initiation for new techs in our department to make this blooper. On Banyan Vines servers, there was a function key (I think it was F2) that was mapped to a routine which would recursively assign file rights from the root directory to all sub-directories. Every once in a blue moon, some hapless tech would make the mistake of hitting that key while sitting in the parent directory to all user directories, effectively locking everyone out. Depending up on the number of users, resolving this by assigning the correct rights in this command line environment would take hours and hours. We all at one point or another did this. Kept us humble.....

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

... was Ghosting over a user's drive that had not been backed up. He lost some macros and documents that he had to recreate, but nothing more than that.

ladywolf9653
ladywolf9653

I was not new to IT, but was nearly 9 months pregnant and a little distracted - the worst possible time to be working on a system, especially one belonging to a VP. I was working in command line as the OS wouldn't load, thought I was in the tmp directory but wasn't, and did a del *.* I refused to touch another machine until I returned from maternity leave! As to the article, a great one, and a topic I preach to my staff no matter where I am. From the part time employees on the loading dock to the office at the top, they all know their jobs far better than I do, and were we to switch places, I'd be just as lost as they are when dealing with computers. Knowing how to do what we do does not make us omnipotent, it just means we had training that differed from theirs.

TG2
TG2

Yup.. done the worst you can do.. put someone on hold, someone that can push buttons with the boss above yours, on hold.. said something out of frustration, only to find out it wasn't hold after all, but speaker phone.. I apologized immediately and then explained .. I'm frustrated and didn't mean to vent it where anyone else would hear because the situation calls for the person I'm working with to know the parts we ask them to deal with by name. I apologized again and said I would come up with a fix for my frustration at the situation we were in. I then got a pack of large sized address labels, put them through the laser printer, and then at our next visit to each of the offices put labels on all the equipment so if we asked them to unplug the firewall they saw a white sticker with the word "Firewall" on it, or Router, or switch. I also made the point of stopping into that one office and pulling the manager asside to apologize in person and to show them the labels so that there wouldn't be confusion the next time.. She submitted me for extra points in the office bonus pool.

dogknees
dogknees

Deleting the contents of the WinNT folder on a live server! Amazingly it kept going with about a dozen files left. Inserted the main PSU plug on a motherboard backwards. The smoke came out and it didn't work any more!

axent
axent

rm -r / temp Notice the space between / and temp? I had just recursively removed the filesystem of a Linux domain controller. Ooops.

GSG
GSG

When I first started working directly with Servers, I deleted the Admin account on a server without first making myself an admin. Not only did I lock myself out of my system, but we were in production and this kicked every single user off the system. My response was, "Oh, Sh*t", which was overheard by our Network Engineer who happened to be a good friend. He was able to fix it for me, and 8 years later, I still haven't lived it down. Edited to add: Never delete, rename, or otherwise change the Admin account on a server without first making yourself, and at least one other person an Admin.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

with one wrong keystroke. What I learned (to do): Made a sign with a "will return by" clock on it and 'Do Not Disturb. Tedious work in progress until...' and hang it on my door before I do something like that.

chiefywiggum
chiefywiggum

early days of career, on a help desk, did a command prompt delete *.* in the wrong directory of a payroll pc/server. if the person on the other end hadn't done a floppy disk backup earlier that day, would have wiped out 2 weeks worth of payroll data for GNC corporation.

Freebird54
Freebird54

I think that people in general tend to get hung up too much on the presence/absence of grammatical/spelling errors on these "pages". Despite the importance I try to place on correctness in my own writings, I am well aware of how easily something can slip through. Here are a couple of points that may not have occurred to all: 1. That incorrect spelling that jars you - might be a perfectly correct rendition elsewhere than YOUR domicile. Somehow I manage to survive seeing words such as colour spelt as color - just as I manage to determine what is meant by having four tyres on a car! Relax, people! 2. Despite having had YEARS of experience proofing (for publication) and YEARS also of reading and checking things on computer screens (starting at 40 columns wide!) I *STILL* miss things. The only cure I have ever found for the final 'catch' of minor errors is to HARD COPY the item! Might I suggest this for the editors here? The above points only apply, of course, provided that the SENSE of what is written is not unduly impacted by the error - then all bets are OFF! :)

kevaburg
kevaburg

I have learned more through TR than through any other GP site. Even if it is just to realise how blinkered or intelligent some people are in relation to myself I can honestly say: "A day having learned just one thing is never a day wasted". TR has helped me greatly in that philosophy.

TtFH
TtFH

Don't you just love a spelling/grammar flame that has its own errors?

