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Computer support calls from hell

  • Tech Support: "Sir, Click Start, then Run, and type the letters C, M, and D."
  • Customer: "Wait a minute, don't run off the end of the earth away from me now. I can only go so fast with this thing."
  • Tech Support: "Sorry, sir. Did you click Start?"
  • Customer: "Where is that start button? Oh, here is is. Now what?"
  • Tech Support: "Um, did you click it?"
  • Customer: "Dammit, no, do that now?"
  • Tech Support: "Yes, then click on the word Run."
  • Customer: "Dammit, slow down!!! Run, run, run, where the hell is run?"
  • Tech Support: "Should be a the very bottom of the Start Menu that came up on the screen."
  • Customer: "I already clicked Start. Click it again?"
  • Tech Support: "No, it should be there in the lower left corner."
  • Customer: "Hey, I found the word Run. You want that instead?"
  • Tech Support: "Sure, why not? We'll see if that works. Did you click it?"
  • Customer: "Yes."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, type the letters C, M, and then D."
  • Customer: "Slow down, dammit!! I'm not a programmer!!! I told you I'm only a car dealer!!"
  • Tech Support: "Sorry, again, sir, what do you have there?"
  • Customer: "Z."
  • Tech Support: "No, we need 'C' like 'Charlie.'"
  • Customer: "C-H-A-R--"
  • Tech Support: "Not the whole word 'Charlie,' sir, just the 'C,' please."
  • Customer: "If you don't want a Charlie, why tell me to type it?"
  • Tech Support: "Um, what's in the box now?"
  • Customer: "I'm trying to find the eraser here."
  • Tech Support: "Just hit the backspace key."
  • Customer: "That just moves it further to the right without typing anything."
  • Tech Support: "Which backspace key did you press?"
  • Customer: "The long one in the middle. I pressed it on the back side."

Eventually, we "found" the correct backspace key and got that Z replaced with a C.

  • Tech Support: "Now that we just have a 'C' there, type an 'M,' like 'Mary,' but just the 'M,' ok?"
  • Customer: "M-O-K."
  • Tech Support: "Remember that backspace key?"
  • Customer: "Yes."
  • Tech Support: "Press it twice."
  • Customer: "All right, but it took off the 'O' and 'K' you wanted."
  • Tech Support: "Never mind that, I'll live. Now type a 'D,' just the letter D."
  • Customer: "D. Now what?"
  • Tech Support: "Now press the enter key."
  • Customer: "E-N-T-E-R."
  • Tech Support: "Is there anyone else around the lot that is maybe a little more familiar with computers than you are?"
  • Customer: "Well, my wife uses one at her work and might be a little more familiar. She comes in in an hour. You want to talk to her?"
  • Tech Support: "Yes, please."

  • Customer: "I have just received your software, but I have these plastic things, what are they?"
  • Tech Support: "Could you describe them please?"
  • Customer: "They are black plastic, thin, and square."
  • Tech Support: "Anything else?"
  • Customer: "They have a metal bit on one edge."
  • Tech Support: "Disks?"
  • Customer: "Well, I don't know, do I? I just brought your package. What do I do with them?"

I see a horrible call ahead, and the customer is quite irate already.

  • Tech Support: "Put the disks in the drive."
  • Customer: "What's a drive?"
  • Tech Support: "The slot in your machine that looks just the right size for the disk."
  • Customer: "Which machine?"
  • Tech Support: "Do you have a hard drive?"
  • Customer: "I have two boxes. One has a picture on it."
  • Tech Support: "Put the first disk in, metal side first."
  • Customer: "Ok. It's gone in."
  • Tech Support: "Go to the 'start' button, then run, then type 'setup'."
  • Customer: "My computer isn't on. How do I turn it on?"
  • Tech Support: "Push the button by the drive to eject the disk, and press the button that says 'power' on the machine without the pictures on it."
  • Customer: "Ok. Done."
  • Tech Support: "Now put in the disk, go to start, run, and type 'setup'."
  • Customer: "Oh, it's all working now. Thanks, but your software isn't very easy to use, is it?"

