Broadband

It can be hard not to laugh at silly user mistakes

What do you do when the sparks fly and the customer rants? And when the customer realizes they've done something really stupid, how do you handle their embarrassment?

What do you do when a customer realizes that they have done something really stupid? How do you handle the embarrassment of someone who feels about two inches tall?

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A call came in last week stating that the customer’s machine was totally dead.

Past experience has shown me that such a statement can mean anything from a pile of smouldering, twisted metal to a machine that runs perfectly well but has a slight squeak in the cooling fan. I called ahead and asked about the problem.

“Is there a power light showing on the front?”

“No! I told you, it’s completely dead, not a light, not a noise!”

“OK,” I told him, “I’ll be there in about thirty minutes.”

“Make it fifteen; I’ve got a deadline to meet.”

I pulled up outside and collected my toolbox from the back of the car. The receptionist showed me through to where the machine was housed. I pressed the power switch and, sure enough, nothing happened.

Being an experienced professional I looked at the back of the machine and followed the power cord to the socket, or tried to. The cord came to an abrupt end about eighteen inches from the machine where it had been neatly severed. The rest of the cable was still hanging from the socket. I unplugged the remains and put them aside to show the customer.

I went out to the car to look for a replacement cable. When I got back, the customer was waiting for me, the two pieces of cable in his hand.

“What’s this?” he barked.

“That’s your power cable.”

“Ah,” he said. “That would explain why it isn’t working.”

I plugged in a new cable and switched the machine on. Everything was working properly, so I turned to leave. As I made to leave, another person came into the room.

He looked annoyed and shoved the table that held the machine back into the wall.

“I can’t stand things looking untidy!” he complained.

All three of us noticed that the machine had stopped working. A quick inspection showed me that the metal edge of the table had severed the cord as it slammed against the wall, only this time he had managed to cut it in two places. Thankfully, I had another cable in the car.

It proved to reinforce what I have always thought: the more serious the problem seems, the simpler the solution is likely to be.

203 comments
Oz_Media
Oz_Media

As one help desk used to note in their database 'PICNIC' meaning Problem In Chair, Not In Computer.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

the only time it's hard not to laugh is when it's easy to cry.

thepraxislady
thepraxislady

Another saying, 'if you do not laugh, you cry, so why not laugh till you cry. ;-]'

rebeccaaward
rebeccaaward

I only got a chance to read this thread today, but I though I would chime in just in case someone else is late like me. I worked in a small office with about 10 people. I wasn't hired as the IT person, but quickly became that once they realized I had IT skills. Anyway, the Office Manager kept having his computer die on him (and I mean dead - no way to recover it). After he had replaced it twice, (without asking my option) I suggested he let me take a look to see if I could find out what was causing the failures. It was easy to see what was going on. He had the computer sitting under his desk next to his portable heater. He was frying each of the computers. I gently explained that it was just too hot under the desk and that he would have to find a way to make space on his desk for the next one. (He was also a friend, so he took it well.)

jvdbw4lk3r
jvdbw4lk3r

A few years ago i was working for a company that was supplying CAD Software and hardware to customers, and this on customer brings us his computer complaining that the pc was slowing down, and really battling to boot up etc... so we open it up, and have a look... and realise why it was dying... he was a heavy smoker, and te pc itself was covered inside in yellow tar (from the smoking) he used to have it on his desk next to him as he was doing the cad drawings etc. He literally killed it with second hand smoke... so if people tells you second-hand smoking is not going to harm you or people (and things) around you, then i can verify that smoking does kill...

seanferd
seanferd

I've seen some odd things, but the problem that you mention is just... blatantly obvious, for lack of a better term. It reminds me of the story I read here, at TR, in the forums, about a pool supply company. They kept their computers in a very humid and chemically corrosive environment, and couldn't understand why they kept failing piece by piece. When the problem was explained to them, they refused to change the location of the computer.

gatofalla
gatofalla

The other guy was lucky he didn't touch any metal part on the table.

--Loki--
--Loki--

I had a client at one point, who had recurring system errors, data loss, and system lockups. However, every time they brought their computer in to the shop for repair, I could find no problems with it. So I made the trip out to their office to see if there was something they were doing, something in the way they hooked it up, etc, that was causing the issue, maybe a faulty power strip, improperly grounded outlet, something like that, making it flaky. Well, you know those little business cards with magnetic backing that you can stick "anywhere" metallic? The entire outside of the computer case was covered in all their frequently used vendors magnetic business cards. I didn't say a word. I removed all the magnets, stuck them on the nearby filing cabinet, and told them it should work fine now. They never had another problem with it.

