IT Policies

10+ most dangerous species of help desk callers

Beware the most dangerous species of help desk callers

IT veteran Jeff Dray takes a lighthearted look at the types of people who call the help desk. We originally published Jeff's list back in 2001, but we've updated it a few times since then. And, I decided to pick a few photos the illustrate Jeff's great descriptions. Enjoy!

-- Bill Detwiler, Head Technology Editor

During my years working in IT support, I have become more and more interested in the many types of people who call IT help desks. Like a biologist, I have found that having a classification system is critical in understanding the users I help on a daily basis. With this in mind, and with my tongue in my cheek, I have categorized users into the following species.

Caption by: Jeff Dray

Photo credit: ©iStockphoto.com/CamiloTorres

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

117 comments
ferch
ferch

You are missing the bully, most of the times it is a VP that won't accept No as an answer. He will be on a mad mood, and will want every single problem in a second or otherwise hang up and call your manager complaining.

neb
neb

Tthe real question is how to handle and manage the different kinds fo users,. The variation of users keeps the job interesting. The Expert has real value as he/she will spread the knowledge within the team and are a real benefit to IT and business. I for one would like to see more Tinkers who try things out, that's a good way to learn and develop. This article does ratify the a them-and-us situation for IT in business - the result; users will develope a top 10 of worst IT staff types - which one will you be? :)

Regulus
Regulus

Us ADHD / Dyslectic kids can't handle 'Slide Shows'. Why do you keep torturing us? Please help and give us a 'view-as-one-page' option. I mean, how would you like it if someone put duct tape over the 'Men' and 'Women' signs on the restrooms where your child or grandmother goes to school / church / library etc.?

IMDB
IMDB

Ahhh, you lost me at 'I don't drink coffe'. :(

mla_ca520
mla_ca520

Our organization has numerous users who not only don't like the answer we give, but they have a strategy for getting their preferred answer. They simply begin calling people in IT and asking their questions in different ways to try and get the "right" answer.

onlinejimk
onlinejimk

Very good coverage of the user spectrum. I can relate since we are all "End-Users" in some capacity. Having also worked in a Help Desk for some of my IT career, let's not forget some of these Help Desk Call Taker types: - "Let's just walk through these steps first": Scriptus Ignoramus -- No matter what the problem, all problems look like a nail because all they have is a hammer in their tool kit. - "Non-Technician In A Technical Support Postion" (Second cousin to the above): Whatthehellicus Am I Doing Here -- Manager's nephew, who can't spell IT. Happy Computing -- Thanks for the laughs!

Cynyster
Cynyster

This seems to happen a lot to me for some reason. I will just chalk it up to the business I am in. An example is a user calls you over and tells you about a problem they are experiencing and they are quite happy to demonstrate what they are doing (and quite happy to tell you just how frustrated they are. (At Length)... So of course you patiently listen to then describe in detail the steps they took to get the error and they show you as well. And there you are scratching your head wondering... OK I just watched and listened and still have no idea what they are actually trying to do. So there you are asking questions explaining that you are trying to understand more fully and as the minutes go by, and they are forming the opinion that you are a complete idiot and you should know exactly whats going on. So after 10-15 minutes of questions you finally discover the actual goal that they are trying to achieve and you seriously wonder... how they heck could it have ever worked they way they said they were doing it in the past (example: But I always use Alt+ P to Paste duhhhhh) I usually end up explaining that "THIS is the recommended way you should do this or that and most people do it that way..." Then, when they want to understand why I usually just say it may have been a loophole that was "fixed" with one of the many updates (e.g. windows, adobe, java etc.) And hope they remember the right way to do something. :)

wolsonjr
wolsonjr

After doing years of support in our region, support was centralized for the country. There was an art to working with the help desk that often knew less than myself due to years of experience and being on site. Our knowledge wasn't removed, only our admin rights, but the help desk didn't know us from Adam.

hondocrouch
hondocrouch

A couple more: Why is my computer doing (or not doing) this? I haven't done anything to make this happen. Then later it comes out that they download the "make my computer" faster/cleaner/better program, which they say "I don't know how that got there. Or they clinked on a link in an email. Also, the "I have important work to do", but they don't listen to instructions because they are too busy/distracted.

baryah
baryah

What you write about the callers may be ok, but in my experience most of the people managing the help desk are not up to the mark for solving the problems - at least I have to go my own way for mine - mostly (not always)..

derekfurman
derekfurman

I defuse these callers with respect and understanding that their frustration is likely 1/2 the issue. Invest myself in there happiness and relate to their lost productivity. I listen and don't talk this will usually lets them vent and feel good about me and my attention to the goal. It takes patience and they pay to keep me listening with the clear understanding I get paid no matter what they would like to to talk about. I don't even have to look for customers anymore they call all day. Another benefit to all this is contract IT consulting once real solutions are proven. This is not a panacea, I do show this vid to my employees http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/nick-burns/2786 and say do not act like this be cool as you can. I always have problems picking on people that pay me.