BigHamster
BigHamster

"Ever 'here; of the word..."???? I'm hoping you were kidding.

william.bohrer
william.bohrer

Never play practical jokes on smart people who are idiots. You could still be dodging a bullet 20 years later. This person (who has books published that are still required reading at Universities around the world) used to complain endlessly that it took hours to load email in the morning. Well, the file was like a hundred megs and growing because they refused to delete or archive anything, and this was back in the days when half gig harddrives on *server* class machines was considered outrageously huge, and we danced in the streets at the mere suggestion of 66mhz of power for a USD 40k workstation. Anyway, late one night, around 11pm, working on some crazy last minute demo hack, another coworker and I accidentally discovered how to send fake email from ourselves when we got the clever idea to use a chron job to claim we'd been there till 4am (instead of only 11pm!) It turned out to be dead simple using an "at" command and redirect from standard in, on an old SunOS workstation back in the day. When I realized we could put the subject headers in the email, being generally inclined to wonder what else I can do with technology, by simple experiment I found that pretty much *any* of the email headers could be faked, including the sender. This was back when the Internet was still ArpaNet, and sendmail was very slack about stamping incriminating information on where email originated, if it came from within the same network anyway. So one of our coworkers leaves to travel around the world taking photographs (he was also an accomplished professional, sold nature photos to National Geographic from his travels) on his way back home, and I got the brilliant idea to fake an email from him from the "Tanzania Institute of Technology" (tit.edu???) suggesting we all go to lunch at his favorite restaurant. I've got a "gift" for mimicry, and apparently captured his idiosyncratic writing style quite well. My coworkers were all laughing at the email, thought it was a nicely crafted spoof, only... of course, boss comes in all cheery, "Say, did you guys get that Email from X---? That was really great to hear from him." I'm still a little panicky one of the old crew will rat me out some day. It'll be like one of those murder mysteries you read, where some old army buddies start getting bumped off one by one, because there's a terrible secret they've been hiding since the Korean war. So, if you start hearing about old retired unix wonks getting mysteriously knocked off, just know that I probably snapped from the stress.

TheSwabbie
TheSwabbie

A coworker of mine (server tech) had an ongoing feud with a help desk tech. It was driving everyone crazy because everyone knew the HD tech was a PIA. Anyway, one day the HD tech had called my coworked and left a Voice mail about fixing something...then thought she hung up - but hadnt. She had someone in her cubicle and was big talking about how EVERYBODY had better "Jump" when she said jump etc plus some other explicatives. My coworker called our Manager to her office and played the voicemail. He called the Help Desk Tech's Mgr over to listen to it along WITH the HD tech. All she could say was "It wasnt me - someone set me up!" Yea right! That VoiceMail got passed around the whole department (big hospital) and everybody got a big laugh out of her running her mouth how everybody jumps when she says jump etc... poor little Help desk Tech got no respect :( LOL

TheSwabbie
TheSwabbie

Ok, have to admit, it WASNT me. No, It REALLY wasnt. I've made mistakes but not on this scale. A smart alec tech up in NJ who went to Harvard and thought he knew it all decided one day to "Switch" our AD domain. I said "What? Are you nuts, no reason to do that". He just didnt like the naming convention we had. Not to mention that he also would take admin rights away from everyone because he was paranoid all the time (Note that there were only 3 of us and he was out of state). We all think he was just being an A**. Anyway, the numbskull created the new domain and deleted the OLD before he moved all the files over. He had taken the disks out of the server and was going to get them off when get got back to Jersey. All along I kept telling them it wasnt a good idea. Three weeks later, multiple calls to Microsoft I made HIM tell the CIO it WASNT me that had the bright idea of changing everything over and loosing access to all the company's data for the last 5 years (he actually tried to blame me at first). Did he loose his job? Nope? So, I resigned and got a great job at a hospital because I refused to work with such an arrogant Idiot and such a careless boob. Oh, I DID get him back before i left. I had a "backdoor" into the system (through the backup accounts) to do whatever I needed to do. When I left I told the CIO about it. The CIO bet him $100.00 that he could find a security hole for someone to use admin rights... at least he was out $100.00!!! "Old age and Treachery WILL overcome Youth and Skill ANYDAY" :)

uberg33k50
uberg33k50

The person who puts themselves up to be an authority on anything or proposes to teach is held to a higher standard. Your quote would suggest that we should be the sheep that most Americans are an just accept substandard information and never question or point out that the emperor has no clothes. No thanks...when I see something is wrong I am going to point it out and ask for better. I know that it is not popular and I know that at times I make mistakes but it will be in my own words not hidden behind a misdirected quote.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. -Teddy Roosevelt

uberg33k50
uberg33k50

I was trying to be really careful not to make grammar or spelling errors and I wrote that in MS Word then copied and pasted it. I even checked it before posting and it looked fine. Then after it was posted I realized that the discussion board must not be able to handle certain things like quotes or ellipsis. On the other hand I am not a journalist and I don't play one on the Internet either.

seanferd
seanferd

Using non-standard text editors to post. (Word?)

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

and more ??? - oh please! I thought Freddie was dead.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

although I was hoping that someone else (you know) was going to pick up on it. Gutted now to be honest.

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

It is a wonder that any of these "educated" people have made it this far in a career that deals specifically with information. ;)

XT John
XT John

It's a sad commentary on today's education system. Weren't we drilled concerning homonyms back in grade school? These are grammatical issues that a spell checker cannot catch. The work that is submitted by people with a 4 year(and more) college education can be downright scary.

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