  • Tech Support: "Do you have the icon on your desktop?"
  • Customer: "No. It's a thingy with buttons on the shelf. Um, a modem."
  • Tech Support: "Yes. I need you to look at the software you are using though. What do you click on?"
  • Customer: "Oh. Ok."
  • Tech Support: "What's the name of the icon you use to click on?"
  • Customer: "The mouse?"

One time I got really frustrated with a caller who had claimed that "the Internet had changed the color to black." Eventually I worked out that her computer had switched off.

  • Me: "For the last time, could you please turn the computer on?"
  • Her: "But I don't have the file!"
  • Me: "What file!?"
  • Her: "You know, the file."
  • Me: "Could you please press the button with the circle and the line on it, please?"
  • Her: "Don't you talk like that! I still need to download the file! I know what to do. I have friends who are computer experts!"
  • Me: "Just press the button even if the file still hasn't 'downloaded' yet."
  • Her: "Ok. Well, nothing's happ-- oh, it's got some gibberish written over it now. It's blue, and there is one thingie that says my name! Wow! My husband taught the computer my name!"
  • Me: "Yes, that's what happens when you turn it on. Ok, I'm happy the problem's fixed. Bye!"
  • Her: "But--"


  • Customer: "Right! I demand satisfaction!"
  • Tech Support: "I see. Well, I'm here to try and help you. What kind of problem are you having?"
  • Customer: "It's not my problem! The 'commuter' I bought six weeks ago just won't work! I can't do a damned thing with it!"
  • Tech Support: "I see. Do you mean it won't even switch on, or is it something else?"
  • Customer: "Don't try to sandbag me! I know my rights!"
  • Tech Support: "Sir, could you explain the problem you are having so I can better help you with it?"
  • Customer: "I've called them all, AOL, Nildram, Tiscali, and none of them are any good."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, so are you saying that you're having problems getting on-line?"
  • Customer: "Look, it doesn't work! I want satisfaction!"
  • Tech Support: "Ok, well I need to ask you some questions to help you with the problem."
  • Customer: "Fine, but I doubt you're going to fix it."
  • Tech Support: "Is your modem installed and plugged into the phone line?"
  • Customer: "How would I know if it's plugged in?"
  • Tech Support: (describes how the back of the machine looks and where the modem is)
  • Customer: "Yes, that's just how mine looks, and it doesn't work, so just accept that it's broken!"
  • Tech Support: "Which cable did you connect the modem to the phone line with, sir?"
  • Customer: "I have to wire the stupid thing in?"

I used to work for the computer helpdesk for a police force in northwest England, and it was there that I became infected with "Typistophobia," as a result of a typist from a particular police station who suffered from a lack of any of the social graces. She would regularly ring us with real or imagined problems, all of which were, of course, the computer's fault.

My first experience with this lady was as follows:

  • Customer: "Me machine's broke."
  • Me: "Ok, what wrong with it?"
  • Customer: "I've just tole yer -- IT'S BROKE!"
  • Me: "Ok, so what's it doing wrong?"
  • Customer: "Nothing."


  • Me: "Is there anything on the screen?"
  • Customer: "Yeh, garbage."
  • Me: "What sort of garbage?"
  • Customer: "I've tole yer -- garbage."


  • Me: "Can you read out the garbage to me?"
  • Customer: "P-L-E-A-S-E  P-R-E-S-S  E-N-T-E ...... !" (click)

Gateway color codes their connectors as well as their ports. Yet:

  • Customer: "I'm looking at the back of the system, and I don't know where to plug in the mouse. There are two holes that are the same size as the mouse."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, what color is the tip of the mouse plug?"
  • Customer: "Orange."
  • Tech Support: "Do you see the orange 'hole' on the back of the computer?"
  • Customer: "Yes."
  • Tech Support: "That is where the mouse plugs into."
  • Customer: "Oh. How about the keyboard?"
  • Tech Support: "What color is the plug on the keyboard?"
  • Customer: "Purple."
  • Tech Support: "And do you see the purple 'hole' on the back of the computer?"
  • Customer: "Yes."
  • Tech Support: "That is where the keyboard plugs in. The tips are color coded."
  • Customer: "I see. How about the speakers?"

I had this conversation recently with a lady who swore she had been using computers since forever.

