Processors

Helping a user with his home computer - a confusing conclusion


An interesting discussion ensued when, in my last blog, I wondered about helping a user with a problem on his home computer (his wife’s computer, actually). I also voiced my displeasure with a technician who charged him for two hours of time ($150), but couldn’t fix a problem which was apparently caused when this user’s son (or son-in-law, I forgot which) did something to the computer when checking an e-mail account - after which a variety of things didn’t work right, including the user’s own e-mail account. At least these were among the symptoms described to me.

After I wrote my piece, I told the user that I’d be willing to go over to his house and fix the problem (free of charge, by the way), being pretty confident that I could identify and repair whatever it was in a short amount of time. Of course, what caused a great deal of initial uncertainty in identifying the problem was how he described it. What he was saying just didn’t make sense, which, because of his lack of computer literacy, was pretty understandable. On a scale of 1-10 in being able to discuss a personal computer, I’d put him at about a one, probably less.

Nonetheless, I figured that once I got there and sat down in front of the computer where I could actually see what was going on, it wouldn’t matter how he was describing it. I was certain I could fix it. After all, I’m the one who gave him the computer in the first place when we had an everything is free garage sale. (Every couple of years, or so, we make obsolete computers, parts, and pieces available to employees - all free for the taking.)

The next evening I received a call (at home) from this user, asking me what the main computer password might be. At first I was unsure of what he was asking, but I quickly realized that he was asking about the BIOS password. (I apparently forgot to clear it when I gave him the computer.) He said that his son (or son-in-law) was there again, and he wanted to try to fix the problem himself. Based on how he described the problem in the first place, it made absolutely no sense to me that any setting in the BIOS had anything to do with it, especially considering the fact that nothing in the BIOS had changed. After all, no one had the password to gain access!

Well, I told him what the password was, he told his son (or son-in-law), he thanked me, and hung up the phone. Okay, I thought, when he calls me back to come over and fix the problem, I can then find out what's really going on. Absolutely nothing was making any sense to me at this point, and I sure couldn’t rely on him to accurately describe anything. Actually, I almost called him back to tell him I was on my way over. My curiosity was beginning to trump everything else; I simply wanted to find out what was going on!

However, I resisted the urge to go over to his house, thinking I would hear all about it the next day when he came into the office. Well sure enough, he did indeed look for me when he came in the next day. “Thank you for that password,” he said. “That did the trick and my son (or son-in-law) was able to find those lost three weeks of e-mails and documents.”

Okay, I thought. Even though none of this makes any sense to me, I don’t even want to ask. At least the problem was fixed; and it was fixed by the person who broke it in the first place. I considered it a small consolation that I was being thanked for providing the right password, but it only added to my confusion.

Now I’m beginning to have second thoughts about the conclusion I drew about that independent technician. Since nothing was making sense to me, I can't exactly pass judgment based solely on ignorance and confusion - and that's all I really had to go on! At first, I considered calling him to give him a piece of my mind. Now I’m considering calling him for my own peace of mind.

My conclusion: Since curiosity killed the cat, I decided to just let sleeping dogs lie.

