DIY optimize

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.

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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?

43 comments
snewton628
snewton628

I've supported some lawyers in the past, and the biggest problem was when the boss tried to cut corners on the service agreements - my sympathies were all with lawyers (hard to believe now). But I ran into a couple of types not mentioned here when I was supporting a medical facility or three. Upfront, I need to say the nurses were 1) generally great folks to work with, and 2) really in charge. But the doctors (particularly surgeons) gave me a few new examples for the zoo. A) The Proud Parent - I so enjoyed being told the doctor's 15-year old child could have had the problem fixed already as I walked in the door. I managed to not say "then call him or her", turn, and leave. B) The Generous Know-It-All - Usually from an internist, I'd get a running lecture on the proper diagnostic procedure, and that I really needed to listen to the history of the past 20 service calls in order to diagnose the problem accurately. Once in more than 200 calls over 4 years it did help - but usually a waste of time. C) The Fully-Educated - I was once told by a heart surgeon that he had been in school for more than 16 years, and there was nothing I could teach him - if the PC did not work the way he thought it should, it was up to me to fix the PC. He did not need to learn anything from me. Of course, the problem was his attempt to read a file from a diskette formatted by his Apple at home on the office PC. Aside from the fact that in 1989 that was not possible, it was also a violation of hospital policy. However, I came close to being (deservedly) fired after saying something like "Well, I've never been sued for malpractice, so it might be possible that I do know something you could usefully learn."

Shatter Points
Shatter Points

My boss is a Micro Manager with ADHD and cannot focus on anything but blaming any person she can when a IT problem arises. She is unethical and says things that are out of line. So the office environment is very hostile and difficult to interact with other office employees regarding an IT issue, when the micro manager has to visit all conversations and insist that she can do your job better. Even though she may not know what she is talking about. This is not a rant against her but rather an example. As an IT tech/help desk employee it is difficult to convey sympathy effective enough when someone is a micro manager and concentrates on the bottom dollar. The main key to controlling the problem is getting the Micro Manager to understand they can know what ever they would like to and that you are doing what you can as technology as allows. Though I always remember that "you can lead a horse to water, but can't make it drink" there are some instances where you can perform all the tasks needed and supply all the right information and still be wrong or see the wrong decision made. So whatever I am told to do, I do it within reason or I always try to find a multitude of solutions to a problem.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

The Shouter - When I find myself raising my voice subconsciously, I make an effort to speak normally. Whispering never seems to effect these people. The Whirlwind - Sometimes I think people see me this way. hmmm Optimists vs pessimists - This pairing occurs more than you would think. One of my supervisors is an incurable optimist. If we were bungee jumping he would say, "Come on, let's jump!" If you point out that the harness isn't fastened his response is, "Don't worrry about it! We'll fasten it on the way down!" More realistic, is the phrase, "This will only take us a few minutes." Several hours later... I like to think I'm neither optimistic nor pessimistic, a realist. But I am afraid when people compare the two of us together I'm cast in the role of pessimist.

JLVFR
JLVFR

Here we have those two, but we also have an example of the "Nervous wreck". She's allways high-strung, and a chain smoker, and, if there's a slight problem with her PC, her normal, high-speed nerves combined with her lack of PC skills make her go "Jonh!!!! My PC is dying!!! OMG what do I do now?!?! Please!!! Help!!!"...

MartyL
MartyL

2) More call center saga. There appears to be a discernable ethnic group out there ? mostly in the American South-East. Not the extreme South-East; people in Florida tend to sound like people from New York ? mostly because they are. I'm talking about that area from Arkansas to Coastal Georgia to North Carolina and back to Kentucky/Tennessee. These people tend toward some regional terminology I don't hear anywhere else. For example: Me: Has the PC booted up to a desktop yet? EU: Yep, ah got mah pitchers raht thar on mah screen saver. Me: Ok, now I'd like for you to power cycle the unit. EU: Ya want me tuh cut 'er off and then cut 'er back on agin? Me: If you would be so kind. EU: Ah ain't gonna kinda do it, ah'm gonna do it fer real. Me: Is the ethernet cable disconnected from the port? If it is, please connect it now. EU: The big phone wahr? It's out all right ? ya want me tuh shove the wahr back in now? Now, I don't want to give the impression that I have anything against our brothers in the Far East, because I don't. They have a terrific work ethic but a mistaken impression of their grasp of spoken American English. But try translating on a 3-way call between one of those guys ("My name is Prana Bindu Megawatty Hawkaloogi, but you can call me Roger") and James "Buba" Creekwader (whose bother, I kid you not, is named Jimmy). An hour of that and you risk permanent aphasia.

