IT Policies

Lines in the sand: Three requests support techs should turn down

There's policy, and then there's real life. Users often make inappropriate requests from the help desk and its techs. Look out for these big ones, and make sure that your support staff is prepared to refuse them.

There's policy, and then there's real life. Users often make inappropriate requests from the help desk and its techs. Look out for these big ones, and make sure that your support staff is prepared to refuse them.

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One problem with running a service-oriented help desk is that people keep coming to you for help.

OK, that's meant mostly as a joke. Mostly. In my experience I've found that creating strong relationships with one's clients will lead to more service calls. It has something to do with inhibition and intimidation. If customers have a positive experience with a tech, they'll feel reassured about the support process, and this will make them more inclined to ask for assistance in the future.

Creating comfortable clients is ideal for a freelance or contract technician, who gets paid by the call or by the hour. Every service request is money in one's pocket. Comfortable clients can be less ideal for a standing in-house support team, though. Users' inhibitions can become so low that they start asking the help desk to provide support that's outside appropriate boundaries. This is especially likely in environments that don't impose any checks on the urge to file a support request, like fees, departmental charge-backs, or ticket accounting.

Responsible IT departments should have published policies about what they'll support. Even if those policies are out there, though, that won't keep techs from getting requests for assistance that are beyond the help desk's authority. Being aware of the types of inappropriate—and sometimes informal—support requests will let you anticipate them and will let you prepare your techs to handle such things, if and when they appear.

Project work or IT engineering tasks. The role of the help desk is, first and foremost, to provide incident-based support to the client. Many places, including my own office, economize by having support techs also work within project teams developing new services. Help desk issues should always trump project work, though. If an IT project or engineering task is important enough that it can't be set aside in favor of addressing emergent support requests, then it's important enough that the project's manager should have dedicated personnel working on it, rather than counting on the help desk techs having slack time. Requests not related to work. Whether it's answering questions about problematic home computers or fielding requests to set up MP3 players on company-owned machines, there's no reason for help desk techs to spend work time answering non-business requests. Let me be clear, I'm not an unfeeling robot. I'll chat for a minute or two with colleagues about problems they may be having with machines at home, or I'll provide shopping advice. That's the extent of it, though. Our support policy excludes privately owned hardware and clearly outlines what's supported on company-owned machines. That's where the responsibility of our techs ends, and I've had to explain this to a number of users. Shop talk during social events or off hours. There's an old cliché that insists that doctors are always being solicited for professional advice at cocktail parties and the like. I don't know about whether that's actually true for M.D'.s or not, but it's certainly true for IT pros. I've been at many an office social event, only to have a colleague bring up a problem that they've been having. Support pros deserve the opportunity to unplug from work responsibilities now and again. I don't hesitate to let my users know when I'm "off the clock."

Those are the three types of inappropriate inquiries I see most often as an office support tech. If you have any others to offer, let me know in the comments.

75 comments
topgun.tjd
topgun.tjd

You can do what I do and charge them $100. bucks and a case of beer! :-)

jedmundson
jedmundson

I've suffered similar problems as the local desktop support person. One user called me at 12:00 every time he had a problem. He knew that I ate my lunch in my office. I turned off my phone and he came by my office at the same time (my office door had a window.) I covered it up. He then banged on my door for more than 10 minutes. I moved to the company cafeteria and put a sign on the table that said *I'm at lunch. Please give me some time to eat.* They then left me alone. I've been called at home for users' personal computer problems. I told them that I charge $300.00 an hour with a minimum charge for two hours. I got no more calls at home. Unfortunately, I worked for a large outsourcing company. My boss (within the company I worked for) gave me the jobs of supporting 5 servers on my local site, support for a second site 2 hrs. away, and 7 databases on two separate site in two different states. In the end, the contracted corporation decided to terminate my site's contract because there were too few computers, even though most of the machines were shared and we ran them 24/7/365. Well, that's business. You get laid off. You move on. All you can do is do what you can do and move on.

