There’s policy, and then there’s real life. Users often make inappropriate requests from the help desk and its techs. Look out for these big ones, and make sure that your support staff is prepared to refuse them.


One problem with running a service-oriented help desk is that people keep coming to you for help.

OK, that’s meant mostly as a joke. Mostly. In my experience I’ve found that creating strong relationships with one’s clients will lead to more service calls. It has something to do with inhibition and intimidation. If customers have a positive experience with a tech, they’ll feel reassured about the support process, and this will make them more inclined to ask for assistance in the future.

Creating comfortable clients is ideal for a freelance or contract technician, who gets paid by the call or by the hour. Every service request is money in one’s pocket. Comfortable clients can be less ideal for a standing in-house support team, though. Users’ inhibitions can become so low that they start asking the help desk to provide support that’s outside appropriate boundaries. This is especially likely in environments that don’t impose any checks on the urge to file a support request, like fees, departmental charge-backs, or ticket accounting.

Responsible IT departments should have published policies about what they’ll support. Even if those policies are out there, though, that won’t keep techs from getting requests for assistance that are beyond the help desk’s authority. Being aware of the types of inappropriate—and sometimes informal—support requests will let you anticipate them and will let you prepare your techs to handle such things, if and when they appear.

Project work or IT engineering tasks. The role of the help desk is, first and foremost, to provide incident-based support to the client. Many places, including my own office, economize by having support techs also work within project teams developing new services. Help desk issues should always trump project work, though. If an IT project or engineering task is important enough that it can’t be set aside in favor of addressing emergent support requests, then it’s important enough that the project’s manager should have dedicated personnel working on it, rather than counting on the help desk techs having slack time.
Requests not related to work. Whether it’s answering questions about problematic home computers or fielding requests to set up MP3 players on company-owned machines, there’s no reason for help desk techs to spend work time answering non-business requests. Let me be clear, I’m not an unfeeling robot. I’ll chat for a minute or two with colleagues about problems they may be having with machines at home, or I’ll provide shopping advice. That’s the extent of it, though. Our support policy excludes privately owned hardware and clearly outlines what’s supported on company-owned machines. That’s where the responsibility of our techs ends, and I’ve had to explain this to a number of users.
Shop talk during social events or off hours. There’s an old cliché that insists that doctors are always being solicited for professional advice at cocktail parties and the like. I don’t know about whether that’s actually true for M.D’.s or not, but it’s certainly true for IT pros. I’ve been at many an office social event, only to have a colleague bring up a problem that they’ve been having. Support pros deserve the opportunity to unplug from work responsibilities now and again. I don’t hesitate to let my users know when I’m “off the clock.”

Those are the three types of inappropriate inquiries I see most often as an office support tech. If you have any others to offer, let me know in the comments.