33 comments
HAL 9000
HAL 9000

I can say that this story brought back memories of a Modem that I sold a very long time ago. I think it was a 33 KBS Dial Up Unit which was returned to me the next day not working. Well I pulled it out of the box connected it to a computer and tested it. When I confirmed that it worked perfectly I handed it back to one of the Employees of a Company that I did work for and told him that the modem was working perfectly and that it must be something with his equipment. Well the next day he was on the phone again and this time I bit the bullet and went down to his house in a New Street that didn't appear in any Street Directories of the time. In fact none of that Development Appeared so it was fun to find. Then when I finally hit his home after a 50 mile trip and hours of lost time I found that he was placing the Modem on top of the TV Expecting to get Internet Access along with a CD. When I looked at the CD it was a Free one handed out by a ISP to gain customers and it clearly said that to connect to the Internet all you is this CD and a Modem which this guy took literally. I just gave him a refund and suggested that he talk to the ISP about the problem as I had only supplied the Modem that he had requested and had tried to help him out. It didn't matter that I sold him the Modem for Cost and I had not suggested to him that he didn't need a computer I had just supplied him the device he had asked for and tried to help him solve a problem. While something like that may not happen now as the General Public are better Educated than they where way back when they now tell you what they think is happening which bears very little resemblance to Real Life but at least they try. Personally after hearing stories from all my friends who repair things it's not something confined to Computers but it happens everywhere where End Users try to [b]Help[/b] the repairer out and give an accurate description of the problem. So unless you support Home Users as a living you don't understand their [b]Speak.[/b] Any form of Home User Support is a very specialized part of the Industry whatever that may be and these people spend years learning how their customers speak and what they mean when they say something. Us lowelly Techs who support Business will never fully understand this or how to Interpret Home Users. :( I've heard things from different industries from the simple it's a 3.5 Stroke Motor describing a Lawn Mowers engine to some really weird things that I can understand and others that I can not understand. Like one question asked here on the Q & A section where one person had a ADSL Internet Connection and wanted to know how to install a Router but as he knew what a Modem Looked like he didn't have a Modem but he did have a Box supplied by the ISP which allowed him to get a Net Connection. No matter what was said in an attempt to help this guy he refused to believe that he had a Modem of any kind. :D While I don't do much Home Support all of which is confined to Staff of Business that I work for there have been some interesting Faults that I have had described to me over the years all of which haven't been overly memorable probably because I don't do enough Home Support. :D Col

Joe_R
Joe_R

You may have been right. But then again, I'll never know (because I'm running away from it!). Thanks for your contribution. Great stories!

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Jumping to Conclusions without all the information. From past experience you always come to the wrong conclusion well I do at least. :D Domestic work is just way too dangerous to be considered and that is something that I found out the Hard Way. But there where some interesting experiences along the way, however it's not something I care to repeat. :^0 Col

jdclyde
jdclyde

IF you touch it, you own it. I personally would stay far far FAR away from that system as long as sonnyboy is working on it. I had a similar experience with my friends parents. They had "Don" always do their computer work, and Don couldn't find his a$$ in the dark with both hands and a flashlight. I came over and got their system working and it was running GREAT. Don came over and F'ed it all up and then it was crashing and nothing would work. [b]I fixed it and told them if they EVER let Don near it again, I would never touch it again for them. [/b] ( [i] I always did it for free [/i] ) I refuse to continually clean up behind someone else, and they never let him ruin things again.

Joe_R
Joe_R

And once sucked in, it's hard to get out - the Black Hole of Support!

jdclyde
jdclyde

that you are expected to answer, quickly, and for free.

kifoghorn
kifoghorn

>AT least these were among the symptoms described to me. To respond, what where all the symptoms? Usually when I troubleshoot a home pc, if the user can't describe the problem and/or how it happen, I generally ask to see the computer. If I do say I'll look at their computer, I say if I can't do anything there's no payment and suggest its time for new computer. As I generally see people with minimim winxp or even win98 machines. With new PC's user's generally corrupt the registry and without backups the easiest solution is reformat & reinstall. With the suggestion of running 2 drives, 1 for OS & programs, 1 for data to make things easier for the next reformat-reinstall. I must admit you got me curious as what had happened. But there isn't enough info to make any informed opinion.

Joe_R
Joe_R

There isn't enough info to make any informed opinion. But it sure had me curious.

skicat
skicat

As the family IT guy I do a lot of free work for my friends and family. Most of it is simple enough and I can describe the steps necessary to add, remove, fix, break what is needed. If I am requested to get more involved (ie: set up a wireless network, reimage a PC, create and maintain websites) I will then charge them as a client (I also provide a work order/receipt). The catch is to make it clear that the work paid for is for exactly what was completed and that does not mean calling me 48 hours later saying the printer does not work because of the new wireless network. Home computers are a nightmare because of the garbage that is either pre-installed or post-installed and sifting through the mess is often more trouble than it is worth.

Joe_R
Joe_R

That would be a very difficult business to have.

kifoghorn
kifoghorn

I don't think so. Considering you would mostly be upgrading (hardware/software) or just reformat, reinstall. Other than that its normal trouble-shooting methods... Can the user describe the problem/what they were doing or show you what they were doing. Can the user replicate the problem. When in doubt reformat, reinstall lol Oh! You'll probably do a lot of by-the-hand/step-by-step one-on-one training too. user: "it told me to press any key, but I can't find it" trainer: rotfl

chrisl317
chrisl317

After 6 years of "face to face" technical support in one of the remaining computer retail chains, and after helping over 86000 people with their computer problems, one thing remains very clear. Guns and computers - some people just shouldn't have them.

