How I lost a Help Desk Customer

Recently I experienced something I hadn't felt in a long time: utterly humiliated by a dissatisfied customer.  If you've ever been tempted to blow off making routine calls to your customers, let my experience be your wake-up call.  If you don't call, they won't be your customers forever.

How it rolled

Some six months ago, I started providing tech support to a nonprofit company with with 25 PCs and 30 users.  They had some new equipment to be installed and some open troubleshooting issues to work. Most importantly, they had a new "computer person." This was someone hired as a social worker but expected to be the hallway guru, and she represented an opportunity to do some training. Let's call her Bonnie.

Seizing the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, I took with me on this gig someone who professed to want to "get off the phones and get out and do hands-on computer work."  Let's call her Lucy.  Lucy had been working seasonal phone work, was taking computer classes at the local community college, and came highly recommended by a friend of mine.  I would train Lucy in my special brand of tech support, and who knows, I might even get a long-term, part-time employee out of the deal.

Bonnie and Lucy hit it off right away, and everybody else on the site just loved Lucy. At least that's what they told me after the first couple of times I let Lucy go on site to work on the project by herself.

When I called the executive director, "Lucy working out okay?" "Oh just fine, everybody loves her."

When I called Bonnie, she told me "Lucy is doing great."

And so I paid Lucy for three weeks of part time work.  During that time she emailed me, IM'd me, and called me a few times, but all in all, she appeared to be handling all the little things that come up when you're installing and troubleshooting and training.

"Let me know when you need Lucy or me again" I said to Bonnie when the last task was checked off the work list. "Will do," Bonnie told me.

And so I felt good about the project.  I wished Lucy good luck when she informed me she was going back to work as a server in a relative's restaurant.  Tech support, on the phone or on site, isn't for everybody, I told her.

All's not well if it doesn't end well

You've probably already guessed by the introduction that I took my sweet time about following up with the client after that initial project was completed.  You're right. 

However, I've had dozens of clients like this one over the years, and they're notorious for not calling for two or three or six months, and then calling with an emergency. Frequently the emergency is the printer's jammed.  Then they call when there's a new someone doing the computers now and that person needs help.

So it didn't seem unusual to me that I hadn't heard from Bonnie in a while. Then I returned a call to the executive director, who informed me that Bonnie no longer worked at the agency. "Well, I can call Lucy back in and we can help the new person --" 

"No, we don't want Lucy back," she said. 

Translation: They didn't want me back, either. I'll spare you the gory details of how the executive director shredded me ogver the quality of Lucy's work. ("She told someone her PC was dead, and it was unplugged!" was one of the bullet points.)

"But you told me -- But Bonnie told me -- " I sputtered. But it was too late to do anything but be polite. "Yes ma'am, I'll bring that manual over to the office.  Again I'm sorry I didn't keep a closer eye on Lucy, and I hope things work out with your new computer guy."

So what have I learned from this experience? I guess the first thing is this: If ever again I send someone to represent me to provide on-site tech support, I'm going to do "surprise visits" to check on that person's performance. Plus I'm going to communicate better with my employee and my customers and make sure I'm getting the whole story.


I have more than several customers who call me on a very occasional basis and sometimes several months can pass between contacts. This, I think, is not uncommon. We, after all, are technicians first and salesmen second. It's difficult to keep tabs on the low-demand, low-noise customers when you're being physically dragged in several different directions simultaneously by real emergencies and the squeaky-wheels. I RELY on my customers to call me when there is ANY HINT of trouble. In fact, I specifically request that they do this. There has to be some cooperation between the consultant and the customer or the whole system breaks down, as was the case here. Your situation with Lucy was regrettable. However green she may have been, she was probably an eager pup with good intentions. The customer, IMHO, should have told you she wasn't cutting it long before it got to the point where they fired YOU. This client may not have been as loyal to you as you may have thought in the first place. It is likely they would have been dissatisfied in any case, unless you were there yourself to see to it that they were. You were'nt there, they weren't happy and now we're all crying in our beer. That's life. I would love it if all of my customers kept me on a monthly retainer, but not all of my customers truely value my services until they need me. Then they think they're the only customer I have. That's life, too.


I once managed 12 techs, a problem with an update for Symantec Corp Ed. caused older NT4 systems to BSOD, the fix was to remove 9 files from %systemroot%\system32 directory. I briefed all of the techs for the process, all had experience except 1, who only worked at a helpdesk before (less than 3 months). I printed instructions for them and sent them out to fix the 60-70 affected systems. this new user (went to school and worked a helpdesk) left the instructions at his desk, went to the first user and deleted *.* in the system32 dir........ Funny story, or just a very mad near exec??? I will leave it to you to decide. Ok, it was real

Justin James
Justin James

"Lucy had been working seasonal phone work, was taking computer classes at the local community college, and came highly recommended by a friend of mine." With qualifications like this, I would have been babysitting Lucy for 6+ months (going on every service call) before letting her go out on her own. I have been doing this stuff for way too long. Even with checklists and knowledge bases, someone with these qualifications had no business being on site unsupervised with less than six months of intensive oversight. That is what goes into a quality PC tech. Indeed, I have found that some of the best PC techs are former mechanics (and vice versa) because they udnerstand the troubleshooting process very well. J.Ja


Other points aside, how are you supposed to know that something is wrong when all reports are positive? I don't want to get into a "Napoleon at Waterloo" debate: if you're the top manager, yes, it's your job to make sure of the accuracy of your subordinates, and you have the power to do so. For someone in a consulting-style capacity, what can be done? Is one to browbeat one's clients for info? Sure, there could have been a follow-up call sooner, but it seems there are patterns th handling certain types of clients: we call client type X after about 6 months. And if something is truely wrong, most clients would complain much sooner or ask for money back. "Hey, Bonnie, I can't really trust your evaluation, or anyone else's that I've heard so far, so why don't you put me in touch with someone at the top of the food chain that knows what he's talking about, or I'll have to come down there myself and interrogate everyone." (I don't mean to sound harsh here, no offense.) You could send out email/postcard surveys or something, but you would still be finding out any problems after the fact. As I said, other points aside, I'm not taking the special case of "babysitting the new girl/guy" into account here. The customer/client needs to speak up, or how will they ever get what they need? Heck, they called you in the first place. ps: i'm trying to post to the article, not reply to a specific post. :) have a good one.

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