In my recent column “Get over yourself ,” I spoke out about how tech support people often develop egos that are out of control. TechRepublic passport owner Michael A. Ivenso posted a comment at the bottom of that article challenging me to comment on what happens when it’s the end user’s ego that’s out of control. I’ll put in my two cents, and then I want to hear from you.

Blame the support guy
Here’s what Mr. Ivenso had to say: “[Jeff’s article] sure put a lot of things in perspective about support people and their attitude toward users. But let’s look at the flip side too. We are often confronted with situations where users scream down at you, making you look and feel incompetent and not worth a tither.”

“For instance, once a secretary called in saying that she could not get her e-mail. I dispatched a support guy who discovered that her network cable was loose. He promptly pushed in the cable and explained what went wrong and how it can be avoided in future. He even helped her tidy up the cable mess behind her desk. The secretary was very happy to see her e-mails again and thanked him profusely.”

“Twenty minutes later, her boss had —–ed about not getting a report she saved to her jaz drive. She promptly blamed the support guy! Said that her jaz drive worked perfectly until he visited and left.”

“Needless to say, the poor guy was tried, condemned and executed by the secretary’s boss. You wanna know what the problem was? The secretary had unplugged the jaz drive from power and plugged in her electric kettle to make coffee for her boss. I’d like to hear your opinion on how to handle an issue like this one.”

Kill with kindness
I’ve been in this situation. I can hear the secretary passing the buck. I can picture the boss calling the head of the IT department, cussing and screaming about getting something done “right now!” I think the response has to be “kill them with kindness and show them the proof.”

  • If I’m the IT manager, when I get the call from the irate boss, I smile and say, “I know So-and-So is a very good technician, and I’m sure we’ll be able to figure out what happened and fix it right away.”
  • If I’m the technician, I show up and keep a smile on my face, no matter how upset and irate the end users are. The moment I realize that the user had unplugged the drive, I don’t touch a thing. First, I summon the user and the boss and say, always smiling, “Check this out! The problem is someone unplugged the drive, probably to make room to plug in this coffee maker.”

You don’t have to be mean about it, but you must show the end user and the irate boss the proof. Wait for them to acknowledge, however begrudgingly, that the problem wasn’t your fault. Then cheerfully plug the drive back in, and maybe even offer to bring by an extra power strip for the coffee maker.
I recommend confronting hostile end users with a smile on your face and killing them with kindness. What would you do in the situation Mr. Ivenso described? Post a comment below or send me a note .