  • Tech Support: "All right. Now click 'OK'."
  • Customer: "Click 'OK'?"
  • Tech Support: "Yes, click 'OK'."
  • Customer: "Click 'OK'?"
  • Tech Support: "That's right. Click 'OK'."
  • Customer: "So I click 'OK', right?"
  • Tech Support: "Right. Click 'OK'."


  • Customer: "I clicked 'Cancel'."
  • Tech Support: "YOU CLICKED 'CANCEL'???"
  • Customer: "That's what I was supposed to do, right?"
  • Tech Support: "No, you were supposed to click 'OK'."
  • Customer: "I thought you said to click 'Cancel'."
  • Tech Support: "NO. I said to click 'OK'."
  • Customer: "Oh."
  • Tech Support: "Now we have to start over."
  • Customer: "Why?"
  • Tech Support: "Because you clicked 'Cancel'."
  • Customer: "Wasn't I supposed to click 'Cancel'?"
  • Tech Support: "No. Forget that. Let's start from the top."
  • Customer: "Ok."

I spent the next fifteen minutes re-constructing the carefully crafted setup for this lady's unique computer.

  • Tech Support: "All right. Now, are you ready to click 'OK'?"
  • Customer: "Yes."
  • Tech Support: "Great. Now click 'OK'."


  • Customer: "I clicked 'Cancel'."

And people wonder why my mouse pad has a target on it labeled "BANG HEAD HERE."

  • Tech Support: "Thank you for calling customer service, and how may I help you?"
  • Customer: "I can't get it to do."
  • Tech Support: "Excuse me, ma'am?"
  • Customer: "I can't get my Internet to do."
  • Tech Support: "Let's check your setup."
  • Customer: "Okey dokey."
  • Tech Support: "Are you at your desktop?"
  • Customer: "Yes."
  • Tech Support: "Do a double click on the 'My Computer' icon."
  • Customer: "I don't see that one."
  • Tech Support: "What screen are you on, and what does you desktop look like?"
  • Customer: "Wood."
  • Tech Support: "What's on your screen, ma'am?"
  • Customer: "A bunch of names."
  • Tech Support: "Like what?"
  • Customer: "Bill, George, Larry, Jim."
  • Tech Support: "What screen are you on?"
  • Customer: "I am on the one I'm on. I need to go get my daughter. She's the computer guru of the family."
  • Tech Support: "Great, thank you."
  • April: "Hi, I'm April, and you are?"
  • Tech Support: "Mike."
  • April: "Mike. Cool, dude."
  • Tech Support: "Are you at your desktop?"
  • April: "You will have to excuse my mother. She's a little dense."
  • Tech Support: "No problem."
  • April: "How old are you?"
  • Tech Support: "300 years old. I'm the 'Highlander.' Um, would you do a double click on the 'My Computer' icon?"
  • April: "Sorry, I don't see that one."
  • Tech Support: "What do you see?"
  • April: "Bill, George, Larry, and Jim."
  • Tech Support: "What version of Windows are you using?"
  • April: "Ninety-something I guess."
  • Tech Support: "Erm. Shut down the computer and reboot."
  • April: "Ok...." (pause) "Done."
  • Tech Support: "What does your screen say?
  • April: "Bill, Larry, Jim, Barbie, and Wimper."
  • Tech Support: "Just for kicks, do a double click on 'Bill,' and see what happens."
  • April: "What is this?"
  • Tech Support: "What did it do?"
  • April: "It now has little folders: modems, devices, etc."
  • Tech Support: "Why was your 'My Computer' icon named Bill?"
  • April: "I wanted to name it something cute. Did I screw up?"

My company develops an online education product for which we provide email and phone support. A large amount of our users are first-year college students, many of which have little or no computer experience. Our product requires that you use IE or Netscape and is not compatible with AOL's browser. This often causes some problems with our users as many of them subscribe to AOL. This phone call had me laughing for a good half hour and most of the other support staff in tears.