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

"I am not Insured to work on your system" Should something go wrong that is not forseen then where do we stand? Works 100% of the time.

andereck
andereck

More and more of these "opinion" pieces are negative right from the start. I understand that unhappy and cynical IT people need a place to stick together, but this is nearly a dialy thing. IT professionals are in a service industry and that should be understood from the start. Apparently the editorial staff here needs to look up "service" in the online dictionary. Negative standoffish attitues are the reason that IT staff is outsourced more often everyday. No where else can somebody just refuse to talk about a subject or try to provide help. Looking at your watch and saying "I'm off the clock" because somebody had the gall to ask who they considered an expert an opinion or advice on something technical is inexcusable. I'm removing my email address from this site mailing list due to the constant negative tone. mandereck

Nancy.Pfenning
Nancy.Pfenning

Just when you think you've seen it all. I was on a conference call when the person who cleans our building plopped her laptop on my desk and asked me to fix it. She was oblivious to the fact that I was otherwise occupied despite the headset and one-sided conversation and began to tell me what was wrong with her computer. I motioned that I was on the phone and the next time I saw her I suggested that I would fix her computer if she came over to clean my house. Haven't seen the laptop since.

Snak
Snak

Apart from the fact that we ALL have a skill of some sort and if I help a joiner friend fix his PC, I can then call upon him to fix my cupboards when necessary. I'm a nice guy and am ever willing to help out if I can and they can't. I was once called to my boss' house to 'clean up the junk' on his PC. It took maybe two hours, but he gave me $200 for doing so. Another time I did the same thing for free for a friend, and was rewarded 6 months later as she recommended me to someone looking to buy 2 2nd user PC's. I made $600 on that deal. Karma!

jocemar
jocemar

I've been working for a multi-national bank where one of the items mentioned - help desk support to personall HW & SW on company's desktop - have already been takled with success by not allowing desktop users to install any software (and soon hardware), by means of simply not allowing them to have local admin rights to their machines, so that all software installed is done by means of desktop management software. I know it's a long way to reach this maturity point, but this is just to say there are means of controlling companies resources to be used only for business, besides taking care of Windows and app systems health more effectively, what's the main benefit in this case, which also helps reduce system support calls.

scorpion_saga
scorpion_saga

This is an old tired and beaten topic. It happens in all fields, not just geek-dom. Pro, or not so pro. I learned this lesson many years ago when people thought it was cool to ask to borrow software CD's for example. We all had a hand in creating this problem by not knowing boundries. Then there are the people that thrive on being the "computer" whiz. Don't even look at me with love in your eyes and no money in your pocket. The best way to get rid of unwanted help requests is to charge the appropriate amount of money in the first place.

Senrats
Senrats

I worked for a company that actually had two guys in our IT department go to his house and dig a ditch in his front yard. The same CEO had his Data Com guys go to his house and setup his "home lighting system" that integrates a PC to his home lighting. I worked for another company where the CEO had a network engineer go to his house and setup his router/firewall/network when he was not home. The CEO was a real jerk and turned the A/C off in his house when he was away and would not let his cleaning staff turn it back on (and we're talking Texas in July), so it was very hot. Well the engineer goes to lunch and brings back a large cup of Ice Tea to cool down. The engineer puts the tea on the floor in the wiring closet where he is working. He looks down a few minutes later and sees that he spilled it on the carpet. He freaks out and trys to clean it up, but he can't. He runs to the store to get some carpet cleaner spray and scrubs it. This didn't work! The engineer didn't know what to do, so he finished working and came back to the office. When he came in he had this "Oh Sh@t" look on his face. We asked what was wrong and he pulled this giant hair ball out of his pocket. As he was scrubing the carpet it created this giant ball of carpet fuzz the size of his hand! The CEO found out about it and the guy was let go the next day. I swear these are not made up stories and I talked to the guys it happened to. The thing that sucks... these probably aren't the worst stories.