MartyL
MartyL

1) Working in call center for a well-known printer mfg (well-known by their initials), I got acquainted with the user-type known as "warranty service field tech." This is the caller who is sent to the end user's location to do warranty work under their boss's license but has no clue themselves. One such insisted on referring to the product by some esoteric field-tech slang term I'd never heard and was upset that I couldn't expedite a replacement. We got it straightened out and as I (well, just before I) hung up, I muttered, "f**in' a**h*le." About ten minutes later, my supervisor called me over and asked if I'd called a caller a "f**in' a**h*le." "Well, duh," I said, "You wouldn't be asking if I didn't." Boss wants to know if I could have handled it better ? another trick question. "Sure I could have," I says, "As a matter of fact, if he calls back, I'll tell him that I was wrong and shouldn't have spoken to him that way and I'll even tell him I'm thoroughly sorry that he's a 'f**in' a**h*le.' But I can't believe I'm the first person to tell him that." My supervisor put a 'duly noted' in my file and let it go. Wise man.

jkameleon
jkameleon

Probably just hard of hearing. Be nice, and speak louder than usual.

V.H. Scarpacci
V.H. Scarpacci

In 26 year of administration I think I have seen them all. The one there is no dealing with is the guy that can't do his job because his computer has a problem and he/she won't relinquish the thing for even 10 minutes to allow someone to evaluate the problem. When this happens I just tell them to call me when they have time or when it breaks down for good.

realjv3
realjv3

I could write a book on variety of customers and personalities as a field tech in Manhattan.

Royc_1
Royc_1

Who said "A pessimist is an Optimist with experience"? . . . . You know who. . . . That is right. . . . Murphy! .

pgit
pgit

I deal with a lot of nervous wreck types. They are by far the most common of the 'abnormal' types out there, around here at least. They are not all the same. Some are just like that without apparent cause. (their job is going smooth, no pressure) Those are the worst to deal with. Someone who is legitimately stressed gets my sympathy. (they still don't need to internalize things so much, though) I point out to everyone that if they really depend on their computer, and who doesn't, they need to ascribe to the "n+1" theory. If you NEED "n" computers, they really NEED n+1, a spare that can be thrown into duty seamlessly. Just yesterday I had a huge office that can't function without internet access. About 40% of their business depends on it. The firewall coughed up the internet facing NIC... zero problem, grabbed a spare box all set and ready, restarted a couple things and they were back up in less than 5 minutes. I had the dead box reinstalled (with one new NIC) and back on the shelf in another 20 minutes. I like those kind of people. I can't tell you how many people in similar situations simply refuse to do the same, have any kind of complete spare (workstation, server, what have you) because it usually sits there for months doing nothing, and to them that's an "unnecessary expense." A few of them no doubt had top have suffered losses exceeding the cost of a spare when critical equipment went bad. Of course then the nervous wrecks come out of the woodwork and the self-important are all over me to get it fixed...

thejdawg569_2000
thejdawg569_2000

I am not upset at your lack of breeding, I am seven generations Floridian, I own a Computer repair and support Company. I think you must have been talking about Southern Ohio reject that migrated down south to get outta the cold. Few Floridians talk as such. A drunken Fisherman from Southern Ohio on the other hand. Anyway just wanted to bust your bubble. As far as the East Indians There the reason computers have come down in price over the years. Americans want to much pay up north to do the same job.

MartyL
MartyL

I just got the quotation marks and apostrophes figured out, and now I see that a hyphen is interpreted as a question mark. Of course - that is exactly how I would code it. It makes perfect sense.

larrybell_2000
larrybell_2000

As an admited "loud talker", I don't usually realize I am doing that. In my case, I too, believe it is due my decreased hearing. When I was young, my dad worked in the garage working with a table saw. I couldn't begin to count the times I went, or had to go, out there while he was running the saw. It hurt my ears, and he never wore hearing protection I can remember. Also, 8 years in band in school didn't help when sitting in front of trumpet players who purposely blew as loud as possible only inches from the back of my head just to irritate me. This (and age) has left me with less than ideal hearing, and I am at or nearing a crossroads as to whether I should get hearing aids. So the 'loud talkers' are either themselves hard of hearing, or they have one or more relatives who are. And they have developed an unconscious habit of talking loud to either hear themselves speak (believing it is a 'normal' level), or so the relative can hear them. And I can't count the times my wife hear me say something that I THINK is muttering to myself. (I hate that).

darpoke
darpoke

a good observation - probably true. It's interesting how many behaviours we might consider character flaws have perfectly reasonable explanations. As for myself, I find that I tend to raise my voice when I'm explaining anything. I don't know why. I imagine it's annoying to others when perceived but can't for the life of me break the habit...

melias
melias

I have used an arguement that gets the sentiment across that they called me to work on the darn thing, get out of my way so I CAN work on it. Of course when I say it to the customer, I am MUCH more polite. If that does not work, I ask said person to schedule time for me to work on it.

tom
tom

Sorry tried to post this to the main thread, but I can't find a that option. I'm sure as soon as I click "Submit Post" I'll find it. Try teaching a teacher. I worked for a school district and while I really respect the job they do, they seem to feel they have to prove they know more than anyone else. Had a group of 20, showing them how to set up their new computers, all with varying skill levels. Half were about 10 steps ahead, the other half were trying to figure out how to use the mouse.