Salvatus
Salvatus

It's always entertaining when you get emails telling you the email server is down......From some of our IT directors in the field....

ScarF
ScarF

I have two stories. First, when working for a big soft drinks bottling company, there were about 50 network cables going through a cable channel along the wall at the floor level. Everything was perfectly functional. One day the management decided to replace the floor carpet - wall-to-wall. After the carpet was replaced - during a weekend, any computer in that network segment couldn't connect to the network. Searching for the problem, I found all the 50 cables severed by the carpet installers for removing the cable channel and being easier to them to install the carpet. The second was when I worked for a company providing IT services. I was called by a local administration office to check their network which worked really bad - as I could understand, there were a lot of lost packets, the connection for many computers would go down often a.s.o. Visiting the office I found that all the network cables - around 40, were coming to a wall cabinet through a hole in the wall. Of course, in that wall cabinet was installed the entire network structure: patch panels, switches, routers. During the weekend, the room where the wall cabinet was installed "suffered" a renovation: wall painting. The guys who painted the walls found the best idea to remove the wall cabinet and paint behind it - yes, your guess is correct: they cut all the cables. After the paint job was done they put back the wall cabinet and, funny thing, someone had enough patience to reconnect all the cables wire by wire by stripping the plastic isolation and twisting them one by one. Fortunately, many of the cables were long enough to re-patch them. The rest of them needed to be replaced on the entire length.

dlindner999
dlindner999

I did something incredibly stupid recently. I installed a new PC for a user, and I forgot to bring a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) with me. It's standard to install a UPS on every system where I work. I had to just plug everything into the wall socket in the meantime. I came back the next day to installed the UPS. The only problem was, there were three people I knew in the area at the time, having a very interesting discussion and distracting me with all sorts of questions. I was also very short on time. This UPS was APC brand. You have to disassemble the unit and plug a cable into the battery for it to work. Being distracted and hurrying, I completely forgot to plug the battery cable in. I walked all the way across campus back to my office, only to discover my phone ringing when I got there. It was the same user, wondering "What did you do!? My computer stopped working as soon as you left!" I walked all the way back and immediately realized what I had done when I looked at the UPS and noticed the power button was not lit up. I don't think I have ever turned so red in my life! Talk about inspiring confidence in your IT people! ;)

kiwidave
kiwidave

I work in a University and one of our secretaries kept receiving (unsanctioned) updates to an in-house software package from a former employee. To stop her updating the software without our knowledge, my boss removed the floppy drive from her mac, and informed her why he had done so. After two months, we had to tape up the floppy drive slot as we were sick of having to open up the computer to retrieve the numerous floppys from inside. There are some users that will never have more than the most rudimentary computer knowledge. Sometimes the real challenge is trying to decide which users will actually benefit from a little helpful instruction and which users are truly beyond help. and don't get me started on supporting university students.. they seem to have their own unique brand of stupidity.

ezrabm
ezrabm

Jeff- just read your email on the CUT power cable. I am now retired, teach senior citizens how to use the computer. .................................. Having worked in metal production plant for over thirty years, I had plenty of problems along the way. The plant electrician told me that in 30-40% of the problems put to him, the problem lay in the power supply- such as failing to plug in, or switiching on! My two favourites- not computer ones , but actual. 1. In the lab., I operated an X-Ray machine for HardMetal for about 6 years, before handing over to the technician. She was good, and I didn't hear from her about the machine for another five years. Then I got a call. She said, Ezra, we did a lab. redecorating, with all the machinery out. Now, I put the X-Ray back, but couldn't get it to work. Please help. I went round, and there was the machine, powered up but not functioning. I asked for the manual, explaining that since I hadn't touched the machine since I left it, I would need to go through the manual I opened up at stage one. No, she replied, I'm already at stage three. Yes, I said, but to get me in, I need to go through step by step from the beginning. I concluded step two, and then started on step three. Putting my hands out to the machine to where they should go, I heard a small gasp from her. Oh! She said, I forgot that one. I pointed out to her the card on top of the machine. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, READ THE INSTRUCTIONS! I left with a smile. 2. I add another saying- When all else fails, check the manufacturer's work. I commissioned equipment for splitting liquid ammonia into hydrogen and nitrogen for one of the furnace processes.(Cheaper than buying pure hydrogen). I put it in the hands of the operators, writing out the technical instructions, posted in the building hosting the equipment. There were about five or six modules in the setup, including a heater of about 36 kilowatts. It took about six months of rewriting the instructions, with me getting frequent calls, before they were written out in such a way that the operators really knew how to use and solve most of the problems that arose. After about nine months, I got another call, they couldn't not solve the problem. I was called. The heater failed to heat properly, barely getting up to tempertaure. I Called the chief electrician, who started checking everything connected to the the heating system, both before and after the heater. Everything checked out. O.K. I said, check out the manufacturer's wiring, in the closed box. But it's been working for six months, what can be wrong? Open it up, I said, that's the last resort. He did- and found that of the three-phase wiring, two leads were on one terminal! He exclaimed that this he had never seen. I have my own ideas of how/why it happened, I do not believe it was an accidental mistake. Yes, I have a store of problems along the way,..... Anyway, if you got to the end of this story, instead of immediately travelling away, why not ask the user to see if the plug is in? ezrab