Arcturus909
Arcturus909

At some point in my life I was taught the lesson that when people say, "That's not my job" they are ducking responsibility and trying to get out of doing work. That was long before I ever worked in a Help Desk position. Now that I am, I have a hard time referring people to call our outsourced Help Desk FPOC for issues that I could solve with a little effort. My job is to support 3rd party software that our outsourced Help Desk has no experience with. But I get calls all the time about "how to" do thing x or thing y within windows. If its something I know how to do, I can't bring myself to get them to call the Help Desk because its quicker to just instruct them. If its soemthing I don't know how to do, 9 times out of 10 I see a benefit in reading some Help Files or Googling the thing so I can learn something new as well as instruct my user. In other words, I am my own worst enemy at times. :)

jwebfoot2togo
jwebfoot2togo

How about the hardware they buy and want you to install im their work PC. Has happened to me more than once on sound cards and burners.

tyoffe
tyoffe

how about this one. I was asked to do a simple slide show for the one of our firm partners. 4 weeks into it I was making a slide show with 5 songs. each song had to be timed just right to transition from halloween photos, to thanksgiving, to xmas, to easter. 5 slide shows. I had to make twenty copies, pics had to be in perfect order. i had too watch it SEVERAL times. at one point i told them i can not exhaust anymore time to it but was begged to finish. mind you this is a very small brokerage firm where I am asked to do several non work related things

reisen55
reisen55

Doing anything at all for "friends." It sounds nice but I have learned that my friends want demanding work on their computers, and they do not offer thanks nor do they pay me for my time. I shun it entirely now. Avoid "home" computers whenever possible. They are deadly things and I only do them if I am guaranteed payment by my terms and time and/or (b) it is a system that can bring me sales and networking benefits in the future. I had one senior senior executive try to screw me outof $10 for a job and then his wife wanted me to look at their game system for their kids. And they lived on Park Avenue too. Do not quote cheap. Cheap begats future problems. Rich people tend to be cheaper than anybody else. See above case.

JustinF
JustinF

We got a call yesterday about a PC that was sold to a staff member as an asset disposal, (no warranty, no support). They wanted to know if they could remove the monitor from its stand, our response? "It's your PC you can do whatever you want to it" :D

dnumme
dnumme

The way I've learned to handle help requests @ social hour is to tell them the story about the surgeon who had somebody ask him for help at a social hour. He asked the person to removing their clothing so he could see the problem area. Needless to say, once I say that with a smile on my face, most people get the hint.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

Having been asked to fill many shoes and wear many hats, there aren't many requests that I've had to turn down in the line of work. One of the major things that some users think is okay to ask is if I will service their laptops from home. Others have tried to pass of their personal laptops as work machines. This usually become apparent when the printer drivers don't match with their types in office or their NIC cards balk at hookup time because the MAC addresses don't match with any router. I've been asked to provide at home support by some users that again try to pass them off as work machines at home and they have mostly games loaded.

GSG
GSG

Our support techs had one of our Drs. ask them to burn a copy of some software. At first, he only wanted a "backup" copy, but then it degenerated into he wanted 100 copies to distribute while he was on a medical mission. What was it he wanted copies of? The entire text of the Bible on CD. I think he needs to do a search on "10 Commandments". I'm not a bible scholar, but I seem to remember that one of the 10 was something like "Thou shalt not steal". edited because my "s" key keeps moving.

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

for a person who only made 2 posts, one to say they are off!! Is it just me, or is that not more negative than what you complain about!

williamjones
williamjones

...but you've overlooked the "positive" pieces we've done here in the User Support blog. Here are just a few...for example... http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/helpdesk/?p=154 http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/helpdesk/?p=199 http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/helpdesk/?p=210 http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/helpdesk/?p=212 The reality is this site is supposed to provide "the view from the ground". Sometimes being in Support is a mixed bag. Regarding your criticism, I wasn't specific about how I handle work-related inquiries that come up during social engagements. You *assumed* that I would be rude, or standoffish. I don't see a problem with politely asking someone to send me an email, or to bring their problem to me the next working morning. I pride myself on providing a high level of service. A significant part of that is making sure that I don't get burnt-out (see Jeff's great post on that topic). I don't think that's out of line for anyone, whether they're in IT or not. Sorry you feel like the site's not useful. Hopefully, you'll change your mind. (edited to correct a stupid spelling error)

dhurley
dhurley

The issues that are addressed on Tech Republic are often ones that are difficult to deal with or are real problems for support people in the IT industry. I think you must be looking for the "sunshine and butterflies" support group down the hall. For myself, I will stick around to receive and share opinions with my colleagues on how to deal with unpleasant issues that arise in our daily professional existence. By the way, IT is and is not a "service industry" depending on what we're doing at the moment but apparently you think of it in terms of servitude where most of my co-workers view ourselves as a source of guidance and authority. Being from the USA, I am well acquainted with the concept of "If you don't like the show, turn the channel". You're invited to do so, but we don't really care to hear the announcement...

