I recently was doing customer service consulting and training for the IT organization of a university.  As part of that work, I listened to calls that came into their help desk.  Here’s how one of them went:

Caller: “I’m in room 235 of Smith Hall, and I can’t connect to the network.”

Help desk: “There’s no such room.”

Caller: “Excuse me?  I said I’m in room 235, and I can’t get on the network.” 

Help desk: “There’s no such room.”

[repeat two more times]

Help desk: “Wait a minute”

[puts caller on hold, without asking or telling the caller beforehand.  At this point, because of the way the monitoring of the system is designed, and even though the caller is on hold, I still can hear anything the caller says.]

Caller: “a——-!!!” [reference to part of the human anatomy, and hangs up]

Such customer reactions are not what we, as IT professionals, want to create.  Unfortunately, this help desk analyst, by becoming sidetracked by the detail of a room number, missed the larger picture: that of understanding the caller’s situation and problem, and working to resolve it.

What could the help desk analyst have done differently?  Instead of focusing on the allegedly non-existent room number, he could have tried simply to verify the caller’s location.  Instead of saying “there’s no such room,” maybe he could have said, “I’m sorry, but my system doesn’t show a room 235 for that building.  Could you double check the door or with someone else?”  Maybe he could have asked the caller if the wall jack had any identifying code markings.

Have you ever had this type of situation, where a detail threatens to distract from the main issue?  How did you handle it, and how would you have handled this particular situation?

If you have help desk issues you’d like me to discuss, I welcome hearing from you via email, csun@calvinsun.com.