Senrats
Senrats

I had to go to my CEO's house to "fix" the fax machine because his wife needed to receive a fax... It was just out of paper! :) I tried my best to not make her look stupid.

johnmckay
johnmckay

You could have told her you needed to take it back to the office to analyse, then returned it later with 'the fix'. I find adding a few hours has two benefits in the long run. a) they think before they react/shout. b) They remember it took hours last time, and take a few minutes to consider what the problem might be. Support is all about managing people and their expectations. The more you pamper folk the more they take advantage (like asking you to put paper into a printer).

WoW > Work
WoW > Work

Monitors, not PCs turned on and off. Power strips having shut off. Icons moved for "no reason". Icons moved deliberately (really...what use is having the "Show Desktop" icon ON THE DESKTOP?!) Someday I'll look back on all my crazy calls and laugh. Of course, it will be from within the walls of a padded cell, but still...I'll laugh.

david.parkin
david.parkin

It happens in Voice Service to. I was the support Engineer for a company and got a call from a client. The woman said " Tony has gone away and we need forward all his calls to his Voicemail." Not knowing the site, I asked " What do you dial to forward calls into your voicemail system?" "I dont want to forward all my calls to voicemail!" "OK but if you did..how do you do it?" "Your not listening, I dont want to forward my calls to voicemail, its Tony's phone we want to forward to voicemail!" " Yes I understand that but when you DO have the occassion to forward your phone to voicemail, what do you dial?" Response was "I dont dial. I push a button." Frustration setting in "Ok what do others dial when they want to get into thier voicemail?" "I dont know. Should I ask Bob? He is here" "Yes that would be a good start." A pause with distant sounds of voices.. then "Bob says he answers his phone all the time and doesnt let it go to voicemail except when he is on holiday." 2nd tier frustration setting in "Ok say Bob is going on holiday, what does he dial to forward all his calls to his voicemail before he leaves the office?" "I dont know. Should I ask Bob?" "Yes that would be a good thing to do." Another pause with more distant sounds of voices.. then "Bob says he isnt going on holiday, but Tony is on holiday so should we ask him?" At which point I hung up

patrick_mullen
patrick_mullen

There are people who should not be allowed in any room that contains a computer.

chrisbedford
chrisbedford

This is an old saying, goes back many years but I don't know where it comes from: The three most dangerous things in a Data Centre are a programmer with a screwdriver, a hardware techie with a floppy disk, and a user with an idea. Still valid today!

jemorris
jemorris

and I second that motion!

jemorris
jemorris

Got a call from the reception desk that their multifunction copier/printer just turned off. Yes they checked to make sure it was still plugged in. When I got there I looked at the back of the machine and the power cord had worked its way loose! I reached back. plugged it in and it came right on. "Oh we didn't check back there, just down at the wall..." I smiled at them, rolled my eyes & mentioned this blog (they were also amused). Then I said "oh boy, a new story for it." I was told not to use their names, I then smiled even bigger and after several threatening remarks (in jest I believe-hope) I told them that I would never do that... no matter how much fun it would be!

Tink!
Tink!

My co-worker asked "didn't you save those files in my folder?" (I had scanned some docs and saved them as PDFs in her folder a few moments earlier.) She's supposed to email these PDFs to a client. "Yes." I replied. "They're not there. I don't see them." I get up and walk over to her desk already seeing the problem as I approach (I swear she does this every other time) She was in Microsoft Word, looking for PDF files. As soon as I got to her desk she realized her mistake. LOL. Got my exercise for the day!