  • Tech Support: "Good evening, how can I help you?"
  • Customer: "Uhh, yeah, I'm tryin' t' use this here program t' take a course online, and it ain't workin'."
  • Tech Support: "All right, what kind of computer do you have? I want to make sure it's ok to run our software."
  • Customer: "Uhh, well, it's my dad's computer, and I don't know what it is. It jus' says COMPAQ on the front."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, and you can connect to the Internet, right?"
  • Customer: "Yup, that's not the problem though. I can't take muh course."
  • Tech Support: "All right, what browser and version do you use?"
  • Customer: "Whut's a browser?"
  • Tech Support: "It's the program you use to see things on the Internet. Do you use Internet Explorer or Netscape?"
  • Customer: "Uh, I dunno." (agitated) "I don't know much 'bout this computer stuff. The school just said I hafta do sum' muh courses on it."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, well, when you connect to the Internet and see information, is there a fancy 'N' in a box on the upper right hand corner of the screen, or is it a blue 'e' with a stripe across it?"
  • Customer: "Uh, I don't see none of that."
  • Tech Support: "Ok sir, do you know if you use America Online to get on the Internet?"
  • Customer: "Uh, no, ah use AOL."

One thing that really got to me before I was removed from phone support for sanity reasons, was customers who wouldn't read instructions, no matter how conspicuous you made them. You could print directions on red paper and paste it on the software itself with 300 point type saying, "IMPORTANT: READ THIS!" and people would still not read it.

We packaged our software with a piece of paper with "SOFTWARE INSTALLATION INSTRUCTIONS" printed on the top, and one day a customer called me to ask how to install the software.

  • Me: "Sir, do you have the original packaging?"
  • Customer: "Yeah, it's here."
  • Me: "Can you find a piece of paper that says, 'Software Installation Instructions'?"
  • Customer: "Yup, here it is."
  • Me: "So, what did you do so far?"
  • Customer: "Well I booted from the disk and followed the prompts until it rebooted."
  • Me: "Ok, so I'm looking at these instructions too, and it looks like you've gotten through steps 1-5, but there are still four more steps on the installation sheet."
  • Customer: "Ok, so what do I do next?"
  • Me: "Sir, do you see the number 6?"
  • Customer: "Yup."
  • Me: "What does it say?"
  • Customer: "It says to reinsert the disk and click on [filename]."
  • Me: "Ok, so I'd go ahead and do that."
  • Customer: "Ok, so now what, do I click on 'OK'?"
  • Me: "Sir, in step 6, does it then say to click on 'OK'!?"
  • Customer: "Yup."
  • Me: "Then I'd go ahead and do that."
  • Customer: ", what do I do next?"
  • Me: "Sir, do you see the number 7!?!?!?"

I worked for a company that provided billing and office management software to physicians' offices. Most of our users had dumb terminals with dial-up or dedicated lines that connected them to a stack of Unix systems at our facility. One day, we received a call transferred from the front-line help desk. The user was saying her enter key wasn't working.

My co-worker and I were the support techs for the organization. We took the call and found that when the user hit the enter key, the information wasn't accepted, and the cursor simply moved one column to the right. Now, the terminal hardware in the offices was rather old and prone to bizarre failure behavior. Keyboards and logic controllers would die in very odd ways.

We went through our hardware troubleshooting procedures. We confirmed that it was just this one key that was malfunctioning, and that the problem persisted when the keyboard was swapped out with another.

We tried checking keyboard mapping settings in the terminal and in the software she was using, but nothing worked. Finally we monitored the serial data stream by hooking another terminal up to the inbound port on the multiplexer and placing it into "dump" mode. As the user hit the troubled enter key, we saw a continuous line of hex 0x20's -- the ASCII space character.

At this point we were resolved to having to replace the whole terminal. As we had no spares and were waiting on a shipment, we couldn't do it for at least three days. The user expressed concern at being without a functional terminal for that period. We asked her to use the second enter key until we could fix the problem permanently. The following dialog ensued:

  • Her: "What second enter key?"
  • Me: "Over on the right hand side of the keyboard, there's a number pad. There should be an enter key over there that you can use."
  • Her: "Which one?"
  • Me: "It should say 'Enter' or have a crooked arrow pointing to the left, depending on the keyboard model. It should look identical to the broken enter key."
  • Her: "There's no key over there that looks the same."
  • Me: "Well, what does the broken key say on it?"
  • Her: "It doesn't say anything."
  • Me: "What does the broken enter key look like, exactly?"
  • Her: "It's big and long, and it doesn't have anything on it."
  • Me: "... And it's the one at the bottom of the keyboard?"
  • Her: "Yes, that's it!"
  • Me: "And you say that every time you hit it, it just puts a space on the screen?"
  • Her: "Yeah!"
  • Me: "That's because you're hitting the space bar."