ITCowboy
ITCowboy

Userus Disruptus This is a very rare breed, I have only run into this user a couple of times. This user personally is a very nice person, but are commonly frustrated and they just have almost a mutant ability to disrupt electronics. They constantly call help desks and submit tickets because one thing or another is not working. When support personnel go to their computer they check through and find everything is working. Figuring that this user is an idiot, support staff attempt to train them. While watching over their shoulder, making sure the user is doing things correctly, a portion that was working correctly suddenly stops working. This could be anything from an advanced database, to IE, to an app on their phone. As soon as support touches the system in any way, it seems to work again, only to halted/frozen stopped again by the User again. I stress this is a rare breed because the user is not actually doing anything wrong. My theory is that their nervous system creates a frequency that can literally disrupt actions on electronics. This is much better than their theory of "Computers do not like me", which is this users common battle cry. As we know there is no true artificial intelligence and have not yet reached the point where computers are capable of "liking" someone.

rmixon
rmixon

Their is a reason we are called the help desk it is our job. And we like the pay?.

andrews
andrews

This is the user who has either trashed their home machine while experimenting, sucked up one or more pieces of malware, or has experienced a genuine hardware failure on their "perfectly adequate 10 year old PC. The guy's too cheap take it somewhere for service so he tries to badger the office support tech into telling him how to fix it, or actually fixing it just to make the guy go away. There are several variations on this user, so many in fact we worked up a billing rate sheet we've posted in our office covering the different types of services requested. Tier 1 ??? You already know what???s wrong and fixed it but you felt it was necessary to tell us about it. $45/hr Tier2 - You already know what???s wrong but you want us to tell you you???re right. $55/hr Tier3 - You already know what???s wrong but you want us to tell you how to fix it. $70/hr Tier4 - You already know what???s wrong but you want to see if we know. $95/hr Tier5 - You have no idea what???s wrong but you want us to tell you how to fix it $150/hr Tier6 - It???s broke and you just want one of us to come over and fix it. $25/hr

dnelson
dnelson

While no doubt accurate on many levels, having sold systems support for many years what I heard was usually the opposite side of the discussion. While most of our customers gave support glowing reviews, the first two on your list would almost uniformly state how annoyed they were with the process. Person who answers the call...clueless and a waste of their time. Put on hold, TO'd to back line, where the problem solved. The reason several questions would be asked once they get to the back line is that the process is so annoying to get to the back line that once there it is there opportunity to resolve issues. While it is fun to classify and characterize customers don't forget they are the ones who pay for your coffee, beer, food, and put a roof over your head...Despite what management might tell you.

cbeckers
cbeckers

Bill: let me help you along with your classification of help desk analysts. There are the "you are a baby and must be talked to as if you are a baby" types. The talking is usually done in long-suffering monotone, as if the analyst is putting up with actually being asked to do something. Unfortunately, this class includes the vast majority of help desk personnel that I encounter. As a person who first programmed a computer professionally in 1963 (including an IBM 1620, remember those?) using FORTRAN, COBOL and assembly language (those are the equivalent of Latin and Greek) with hollerith cards and keypunch machines, I have a long and varied knowledge of the topic and speak the language. I only call the help desk when I encounter something I know nothing about, usually some new wrinkle in the world of computers. In short, I call when I have reached the limit of my knowledge and know that I have. Help desk people are invariably unable to adjust to my ability to actually help them do their jobs, preferring the scripted (are they reading from a screen?) "...find the xyz icon on your desk top, now click on it, now wait for the window to open..." approach. I know there are callers that will require that kind of approach, but we can both be done and off the phone quicker if the help desk dude (or dude-ette) simply adjusts by saying "open the xyz application". But that would require them to actually treat me as a colleague or at least a human being, not just a petty annoyance on their way to a another job in the computer industry. And feel free to classify me any way you see fit....