TBone2k
TBone2k

First question is always "is it plugged in"? In this case it wasn't. I can understand you have to do some billable work, but I would have saved myself a trip by finding this problem before going to their office.

Kassandra_Fl
Kassandra_Fl

Is it plugged in? is a good first question, but doesn't always get the expected answer. A couple a years ago, my co-worker got one of those "My computer isn't working and I need you RIGHT NOW" from the Chief of Police's secretary. When asked "Is it plugged in?" - her answer was "I don't do cables - That's YOUR Job!" - so a 6 block walk in the Florida August sun to find - YEP it was unplugged.

waynesreed
waynesreed

A major theme of Sun Tzu's Art of War is the idea that if you leave the enemy no way out but a fight to the death he will fight to the death. In any encounter with people who have just done something embarassing, it is best to offer them a way out. They will be more likely to appreciate you and treat you like an ally, rather than lash out at you like an enemy.

Becca Alice
Becca Alice

Is to remember any dumb mistakes you've ever made. I had one guy I went through a whole troubleshooting routine with on the phone, because he told me his computer turned on but all of his programs were missing, along with a long explanation of how he could see the lights on the CPU and it was making noise. On site inspection turned up that his programs were missing because his screen was black because the monitor was off. So he wins for headdesk moments but I also win for not even thinking to ask if he saw the little green light at the bottom of the monitor. >.

sboverie
sboverie

In 1991, I was setting up a computer for one of our admins, she was used to a typewriter. I installed an application and I was walking her through getting started. A message popped up "Press any key to continue" and I told her to press any key. She replied in irritation "I did!", I asked her which key she pressed and it was the shift key. I had always used the space bar as the "Any" key and was surprised that she managed to find a key that did not work. We found out that shift, control, alt and similar keys did not work for the "ANY key" prompt.

C'Town LarryMac
C'Town LarryMac

Gee. So I guess there IS some validity to a user asking where the 'Any' key is. Who would have thought...?

Luke G.
Luke G.

...I began making all such prompts in my software say "press (almost) any key"... ;)

Travst
Travst

At the moment that the customer realizes they're wrong, I place a mental bet with myself. Do they back up and accept responsibility, or continue to blame me? Sadly, most people refuse to accept responsibility and place the blame, at least in part, on the shoulders of the tech.

Antediluvian Paladin
Antediluvian Paladin

Boy, that must have been one deadly table. What a great idea for Mythbusters. Can a table with a one inch edge cut through a computer power cord when shoved up against a sheetrock wall? This blog makes for a good story but the numbers just don't add up. Sorry but this guy is pulling your legs and the laugh's on you.

jemorris
jemorris

there was "a one inch edge" or "a sheetrock wall"? I had an occasion several years ago where the customer cut through the outer shielding and into one of the signal wires of the monitor data cable. The makeshift desk/table was very heavy and on casters, the edge of it was mostly rounded with the wall behind it being wood paneling. The combined thickness of the monitor's power cable and the rest of the data cable kept it from being cut all the way through, but I am sure with enough repeated impacts it would have cut all the way through. When I was making regular "out in the field service calls" I've seen tables and desks that looked like WWII surplus, very heavy and often not in the best of condition used to put a common office computer on.

Andrew.Hall
Andrew.Hall

Ok, so me and the guy in the cube were sitting here reading these as a user comes up to us. She is a total b-word and everyone in the office hates her. She told us here Internet Explorer stopped working. The guy next to me got up to go help her. She couldn't access home.microsoft.com but yahoo.com and msn.com worked just fine...

tpotter
tpotter

apparently home.microsoft.com now gives everyone: "The website declined to show this webpage"

kjohnson
kjohnson

I once had to calm down a hysterical young woman who had been told there was a virus on the disk on her desk. She had been touching it, holding it, and carrying it around! It turned out that she didn't realise that computer viruses are harmless to humans. What did I do about it? I waited until someone in Tech Republic showed interest in the topic of stupid user complaints and then I told everyone about the incident.

danak
danak

Wow. Look at all the posts. I often wonder if we've not made a quantum leap in learning capcity that has exceeded the ability of one generation to absorb. The greatest laugh I ever extinguished (almost got a cramp) was when a teacher brought her laptop into my office wondering why it wouldn't print to the network printer she was used to printing to. There she was standing there with laptop in hand, nothing plugged into it, running on its own battery and this was when wireless networks were still exotic and well beyond our budget. Didn't even have the Ethernet cable adapter plugged into the card. This little episode finally trumped the one when another teacher was bitterly complaining to me (while I was standing on my head trying to plug the wires into her new desktop) that she couldn't get the floppy disk to go all the way into her laptop's external drive. I looked at the disk hanging out of the drive, reached over, took it out and flipped it over. Disk fit just fine, worked great ... I went back to my inverted position and nothing more was said.