We heard a swift intake of breath, and then the user hung up.

Somehow, one day after years of working on the same software, with the same terminal, performing the same procedure, she decided that the space bar was the enter key. We stared at each other for about five minutes after she hung up, utterly disbelieving that we didn't even think about checking to make sure the user was hitting the right key and even more disbelieving that in the nearly 45 minutes she was on the phone, it never occurred to her that the key marked 'enter' might be the one she wanted.

  • Co-Worker: "I have a customer here who say's he cannot access a specific record and gets kicked out of the program."
  • Me: "Ask him if he had any network problems lately."
  • Co-Worker: "I already asked the usual questions, but nothing works."

During this conversation I found all the symptoms pointed to a server crash. But my co-worker assured me that they have had no server problems whatsoever. So I asked him to ask the customer to send a copy of the database for further examination. Surely all the tell tale symptoms of a server crash would be there, and I joined my co-worker at his desk for the remainder of the conversation.

  • Co-Worker: "Sir, we believe you had a server crash that resulted in the database getting corrupted. We'll need the working database to correct the problem."
  • Customer: "We didn't have a server crash. It must be a fault in your program. I want a patch to fix this problem."
  • Co-Worker: "The program is running fine, but we have a strong indication that you did have a problem with your server, and we'll need your database to repair this problem."
  • Customer: "Look, we did not have a server problem."
  • Co-Worker: "Sir, we know that you had a server crash. And to avoid further problems we have to repair your database as soon as possible."
  • Customer: "What is wrong with you people? I told you, WE DID NOT HAVE A SERVER CRASH. I want a patch for the program."
  • Co-Worker: (reading from the database log file) "On [date] at [time], [customer] -- that is your login name, right? -- booted up. And halfway through the login procedure the the system stopped logging. Now--"
  • Customer: "I KNOW THAT! That's why I'm complaining. Your software did this."
  • Co-Worker: "Sir, we have no indication that the program wrote any faulty data to the database. Are you sure you have had no problems with the server? Anything suspicious? Even trivial thoughts?"
  • Customer: "No, nothing.........ehm......I don't think it is relevant but......someone turned the server switch off by mistake this morning, but he turned it back on really quickly so that can't have been the problem.... Right...?"

A gentleman with a western accent called up saying that he was not satisfied with our service and wished to cancel. After telling him that he would need to call back during business hours and speak with customer service, I asked if there was anything I could do to make the service more satisfactory.

  • Customer: "Well, I've had ya guys for months now, and still I can't get connected."
  • Tech Support: "Have you called us about this before?"
  • Customer: "Well, yes, a couple of times."

So I got his username and looked him up. Sure enough, there were two tech logs under his name, so I read them briefly. Virtually everything that could be checked had been checked. Something about the way he was talking to me made me a little curious, so I continued to ask questions.