ScouterDude
ScouterDude

Don't know why, but one always sticks in my mind. At the time, we were still on mainframe with green screen terms. No RDP or such. I knew what the guys' problem was, I just needed him to type something very exactly. As I was spelling it out, I could hear the keyboard going a mile a minute. Had to get him calmed down enough to listen. Thankfully, he was not being difficult or nasty, just impatient. Also, I had a bunch of the Literals. On that same system, like now, commands and parameters are separated by spaces. Amazing how many would type 'space' instead of the space bar, when being given verbal instructions. Finally, as to the Professionals - Used to do a lot of work for doctors (at a med school). For me, most of them were in fact somewhat demanding, but at the same time could be downright jovial if you could give them what they were asking for. Not always possible, but satisfying when I could.

RookieTech
RookieTech

disappeared into the mist lol thats funny :P

nick
nick

This person, generally male, has called you out but talks as if he knows everything about PCs and the applications that run on them. In his own view he is so good that you can only wonder why he needed technical support in the first place. However after 5 minutes of this you realise that he just has verbal diarrhoea. When you actually get into fault diagnosis you work out that the PC is dead because Mr Know it all has done something so crazy that you cannot untangle it. Rebuild is the best option and you just know that you will be visiting again next week.

philip.vandoren
philip.vandoren

I don't usually post but this caught my attention as I am currently on unpaid vacation do to a confrontation with a User. Here in the South (Carolina) We meet up with very colorful characters in It field work. The cheapskates and the whirlwind and the know it all persist. But recently I met up with a new one for me. The Psycho office manager lady. This person is a manager in a medical office and they expect their computers to last forever. Its an investment means to them that it will last for decades. Repeatedly I explain that I cannot fix a computer that is not stable. This dell is out of production, refurbs go for 80$. I don't want to touch it. So her response is to create a scene clapping and cheering in a crowded lobby. This is embarrassing and I go into politic mode and try to step out as fast as possible. At this point she starts a shouting match and takes my cell phone on which I have just called my manager. shouting and pointing her finger at me..this kind of tactic is new to me and I don't know what she hoped to accomplish..in the end Its my fault for some unknown reason and I almost lost my job. My boss said I could have handled it better, I don't really know what I could have done better or than run but she had my IPhone so that wasn't really an option. I got back to work in 5 days. Ive been in IT for 11 years and Its become common that IT is low pay high stress punching bag for all the crazy people who made office manager by any means necessary. End of rant

DLClark
DLClark

Apparently seventh generation Floridians don't read "none too good". The poster was talking about some people in the south-east US except Florida that speak in a particular dialect. I have had several friends from the south-east over the years and I can confirm that some people do talk that way. Sometimes it is put-on, but sometimes they just talk like that. Get your facts straight before you start insulting innocent Ohioans. BTW, any Ohioan that talks in a southern dialect is probably from Kentucky.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Reply to the original blog post (way way down at the bottom of the page...)

RookieTech
RookieTech

ive dealt with them before and i just nod my head and do it my way lol then i laugh :)

1bn0
1bn0

Assault and theft is more like it. "I don't really know what I could have done better or than run but she had my IPhone " You should have left and called the police. End of story. Yes, that might create a strained situtation at hte office in the short term but at least you have established the actual circumstances and would be unlikely to get 5 days off unpaid. No. I don't need a lecture. I had to call the police becasue of a problem with my brother and his wife "girlfriend at th time". Haven't had a problem since and my mother still talks to me.

gluvsu
gluvsu

OMG that is awful!!

d.j.elliott
d.j.elliott

What a terrible mess--and you are punished! She must've gone off her meds. At least in an office environment, your co-workers know the user and have a more balanced view. Does your company charge extra (and I mean a lot) to fix older computers? Putting the policy in a $ and cents framework sometimes drives the point home.

mike
mike

Just a quick comment, as an independent I am able to pick and choose if I whish. With many years of service work behind me, I choose not to service Lawyers and accountants. They seem to nit pick everything and anything. I don;t have time to discuss each and every detail with them, let me do my job and will both be happy.