burgessg
burgessg

As a 'Train Spotter' myself I have to say that I dread having to call the helpdesk. That's generally because I know if I have a problem that it could be half an hour before I get to talk to someone who knows enough to be able to solve my problem, as I am shunted through the various layers of protection that exist in help desks to protect the real gurus from having their time wasted by all the other idiots who usually call to work out why their cupholder has broken. I also admit to sometimes being an "I don't believe you" or "Head in sandius", but that's usually because the helpdesk's default answer to any difficult problem is often: reinstall Windows. I've wondered before, and I find myself wondering again, if it would be useful to be able to answer a short questionnaire to 'qualify' as someone who can at least get through the first few layers of guru shielding. From the help desk's point of view it also might be useful to be able to characterise their callers before speaking to them.

kevin.brown
kevin.brown

While I feel for the help desk species it should be pointed out that the expert help desk species has been mostly replaced by the script reader species who cannot diagnose a problem without a process flow diagram. Tell one of these the specific cause of a problem and asking them to, for example, 'speak to someone about getting the DNS server back on line' fuses their synapses into 'computer says no, have you tried rebooting' mode.

Mike Lonewolf
Mike Lonewolf

Seems to me, a lot of help desk techs fit a lot of those end user molds. I am a former help desk tier 3 support rep, and when I get bored call the new flock of help desk reps and mess with them. (i.e. smartassicus is my breed ) BUT I only am one when YOU can tell they are using a pre-scripted answer sheet instead of hands on knowledge.

Aaron Mason
Aaron Mason

So often we get people complaining about the smallest things with their laptops, in the hope that they'll get a new one. We usually supply them with a thin client since it turns out they didn't need a laptop anyway. As for no. 5's, there are some people who cause IT trouble just by walking in the room. The LAN that I frequent recalls a guy who, simply by walking into the room, caused 5 computers to crash without being able to come back up and one of the switches to overheat. Things returned to normal the moment he left.

Shankar Mukherjee
Shankar Mukherjee

I think you must add 'The Hurricane Callers".These group of helpdesk callers are always in hurry.They will often ask anything 'immediately' or 'ASAP' as they will be either catching a flight or a train or complete a report.You know what to be done with such callers!

kim
kim

I have my own definition of an "Expert". An 'Ex' is a has-been, and a 'spert' is a drip under pressure

JJFitz
JJFitz

The Evangelist constantly tells you why their OS / PC is far superior to yours. It's as if they want to know why you haven't accepted(insert OS / PC) as your personal savior as they have.

umzain
umzain

Cute, but what about a similar list for help desk techs?! We have one that 'didn't cause that problem' even when it occurs after she makes a related change to the system. Meanwhile, her home computer policy is if something isn't working [i.e., printer], just plug in the restore disk.

angitech
angitech

This is the user who calls you to his/her desk and proceeds to demonstrate the problem expecting you to solve it without touching the computer, keyboard or mouse. Getting them to release control to you can be quite a challenge. If you're lucky you only have to ask 3 or 4 times to be allowed to sit at the computer and you've only lost thrice the time the call should have taken.

micjackz@aol.com
micjackz@aol.com

Thanks....I needed that.....in which category would "userus pebcakus" fall? (pebcak is, of course, the acronym for "Problem Exists Between Chair And Keyboard).

rondadams
rondadams

I have a couple of users who call frequently and swear that the computer hates them and is just trying to make their lives more miserable. But, the fun part is always fixing their problem only to receive god-like praise from them, thinking I must have some sort of mystic powers. On a separate note, I had a memorable run-in once with an "I dont believe you", when I was in the Army. I had been called out to service a system that was supposedly dead. When I arrived, nobody was around, so I found the system, flipped on the power switch, and voila. Not a minute or so later, the user that reported the problem walked up and was happy that I had found the problem and fixed. He asked what I did, and I told him. Not only did he not believe me, he called me a bleeping liar and insisted I tell him what I did, several times. I finally said, he was right, I just worked my magic and it resolved the issue, then promptly walked away.

davidthornton
davidthornton

You forgot one; the department head that just bought a piece of software/technology based on the dog & pony show put on by a sales rep and demands that you set it up and make it work. The trouble comes in when the device/code doesn't play well with the existing stuff or doesn't work the way it was demonstrated, and the boss doesn't understand your explanation of why. And it's your fault. This one is really close to home for me right now...