  • Tech Support: "From what I can tell, the techs have helped you double-check your settings and everything should be perfectly fine. Do you use Netscape or Internet Explorer to connect?"
  • Customer: "Well, now, I dunno. I just use the stuff ya gave me. When I wanna get online, I click this here."
  • Tech Support: "Can you be a little more specific?"
  • Customer: "I move the little arrow here and click."
  • Tech Support: "Can you tell me what icons are on your desktop?"
  • Customer: "I ain't got no icons."
  • Tech Support: (blink) "You don't? None at all?"
  • Customer: "Nope."
  • Tech Support: "Well, ok. Do you have something on your desktop that says, 'Shortcut to [our Internet service]'?"
  • Customer: "No, I ain't got nothin' written like that on my desktop."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, um...can you tell me what's on your desktop, then?"
  • Customer: "Well, I gots me here a pencil, the computer, and my coffee."
  • Tech Support: "Um, all right...can you tell me what you see on the TV part of your computer?"
  • Customer: "On one side there's a buncha pictures, and across the top there's words."
  • Tech Support: "Good, sir, that's what I hoped you would say. The little pictures are called 'icons,' and the whole screen area that the little pictures are on is called the 'desktop.'"
  • Customer: "Oh. Hell, is that what you meant? I ain't the religious type, so don't keep no Marys or nothin' around."
  • Tech Support: "Um, yes, that's what I was meaning, sir. Now, on your screen, the desktop, do you see anything that says 'Shortcut to the Internet' or '[our Internet service]'?"
  • Customer: "Why, yes I do. In fact, that's what I click on when I try to connect."
  • Tech Support: "And then what happens sir?"
  • Customer: "Well, the computer makes all kinds of annoying sounds, then pops up a little thing sayin' I'm connected."
  • Tech Support: "Go--"
  • Customer: (interrupting) "Now before ya say anythin', I wantcha ta know it lies."
  • Tech Support: "It what?"
  • Customer: "The little thing sayin' I'm connected. It ain't talkin' the truth."
  • Tech Support: "Um...ok...what makes you say that?"
  • Customer: "Well, because after that nothin' happens. Nothin' at all."
  • Tech Support: "Excuse me?"
  • Customer: "Well, it says I'm connected, but nothin' else happens. I'm a patient man, but after about half an hour, my computer finally gives up the truth an' says I'm not connected no more."
  • Tech Support: "Have you tried using a web browser, sir? Do you get any kind of errors when you try opening a web page?"
  • Customer: "I'm tellin' you, nothin' happens."
  • Tech Support: "All right. What do you use for a web browser?"
  • Customer: "I'm not quite sure whatcha mean."
  • Tech Support: "Netscape Navigator? Internet Explorer? Do you use any programs like those?"
  • Customer: "Now why would I need anything like that? All I want to do is get connected."
  • Tech Support: "Right sir, you are getting conn--"
  • Customer: "Now listen here, I just done told ya that I'm not. I think I'd know if anything happened after I tried to connect. By now I'm getting rather frustrated, but still I press on."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, let me try to explain a couple of things. First of all, when most people talk about 'surfing the web' and 'getting on the Internet' they're usually talking about viewing web pages on the Internet."
  • Customer: "I follow ya."
  • Tech Support: "In order to view these pages, the person needs to run a web browsing program -- typically Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer. These turn the information on a web site into a format that is understandable by an ordinary person."
  • Customer: "So I need one of them ta get connected?"
  • Tech Support: "Actually, sir, you are already getting connected. Once you get that 'connected' message, you need to open up a web browser."
  • Customer: "I do?"
  • Tech Support: "Yes, sir. On your screen, do you have a 'little picture' that looks like a big 'N' or do you have one that looks like an 'e'?"
  • Customer: "I got one what looks like an 'N'."
  • Tech Support: "All right, sir, here's what I want you to do: After hanging up with me, I want you to connect like you usually do. Once you get that 'connected' box to appear on your screen, I want you to click on the picture of an 'N'. If things still aren't happening after that, go ahead and call us back."
  • Customer: "All right, I'll try that, but I tell ya: ain't nothin' gonna happen."

The customer never called back. He also did not cancel his service the next day. The whole call took just over an hour and a half and I was ready to pull my hair out at several points. After the call, though, we were laughing over it for hours.

  • Tech Support: "Ok you should now see a small dialog box on your desktop."
  • Customer: "I don't see any box on my desktop."
  • Tech Support: "Hmmm, are you sure? It looks like a small window with an 'OK' button in the middle of it."
  • Customer: "How can a window be in my desktop?"
  • Tech Support: "Sir, what are you looking at?"
  • Customer: "My desktop like you asked. There's no box on it, just the computer. However I do have a small window at the top of my wall, but I don't see anything that says 'ok'...."

Thinking quickly, I decided to palm the call off to one of our younger support technicians, deciding this would be the perfect "field trip" for him. I told the customer we would have a technician drop by on site that afternoon to help him.

The following is what the unsuspecting young technician experienced.

The customer's house appeared to be in the middle of nowhere: there was nothing but barren land for miles in all directions. As he approached the house, he noticed a ring of cows, dogs, chickens, and pigs running loose and circling the house making an awful noise.

As he approached the house, he noticed a dead, half eaten animal near the front of the house. Later, he learned, whenever the customer needed to feed his dogs, he would step outside and shoot a calf.

Entering the house, the young technician noticed a very large pet door in the door. This was so the dogs and pigs could come and go as they pleased.