BethLL
BethLL

I provided IT support to generals and admirals at my last assignment. The four star said his speakers had stopped working. He had knocked a book into the power button and did not notice the light was off. I fixed it, he asked what happened. I told him it was an organic interface anomaly. He laughed, saying that was the nicest way to tell someone it was their fault. Made points that day!

peter.langer
peter.langer

What kind of desk severes a power cord like that? Wouldn't it have to be metal? And if so the severing would cause a short and most likely a hefty and noisy spark.

baldwia
baldwia

Working in a large High School with lots of Doctoral types, we have lots of silly issues. I try not to belittle these folks because they have their area of expertise and I have mine. I know I couldn't handle 200 teenagers over 7 periods, 5 days a week. I use the "You know why I know this don't you" line all the time... But not for the teacher who let her guinea pig wander around the classroom and called us when she had pc problems...because the pig had chewed up her power cord. I thought she had pretty big rats or something when I held up the cord to show her. That was a first and last.

chris.lambert
chris.lambert

Would that be the first and last guinea pig?

C'Town LarryMac
C'Town LarryMac

A customer called to say that their CD drive was not working. Sure enough, the drive was recognized but showed no disc. Unfortunately, it was one of those drives with the slot, instead of the tray so I couldn't manually eject the disc - my only option was to remove the drive and try to disassemble it to get the disc out and put in a replacement drive. I took the PC apart and found the CD laying on top of the drive - she had "inserted" it between the drive and the bay cover above it.

davidsont
davidsont

That's a good one! I worked for a medical organization and had the same scenario. The doctor had put the application disc in but it would not recognize the disc and he couldn't get it out. The old slot type cd drives. We had a lot of Compaq Desktop EN machines with them but I only recall that one issue with the doctor. Thanks for the memories!

it
it

The scenerio that led to these 2 incidents: Company owner of large business wanted to set up a computer at his remote office (home). He insisted he knew how to set everything up. I had the computer drop-shipped to his location. Incident 1: "The mouse and keyboard are junk. I can't get them to work!" Fix for incident 1: Told him to install the batteries in the wireless keyboard and mouse setup. Incident 2: "I can't get any sound from the computer. I've tried everything!" Fix for incident 2: Ordered him a set of speakers.

seanferd
seanferd

Doesn't she know that's where the credit cards go?

nick
nick

These people pay our wages and keep many of us employed. Have a good laugh, with the customer if appropriate, but never humiliate the person.

degeekette
degeekette

Caller: When I plug my camera cable into the computer, it doesn't download my pictures. Me: Is the camera turned on? Caller: Oh, you mean camera has to be plugged in, not just the cable? After being nice enough to not make her feel like an idiot, she had one more question for me... While I have you on the phone, my printer hasn't been working. Me: Is it turned on? Caller: Oh.

cupcake
cupcake

I worked for a large metropolitan hospital in Phoenix and we were supporting a pretty good network of Macs. In every setting there is always one person who is a self proclaimed "expert" and this one managed to change the beep sound on the receptionist's computer. The computer, being inches away from the patient waiting area (pregnant women and usually children) started "beeping", but because the sm@rta$$ had changed the beep sound to a word sampled from a movie ($h!t), the call came into me with the woman screaming 'my computer is swearing'! The printer had run out of paper and it keep beeping to get her to add paper...

Tink!
Tink!

Now I have yet another prank I can pull on my co-worker. :D (Although it most likely won't be an explicative. Do need to keep some semblance of decency in the office.)

jemorris
jemorris

Got a friend's kid to say a number of phrases ("stop that", "owww", "that hurts", "boy you're in trouble now!" etc..) in a very whiny voice, then replaced most of a boss's default sounds one day when he was out. Every one got a big laugh out of it at first. he keeps his computer sound turned off most of the time now (did have to change them back too). Now whenever someone plays a practical joke on anyone else around here they blame me first...

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