726tacrecon
726tacrecon

Do they? I just laughed my arse off at the goofball from Florida. And I'M in Tennuhsee, a native Nashvillian at that! What a dork.

darpoke
darpoke

Please don't think I'm demeaning you, I understand your situation is very serious indeed and all the more frustrating for having been orchestrated by two parties out of your control - your manager and your client. That said... The typo 'sudo politico' just cracked me up. I know you were going for 'pseudo' and ended up with the phonetic spelling, which is fair enough. I just couldn't help feeling it was kind of a Freudian slip - sudo might have solved all your problems... 'sudo STFU, you psycho hose beast!!' ;-)

MartyL
MartyL

I didn't have access to a PIA charge, as such. But I have been known to tell an especially troublesome caller, "Ok, sir, we need to make sure this is completely uninstalled before we reinstall. I'm going to walk you through editing the registry now." About half way through, I'd explain what can happen if they touch the wrong key. It may not be ethical to get them in so far that they have to follow directions to get back out, but it does put the tech back in "control of the call." I think I actually heard some of them sweat - over the phone.

boomchuck1
boomchuck1

It wasn't working on compuers, but in a previous career I worked in a sign shop. We sometimes would tack on a PIA charge for a particularly difficult customer. That's Pain In the A**.

edg808
edg808

I had a customer bring his two month old laptop in for repair. The screen was broken and he wanted a new computer. I asked him is he had Accidental Damage. He said NO, He didn't need it on a new computer. When I explained that we would have to charge him to fix it because he didn't purchase Accidental Damage. He looked at me, raised the laptop over his head and slammed it to the counter. Glass went everywhere, and he stomped out of the store. Go Figure!

philip.vandoren
philip.vandoren

We have a policy in place for old PC's that are not stable and are not worth fighting with. The problem is my managers at this small company crumble when policy is circumvented. They know the doctor can go somewhere else so then do anything short of fellatio to keep the Doc's happy. This means making promises that the techs have to follow up with. I think the Office managers frustration stems from repeated spyware charges and cascading failures of their aged hardware. Both problems born of poor IT management (or none in this case) In short Policy states we don't work on out of production PC's that are failing we replace them. BUT Customer service dictates we try to fix the problem. Which I did. When it wouldn't work because its broke, the user snapped and I was in the middle because I did not follow policy but it was my managers customer service initiative that caused me to lay hands on the PC to begin with. I don't get paid enough to deal with this kind of sudo politico nightmare.

DLClark
DLClark

Did you sue them? Just say, "I'll see you in small claims court". A Lawyer should understand that.

726tacrecon
726tacrecon

I make them happy no matter what. They don't mind a sending a letter on my behalf now and then, no charge. It is VERY good to have a lawyer friend or 2. That lady at the elevator would have had 2 by now. What she did was unethical and most of all could have hurt your future business opportunities in the building. I would not have stopped until she was fired and picking up ciggy butts from the gutter.

pgit
pgit

The ONLY clients who ever stiffed me completely were lawyers. (2 of them) One was a substantial amount of work. They were 'gentrifying' an old house in a neighborhood that was being converted from abandoned (but big, beautiful old) houses into a center of professional activity. I did all the wiring and set up their entire network, about a dozen workstations in all. They never answered any of the mail I sent, and wouldn't talk to me on the phone...

JLVFR
JLVFR

Omg, our local lawyers are just the same. Most seem to think their profession makes they masters of all!

pam_19464
pam_19464

if I had a dime for everytime I heard one of these!!

nick
nick

They are billing their clients in 6 minute increments at a gross hourly rate and then try to beat you down from your considerably lower rate. I worked for lawyers once. Never again. (OK, I hear you, never say never.)

MartyL
MartyL

I found that lawyers, doctors, accountants, whatever – if they were one of two or three in an office and didn’t have a staff of underlings, were generally easy to work with. They knew their limits, understood their technology up to a point, and followed directions. If there were underlings, I always did ok if I could hold out for the office manager – who was usually the one who had to get everything running, anyway. The most annoying, though, were lawyers who seemed to have the view that, if they had a good enough argument, the computer should just work. I took great joy in disabusing them of as many preconceived notions as possible.

zefficace
zefficace

And I'm a lawyer! We're to much used to fool around with details and arguments. It's hard to stop and use a different paradigm than that of "find the bug and argue about it". Some of us do realize this, and try to do better... with varying degrees of success! You see, leaving for the courtroom the very flaw that makes us do the job in the first place is far from easy. Lawyers argue and nitpick, that's what the world pays them for. ;)

maytag28
maytag28

"fix this now" "no you can't take my computer...why isn't it fixed yet" "Do you know how important this thing is I'm working on, you can't interrupt me to work on my machine...and why isn't it working yet?!" "A loaner? I can't work on a loaner machine, my data is too important, by the way why isn't this working yet?! I'm very important?!" "I can't leave my computer over night are you crazy?!...what have you been doing all this time, why isn't this fixed?!"