cstep
cstep

I would like to add one additional type of caller. This type of caller has become more common today. This is the "I am the customer, I am right" This is the customer, most often a foreign national, thinks that what was proper in their country is how things are done in this country. I have been told by many callers that it is my job, fix it. I am a lowly peasant and must obey everything they say. Even if it is impossible to fix over the phone, a cable is disconnected and I can see that that is the problem. I just retired because of this type of inconsiderate moron. When in Rome do as the Romans.i have over 30 years in computer service. This is the worst I have ever seen it.

flausher
flausher

You forgot the Sarky species. This species takes particular delight when their computer goes wrong, as they have an "I told you so" attitude, and feel that whatever's gone wrong is not only your fault, but whilst repairing their PC, they make repeated sarcastic comments in an attempt to mock you...

JJFitz
JJFitz

Too true. Quite a few people here use the expression "Hurry! I'm paralyzed without (insert system name)!" It is often an excuse not to do any work and gripe about it with their colleagues. The aggravating part is when they are talking about something trivial like Instant Messaging. What did we do before IM? Oh wait... I know... WORK. :)

jcitron
jcitron

The Userus Absentius is the one that calls the helpdesk, and the onsite tech makes the time for a deskside visit. Only to find the user has disappeared! Walked away without any note or anything, so the problem can't be fixed. @kim. The Expert is one of the most dreaded species of users. They will beat us up because they "know" the way to fix things. I had one at my old company. He'd complain to me about some problem that I'd spend the time fixing, only to have him undo my changes. Afterall he knew a better way because he talked to his 16 year-old nephew, who fixes computers, and his nephew told him how to do it. One day I told him to fix his own problem because he is the expert. After that he never pulled that on me again, and let me do what I had to do to get his machine working with the little resources I had to work with.

ItsmeTaralee
ItsmeTaralee

What? they ring up the 'help desk' and brag about their specs? Surely not!!!??? I think this topic is turning into "The 10 Most Dangerous Species of PC User" dont you :P

JJFitz
JJFitz

Problem in chair not in computer. - as in, "How did that help desk call go?" "oh, it was a PICNIC." hehe

natomega
natomega

You mean it is IO Basic Error (Idiot Operator Basic Error)

BrainDump
BrainDump

I think we all have come across 'bossillius' I work with one!

JBrown10
JBrown10

The end user with his own budget -- IT said I couldn't have this gadget / software -- but my departement has its own budget, and now that I've bought it, and it doesn't work like the vendor and the shiny phamplet says - its IT's problem and they have to fix it...

JJFitz
JJFitz

very true. Alternatively, they are at their desk but they say it is not a good time to fix it. Then they later complain that it has been 2 weeks and the problem has not been fixed. Thank goodness for the early and late shift help desk staff.

JJFitz
JJFitz

Lucky you to not have Help Desk callers tell you that things would work a lot smoother if you only used (insert OS / PC here). Is my HD Dept. the only one that gets preached to when we go out on a call?

Aaron Mason
Aaron Mason

At my last job my manager suggested a very good model of printer for our branch sites to use (since it's their choice what they go with) and they wound up buying very crappy models that didn't work so well, expecting us to fix the problems.

Aaron Mason
Aaron Mason

... until I worked on a help desk. I feel like a fool for disbelieving these stories.

ItsmeTaralee
ItsmeTaralee

That is so funny! Perhaps they wanted to add some nice graphics to their end of financial year reports :-/

DNSB
DNSB

In my experience, they will complain about almost anything. Hardware? That ABC's computers are more reliable since they have one at home or their cousin uses one at work that NEVER has any problems. Software? That if they could use XYZ's software package. they could be so much more productive than using our corporate standard package. Never mind that the software package they want has nothing to do with their job, leaving you to wonder just how having Photoshop would help an accountant do their job as one example.

JJFitz
JJFitz

I didn't understand that you didn't work in a Help Desk department. Yeah. It happens more than you can imagine. :(

ItsmeTaralee
ItsmeTaralee

Im sure I put some question marks in there somewhere ;-) I dont have this "Help Desk callers tell you that things would work a lot smoother if you only used (insert OS / PC here)" problem.... because I dont work in help desk.... I was simply asking if this really happens and expressing a little disbelief that it does...not in a fashion that suggests your making it up...more in a *rolleyes* way ;-)