AttackComputerWhiz
AttackComputerWhiz

Hate to tell you this, but your calling IT a "service industry" is why things have become so negative. I like to think that the time, energy and work I put into developing my skills puts me in a different category than a cashier, maid or sales clerk. To expect me to be at beck and call 24/7/365 is ridiculous. In addition, you are so wrong when you say that "No where else can somebody just refuse to talk about a subject or try to provide help". Lawyers, doctors, stock brokers, investment bankers and many other professionals will not discuss business in a social setting; most all the people I know in those fields will hand you a business card and tell you to call during business hours, often while quoting their rates. To expect any less of an IT professional tells me you either don't care about your job or you're not in IT and just here for the beer (free advice). Either way, I will be glad to hand you my card (with my basic rates printed on the back) when you accost me while I am in the restroom or in line for a movie on the weekend with my kid. At work, do not ask me to give you detailed instructions on how to set up your home printer. Do not ask me to go through your personal PC to spy on your kids' online activities (although I will recommend any number of good freeware products so you can do it yourself). Do not bring me a stack of CDs to rip to your iPod (it has happened more than once). I have gotten to the point that, when someone comes into my office with a big smile and a chocolate bar, I greet them with an equally big smile and a cheery "NO!!!!"

unixwolf.edu
unixwolf.edu

I'll bet if the Chairman or any Board member where to put in a request, someone from IT would be there to try and fulfill it.

wsanders
wsanders

Everyone that knows me knows that I live and breathe the IT world. I have no problem giving advice on what to buy and assisting them in setting up systems. I am always available to answer a question. If I am at an office function and someone brings up a problem then I ask them to send me an email to remind me of their issue and that I will follow up with them. If the question is about their personal pc and it is something that cannot be simply answered I let them know what my personal hourly rate is and offer to setup a time to come by. This has worked for me since I started working on PCs in 1984.

Somewhat anonymous
Somewhat anonymous

I too have always thought it was wrong to say "not my job." And actually doing things that were "not my job" has helped me a lot in getting better jobs. I started out as admin support and made my way into doing project management, data requests and tech support that way. But now, even though I work at a different organization than when I was admin support, I have a hard time with where to draw the line and I find that the people I support don't understand the difference between tech support and admin support. For example, formatting an Excel spreadsheet is something I think their admin support should be able to do but apparently my predecessor would just do it for them. I know how to do it too, and I don't want to answer "no" but I can't use all my time doing that stuff for them. That's what my predecessor did and she got fired for not doing her job!

sangraal
sangraal

The it sounds like the it dept. needs to step up and provide these things appropriately

mastertexan
mastertexan

I work at a small real estate firm and I've helped every single agent with their home pcs. I don't mind doing it plus I like the challenge (and there are a few!!).

Bacon 3000
Bacon 3000

Family can be difficult too, but at least grandma bought us a new 14 cubic foot freezer even though I told her there was no charge for the hours I've poured into straightening out her issue with Quicken and her Zip drive back-ups. My neighbor across the street on the other hand, agreed to reimburse me for $20.00 to order the system restore DVD to fix her computer. I told her no charge for the labor but I need the 20 bucks... I got a frozen pizza but still no 20 bucks. Lesson learned the hard way...again.