Canuckster
Canuckster

I am not saying that your fellow employee was lieing but, maybe his son didn't just look at his email. Or maybe he received something more in his email than a letter from a friend. I often help people with their home PC's and I have found that not everyone is completely forthcoming, or remember's the all of the details, that went into creating the issue. As far as the tech that charged the $150.00 and then walked away from it all, I would have called his boss, the Better Business Bureau and (if I wasn't going to do the work myself) someone I knew was a capable PC troubleshooter.

Joe_R
Joe_R

At least on the part of the gentleman at my office. As for the son or the tech, the jury is still out - or in this case and at this point, it's hung. Thanks...

derek
derek

This posts brings ups some good points for discussion. So the tech needs to be able to guarantee his ability to resolve the problem BEFORE making a house call and charging a reasonable $75 per hour? And if the tech is unable for what ever reason to not be able to fix the problem (or keep it fixed) then they should have to eat it? Doesn't that make tech work more like wildcatting for oil strikes or something? I mean you bear the burden of doing a lot of work with the hopes that you will hit one that will get you paid? Seriously though there are three problems from our perspective: First, working on home computers is a losing proposition PERIOD. We will repair for free the computers of employees of good contract clients but they have to bring them into their office. Why do we do that? Simple. The time you spend doing that will completely eliminate the "grumbling about the computer guy" that you hear about in most organizations. Lets face it, it is too easy for the end user to find something to complain about, be it reaccurring issues or response time. Help them out with their own computers within reason and you completely change the psychology. (You can always mark up the parts etc.) We have great relationships with the employees of our clients and this helps to build on that and further reinforce our value. In an age when many people work from home as well, we can sometimes make that part of the contract's expectations and charge accordingly as well. Back to the home computer issue, the economics are different, keep in mind these people were probably not happy to pay $150 to fix a problem anyway. Then you have the added burden of "lifetime tech support." From a profitabity standpoint it makes no sense to do ANY work for someone if that will be the ONLY work you do. In essense the last guy that worked on it owns it, forever. With computers it is hard for the home user to determine what is a new problem and what is an old problem that wasn't fixed well. You will end up doing a lot of free work for someone that won't appreciate it anyway. But finally the REAL problem is that the tech didn't find the problem OR a solution. That is the key. As I teach my techs, we are in the unique postion of never being able to say we can't fix it. We HAVE to either fix the problem, or find an acceptable workaround. Period. The tech should have stayed with the problem no matter how long it took. If all else fails you "take it back to the shop, " where you have more tools and other techs to help. The tech should have provided the owner some options and then if need be cut a break on the time. If it took four hours and the tech made the decision to charge for two then at least the tech would have broke even. The client would have gotten a resolution and the feeling like the tech went above and beyond the call of duty. The mistake the tech made was giving up and not providing options. Any thoughts?

Joe_R
Joe_R

I can't disagree with anything you've said. In the case I described in my blogs, however, the only thing about which I'm certain is that I'm not certain about anything told to me. The gentleman in my office who asked me in the first place was, most likely, saying one thing (in good faith, of course), but was meaning something totally different - misspeaking. Paraphrasing a line from Paul Harvey, we don't really know the rest of the story. That was a great message - thanks for posting.

chrisl317
chrisl317

First, Hardware problems easy enough. No one fixes the parts, they just replace them. When the end user fudges windows, not so easy. As a matter of fact, I don't really know any tech that will take the time to sort out a Microsoft mess. Yank the drive, cull the irreplacable data, put the drive back in and wipe and re-install windows. I do not try to figure out the end user anymore.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

of course, Micro$oft makes is so damn easy to fragg their system, it's not funny.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I can really associate with not knowing the circumstances when trying to understand the original problem.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Read the original piece. Any guesses as to what the issue was? (Sorry, you have all the clues that I have!) Would you have gone over when the son (or son-in-law) was there? Would you call the technician? If so, how would you phrase your question? Do you have any comments or other related stories you'd like to share? By the way, I can see why supporting home users might be among the most challenging of all desktop support jobs.

