Users in the wild: Some new species

Jeff Dray loves to dissect the quirks and foibles of the customers he runs into during his support rounds. Here are a few "types" to add to the mix.

I've been ruminating about the different customers I have visited this week, and — surprise! surprise! — I've found that they fall into several types, so this is almost a "Ten weirdest kinds of customer and how to survive them,"  except I don't have ten types, and they aren't all weird.


The first type I encountered today was the Shouter. He wasn't angry, impatient, upset, or concerned; he just occupied a higher spot on the Richter scale than me. At first I thought he was complaining, but this turned out not to be the case. He was just a very loud person. In fact he was very pleasant apart from the necessity of holding down the lighter bits of machinery whenever he spoke.

I tried to moderate his volume using the whispering technique — the theory being that the louder someone speaks to you, the quieter your reply causes them to lower their volume. Sadly, this works only with normal people, and, thankfully, most of my customers are not what you would categorize as normal, so the ruse failed, and I found myself talking louder and louder instead.

The next type was an irreplaceable Whirlwind. He could not envisage the company he worked for being able to trade unless he was at his post, keeping the wheels of commerce greased and turning smoothly. I resisted the temptation to point out that the graveyards are full of essential workers. He flitted from one workstation to the next, encouraging, cajoling, demanding, checking, and generally making himself unpopular with everybody in the building. He came to me and started to question me about how long the repair was going to take. As I had only just arrived, I was not yet able to give an estimate because I hadn't yet discovered the cause of the fault.

Having sorted out the Whirlwind I drove to my next customer. This time I entered the office and was told to see the person in the corner. From the door I couldn't see anyone, so I set off and discovered a kind of den at the back of the room. The den was a bit like the kind of cubicles found in American offices, where the workers are herded into boxes that always remind me of a battery hen unit.

I realized that the den was made by strategically placed furniture and boxes of paper and the occupant was deliberately hiding herself away. Even the way she dressed was designed to make her blend into the walls. It was hard work getting her to tell me about the problem, but it was soon fixed, and as I left she appeared to melt into the background again. It was obvious that she did not want to be noticed; I attributed this to shyness and tailored my work methods accordingly.

The next two people were in the same office and polar opposites. One was an overwhelming optimist, a glass half-full person, and his colleague was a pessimist of the kind that had me reaching for any sharp objects, in case I needed to slit my own wrists. It was amusing that everything that the first one saw as a good thing, the second one managed to see as a problem. They were like a kind of bi-polar Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

I decided that I would try to be neutral and steer the middle path. This was not easy, as each remark I made was greeted with glee by one of the pair and with despondency by the other. Trying to be positive was not easy; having diagnosed the fault, I explained that I would have it sorted in a few minutes. Not surprisingly, this was received by one as the best news of the decade and by the other as a portent of Armageddon. Think of:

"Great! We can get this work processed and out the door by lunchtime. Thank you very much!"

And from the other side:

"I suppose the [expletive deleted] thing will be making its horrible noise for hours now. I've got a headache and my foot hurts…"

Deciding that I couldn't win, I finished the job and left as quickly as possible. Of course, one of them was impressed with my efficiency, and the other thought I was rushing and trying to get away.

All in all, I thought I was weird, but sometimes the people you meet are more interesting than the job itself. It has often been said that fixing the customer is as important as fixing the technology. I disagree; I think fixing the customer is far more important than fixing the technology and is a great deal more difficult to achieve.

Have you noticed any particularly distinct varieties among your users lately?

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