-Loanman
-Loanman

When I had a small shop set up in an affluent bedroom community, my initial strategy was to be the cheapest in town. I Was $15 cheaper than th4e next cheapest. I also nearly went broke! Got maybe one or two calls per week. Once I increased my hourly rate to around the 75th percentile for that area (based on some sage advice from a fellow businessman), I almost immediately got slammed with work. Had to hire techs to handle all the calls that came flooding in (I had intended it to be a one-man operation). Some "rich" folks live by the adage "You get what you pay for." That's why they drive a Bentley rather than an Oldsmobuick.

denybkd
denybkd

the best way to handle non-business requests is to set-up your own business...I've done this and anytime a user needs more technical support at home, I simply tell them I am available for hire outside of work hours... not only have i built my client base but it definitely knocked down business hour requests. Start your own small business on the side and watch the personal requests at your primary job subside and your client base begins to rise.

unixwolf.edu
unixwolf.edu

I have been asked to provide support for family members of Professors who aren't even in the dept I work for. Foolish me I said yes once, and now it is almost assumed that I am suppose to provide support. I am at the point of being passive/aggressive and ignoring their emails (I am sure they have gotten the message by now; I hope).

Golfloon
Golfloon

Unless you want to support a piece of users equipment for the rest of its natural life don't touch it. One of my techs was daft enough to look at a users machine with a BSD and everything that has happened on that machine ever since he has ended up fixing in his own tine.....

fionncreagh
fionncreagh

Bible scholar, maybe not. Legal scholar, it would depend on the version of the Bible -- many are in the public domain. While it would definitely be beyond the mandate of most IT support departments, it could be left to the individual tech whether or not to make the (public domain) copies, especially if the request was made by someone who was willing to pay for the disks.

Arcturus909
Arcturus909

A big smile *AND* a chocolate bar?! How'd you get so lucky? I'm lucky to get the former... ;)

TG2
TG2

LOL although for me.. its.. Thanks for the Chocolate Bar... now get me the marshmellows, graham crackers, and by the way.. no.. ;)

Da Saint
Da Saint

I do the same thing - emails at work and a simple request for a few bucks for coming out to someone's house. A quick assessment of the situation as soon as you walk in can save a lot of time and embrassement. Many times I took one look at the PC and bailed, telling them they need a new system. Simple fixes I'll ask for a Fast $40 (ATM reference a lot of people are familiar with). Never had a problem getting at least that.

cachapa
cachapa

I don't purchasing anything. I tell them what to buy and I will stand there with them on the order pages if necessary. Otherwise, they don't buy; I can't fix.

gitmo
gitmo

One of my first software development gigs in the '70s opened my eyes. I developed an app for an engineer and he asked me how much he owed me. I gave him a quote, and he cussed me. Said it was way too low, and if I expected to do more business with him I would charge him a fair price. After several price increases, I hit a price he considered fair. We did a lot of business together and I never low-balled my prices again.

reisen55
reisen55

My experience with rich people is deadly. I have rebuilt a network for a dentist who drives a BMW and takes vacations in Aruba. He questions every damn dime I submit My response is that he does not get Class A service. The rich fellow on Park Avenue had an executive assistant who later told me not to go visit his home. "Why did you do that?" Rich get there and stay that way by watching every nickel and penny. I avoid them.

chris.leu
chris.leu

That's exactly what I've done. Made some decent money off of referrals, as well!

a_fairb
a_fairb

If you choose to help, never accept payment. Small 'thankyous' beer etc can be Ok depending on the giver. If they paid you for it, you can expect to be on call 24/7 for every subsequent fault, real or imagined. I will take a look at most problems and advise, but always reserve the right to say I'm too busy or don't want to do it. If I do a fix, it's as a favour which I NEVER call in.

boomchuck1
boomchuck1

The version of the Bible may not be copyrighted, but likely the software on the disk is. These disks don't just have a raw version of the Bible, they usually are set up for search, study, and other special functions. If you had to pay for the first disk then it's almost guaranteed that the software is copyrighted.

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

Maybe so, but you can bet the moon that the CD was *NOT* meant to be freely distributed without compensation.

bobby
bobby

Eh, I would have done it for the Dr. It is a good thing he wanted. Find a public domain Bible then burn like crazy. If I was busy at night and couldn't do it I would suggest where he could have it done. Maybe there is a teen at his church that would do it. When folks ask me to do stuff non-work related I either moonlight with pay, tell them I can't do it because I am busy, or suggest places that can fix their problem. Most common sense people if told the truth will respect your boundaries. After awhile they know my expectations here in the office. Everyone though has a different context for work, this place is very easy going. good chat

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

It's asking a lot to request someone burn 100 CDs. That's a lot of my time swapping disks and responding to "Insert another blank disk" prompts.

unixwolf.edu
unixwolf.edu

Unfortunately, this has had to become a mantra among IT consultants.

