"This page intentionally left blank"

This sentence, when I first saw it in an IBM manual, totally confused me. "What is the point," I asked myself, "of having this sentence? Of course I can see that the page is blank. What's more, doesn't the sentence actually contradict itself, because the page really ISN'T blank anymore?"

Then I thought about it some more, and realized that they had a reason for printing that message: they didn't want people to think they had "messed up" by forgetting to print material on that page. The material from the previous page DID really end on that page, and the material on the following page DOES really start there. In other words, they were saying, "It's OK, we know what we're doing, and we didn't make a mistake here."

When working with your customers, having credibility with them and gaining their trust is critical.   If they have questions about your ability, or if they're nervous about what you're asking them to do, they will resist.  In that case, your time to resolve the problem ticket will increase, and your productivity will decline.

Think to yourself, "Where might the customer have a problem or be nervous about my instructions?"  It may be helpful to remember what Sun Tzu wrote in his classic book "The Art of War":  "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles."  Your general approach, when giving instructions in this area, is to emphasize that you know what you're doing and you know why the customer might be nervous.  For example,

- A customer attached a file to an e-mail message, but now wants to dis-attach it.  In stepping the customer through the process, and if it's applicable, say to the customer, "Now just be aware that when you press the 'delete' key, all you're doing is preventing the file from being sent along with the note.  That file still exists on your computer.  It's not being deleted even though you're pressing the 'delete' key."

- A customer is calling about a new release of a particular application.  In working with that customer, be aware of key differences from the earlier release, and emphasize that awareness.  You might say, for example, "Yes, I know that in that earlier release, you had to do [x].  However, in this release, you now have to do [y].  That was a major change."

- A customer is calling about Windows updates.  Think about saying something like, "Yes, EVEN IF your virus definitions are current, you STILL need those Windows updates."

When you talk with customers this way, you gain their trust and show your awareness of their situation.

Questions or comments: e-mail me at


Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.


Excellent points; although this short piece does not begin to convey the pre-requisite skill and judgment that goes into effective helpdesk. A person needs YEARS of experience working with other people in order to know how people describe their problems. One of my favorites was "Why are my commas up in the air?" -- that's an apostrophe. The effective helpdesk technician groks "dot-dot" (colon), "dot-comma" (semicolon), "squiggly" (tilde) and can speak that language when necessary; but in professional communications always uses correct terms. This: " is a quote, and this: ' is an apostrophe (not double quote and single quote). An entire generation of children have grown up thinking that a backslash \ is a slash, and therefore / is the backslash. Thank you Bill Gates for this bit of confusion. It means the helpdesk technician must spend extra time EVERY time a slash or quote is specified to make sure everyone agrees on what the word means. I mean, think about it -- someone totally unfamiliar with computers hears you say "aych-tee-tee-pee-colon-slash-slash" and maybe it sounds a bit gothic.


I've worked in the Helpdesk environment for more than seven years and I have to comment that having terminology is the least of my daily worries. My current IT department allows all users to act as administrators to their computers. As such the employers are downloading various types of programs for their personal use which interferes with the settings to our company's programs. Then they call us for resolution and get peeved when we can't find an immediate fix. I want to scream, "Get your kids' pictures and mp3's and games off the company machine and stop surfing porn and maybe you wouldn't have all these issues." Then there are those user's who still haven't grasped the concept of using Help files and Google. Yes, I know that stupid people keep me employed but geez, where do you draw the line and say "Enough, already." How many times have I had to walk a user through configuring cells in their Excel spreadsheet to reflect the correct values or helping a user hide the "paragraph symbols" in their Word document. Do they think that I recieve training to answer these questions? No, I pop a few keywords into Google to find them an answer (something they could have easily found with a little determination). If nothing else, working IT has taught me an important lesson, "You dont have to be smart to hold a high position and make a lot of money."

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