CG IT
CG IT

the son-in-law gets the BIOS password from you and volia! email works? can't imagine what setting in the BIOS effects Outlook Express [gods why that] Sounds to me like the son-in-law wasn't entirely on the up and up... Personally, I wouldn't use that computer for online banking until I was sure what the heck the son-in-law did. Not trying to say the son-in-law might be trying to screw over his inlaws but sounds fishy to me.

JamesRL
JamesRL

User gets a virus to cause Windows not to boot, even in safe mode. Solution is to run the Win install in repair mode, but you need to boot from the CD. But can't boot from CD because either its not in the boot order in the BIOS, or it comes after the HD. If you can't access the BIOS to fix this, then you are stuck. I ran into something very similar with a computer I gave my brother just over a week ago. Despite the fact I had installed anti-spyware and anti-virus, his system was crippled in 4 days. He had a virus that didn't get caught by the software. Luckily I was able to recognize something was wrong, and after running repair and making it bootable again, I found the problem quickly. It was something called XP Scanner 2008, and it looked like an antivirus tool. It is in fact a trojan. It reports lots of viruses that don't exist, then suggests you log on to their site and give them money to fix them. One reason I realized it was a Trojan was that it blocked access to the Task Manager. I manually stopped the Trojan running with MSConfig, manually deleted the files, and edited it out of the registry. James

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

A Sewing Machine is a very Personal thing and it should never be lent out. If worst comes to worst loan out the Hubby long before considering allowing anyone else to use your Sewing Machine. Don't even allow it to be used by someone else in your own home as they will break it. Not quite sure where that put me as at the time I was repairing these things and not one of those women present considered me as [b]Someone Else.[/b] I just wonder how they would have reacted if they saw me hitting their pride & joy with a Hammer. :D Col

CG IT
CG IT

been there and done that... In most cases that I've had to deal with, it's either the user allowed someone else to use their computer, and that someone either opened an email or went to a site that they wouldn't normally do on their own computer. So here's the son-in-law who checks his email on his in-laws computer and the computer gets a virus? Think computers nowadays ought to be viewed the same as toothbrushes. Don't share em for fear of infection.

RFink
RFink

If the technician gave a good faith effort he should be paid. His time is valuable too. It's no different than taking someone to the hospital and he dies. You still have to pay the hospital. I have very little patience with liars. If you screw up your computer fine, but don't lie to me. If I catch you in a lie, I'm out of there! I make that clear up front.

chrisl317
chrisl317

I whole heartedly agree. Every day people come in all puffed up about their "Puter sperience" (spelled as they have pronounced). MY co-worker and I purposely ask fake questions in qualifying the customer as to their computer problems, just to see if we are going on a wild goose chase. If they try to feed us inaccurate techno babble, we refer them straight to the "you need to pay to get this fixed line."

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

but satisfaction brought him back... I'd have HAD to have gotten to the bottom of it!

Joe_R
Joe_R

We often forget about the rest of the proverb - Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back. Thanks for the reminder. However, in this case, however, I'll apply another - Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies (although the lies, in this case, are more likely to be misstatements). Thanks.....

sdmtnbiker
sdmtnbiker

you posted it on ur computer screen! lol just giving you a bad time, don't see many people on here from Santee.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Don't know where you got it, but it sounds right. Wrote it down to keep. Thanks.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

May you live in interesting times..... the rest is... "May you come to the attention of important people, and may your every wish come true."

cmatthews
cmatthews

Amusing text! I too have regretted giving away PC's only to find that I'd end up giving out days of support time as well. My take? If you had setup some user-ids on the system, they must have forgotten the password to the one with admin privilege. So son-in-law wanted to re-gain admin privilege to undelete files or use repair programs by booting from a special floppy or boot-CD to null-out the administrator password. For novice users, I sometimes set a BIOS so HD boot is the only action. Could it be you intentionally set it that way? (and had a "senior moment" forgetting what you did?) So son-in-law now has admin rights and you don't. If it is so, walk away - he's the family admin now. Seems he fixed it - right?

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