The DOBC
The DOBC

Same here. I only will advance buy something I know I can use somewhere else, like a hard drive or memory if I feel like it. Otherwise I get cash up front for at least the parts.

tgray
tgray

I've had a few customers like that! Usually starts where you are doing something as a bit of a favour 'while you are there' - which you wouldn't do if they weren't at least 'nice people' - next thing you know you get a phonecall requesting a bill for the favour and an extended contract! Why - because they like you, like the work you do, want to use you and want to pay for it so they feel they have paid for the right to disturb you!! If only all customers were the same!!

DaemonSlayer
DaemonSlayer

in the given example, there is insufficient evidence to say whether or not that the CD in question was allowed to be distributed with or free of any compensation. (That applies to the copies too.)

Mazdaman
Mazdaman

Perhaps the doctor is a principal or partner of, say, a medical clinic, and is therefore the "boss". He then DOES pay the salary, being the boss. If so, the rest of your objections falter as well. I've done on-site work and later found the boss to be the guy I assumed was a "peon", simply because he was grinding away at a workbench instead of kicking back in a leather chair. Besides, the doctor is going to the guy he associates with computer technical expertise. After all, you wouldn't ask a proctologist to handle your brain tumor, would you?

cowen80194
cowen80194

Well illegal or not if you are doing work not related to the company that is stealing too. Actually you can split hairs on this so many ways. It would have to depend on alot more then the information given. I had some one come in and needed a letter head put on documents with the State of Texas seal. I did the work and received payment for the work. I put together a contract disolving my responsability for the work. I used only his computer and the Seal provided by him. I asked for credentials made a copy for records and called the local Police Department and verified that they were valid. It was. Texas Ranger Sgt. As alot of us hear all the time "I am not very comfortable with change or computers and need some help." He had asked his IT but they wanted him to go way out of his way and he had a case he needed to write up. He lost the template and could not get the Seal how and where it was to be on the documents. Did most of the work quickly while he waited at my request because of the sensativity of the computer. Once done I gave him a few lessons on how to do it himself. I get alot of these types of requests.

Tenagra71
Tenagra71

Piracy was the topic. If it is licensed software, the answer is simple, "No". If it really is available as public domain from somewhere, burn away. Whether it is right to do it at work or on work CD's or to take the techs time to do it, seems secondary to the question of piracy. Not that little old me makes any rules in here, but I just thought it was moving off topic. Best Regards All, Dave

The DOBC
The DOBC

Try asking the doctor for some "free" services and see how responsive he is!

TG2
TG2

oh.. I see... because its "gods" work that he's doing.. that makes everything ok... god doesn't pay the employee salary. the boss of the company does. If the boss, regardless of his/her religious associtaion, comes in and finds you burning 100 disks, that are not company related material, or a company related task, you could get fired. A cd burner costs 25 bucks, time to install, etc, and who's to say the cd burner wouldn't die during heavy usage, and thus be blamed on doing something that isn't company related work? Now, if the employee were tech in a missionary or theology related company, I could easily see the Dr's request as being 'work related' etc.. and thus the tech would probably not have any issue fulfilling the "good" doctor's request. ..but solely based on WHAT he's copying? wrong... a million times wrong!

paul.eggers
paul.eggers

Doesn't take as much time as you would think if you have a CD replicating tower that does multiple copies at once.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

to insert a not-so-nice comment about a certain doctor here. Damn, Palmie, this is killing me! :D

Jellimonsta
Jellimonsta

Probably wants someone else to do the grunt work. :D

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Does Dr. not have any burning software? Does he not know how to use it?

Jellimonsta
Jellimonsta

Set it up and instruct the Dr. on how to swap the CD at the appropriate prompt. After all, it's not brain surgery. :p