Inside the house was absolute filth. Mud and grime covered the floor and the walls, pigs lay on the couch, and dogs sat on the recliner chairs. The stench of filth was unbearable.

The customer took the technician to the back room, where the computer had been set up. A chicken was nesting on top of the monitor and droppings were running down the side.

It was too much. He ran, terrified out of his wits, and never looked back. Later the tech called me from his home, where he was still trying to wash the stench from his clothes. He hadn't been in our ex-customer's house for even five minutes, and his clothes were ruined.

I work for Microsoft as a certified Word Professional. One day I received a call from a woman who had much difficulty explaining herself and even more difficulty understanding what I was asking of her.

  • Tech Support: "Ok, what version of word do you have?"
  • Customer: "Virgin!?"
  • Tech Support: "No, no...what VERSION do you have?"
  • Customer: "Huh?"
  • Tech Support: "You know what? I don't care. Let's move on."

Pointless bickering and senseless rambling about her problem.

  • Tech Support: "And how often does this happen?"
  • Customer: "Well, it doesn't happen all the time, but when it happens, it happens constantly."
  • Tech Support: "Uh huh."

I had to hit the mute button to avoid letting her hear my agitated laughter.

The call lasted forty five minutes. I began to think that she didn't really know what I was saying, nor had the intelligence to question why I hadn't begun troubleshooting. Then I had an idea.

  • Tech Support: "Well everything seems to be in good standing on your system. Nice talking with you."
  • Customer: "Oh, THANK YOU!! Thank you very much!" (click)

I never really found out what her issue was.

  • Tech Support: "Ok sir, we'll do a file search to find it. Can you please click on Start, then Find, then--"
  • Customer: "Don't talk down to me like that! I'm not an idiot -- I know what I'm doing!"
  • Tech Support: "Ok sir, please Start, then Find to do a file search."
  • Customer: "How do I do that?"

A former professor of mine was receiving a Javascript error when trying to view a particular web page. In trying to determine why he was having the trouble I asked what browser he was using.

  • Me: "You may have an older browser. What browser are you using?"
  • Him: "Well, I don't have a brand new computer, but it's not obsolete. I have Pentium 233 with 64 of the big ones."
  • Me: "You mean 64 megs of RAM?"
  • Him: "Yeah, RAM."
  • Me: "Ok, but what browser are you using? Internet Explorer or Netscape?"
  • Him: "I have Windows 95."
  • Me: "Ok, that's the operating system. What do you use to look at a web site?"
  • Him: "Oh, I'm using Office 97."
  • Me: "Yes, but what browser? When you look at a web site, what program do you use?"
  • Him: "Office 97."
  • Me: "Office 97 isn't a browser though. When you double click on the icon to connect to the Internet, it opens a program that lets you look at web sites on the Internet. What program opens? Internet Explorer or Netscape?"
  • Him: "My computer is not obsolete. I have Pentium 233."

I never did find out what browser he uses.

  • Tech Support: "Hold down the F2 key."
  • Customer: "Where is that?"
  • Tech Support: "On the left side of your keyboard, above the two -- just right of the Escape key."
  • Customer: "Ok."
  • Tech Support: "So now we are in the System Setup screen?"
  • Customer: "No."
  • Tech Support: "All right. Hit your Ctrl-Alt-Delete keys. Then your F2 key."
  • Customer: "Ok."
  • Tech Support: "Now we are in the System Setup?"
  • Customer: "No."
  • Tech Support: "Does it say, 'Loading Windows 95'?"
  • Customer: "No."
  • Tech Support: "Can you describe what is on your screen?"
  • Customer: "It's gray."
  • Tech Support: "Just gray? It does not say anything?"
  • Customer: "No. Just gray...with blue and white."
  • Tech Support: "Are there letters on your screen?"
  • Customer: "Yes."


  • Tech Support: "Read them to me."
  • Customer: "C-o-p-y-r-i--"
  • Tech Support: "Do they form words? Do the words form phrases? Do the phrases form sentences?"
  • Customer: "I suppose."

  • Customer: "I'll have you know, I've never even seen a computer before yesterday."

Great. Great start to a call. He wanted to install the Internet connection software we have, so I had him insert the CD. "It ain't workin'!" was all I heard for about two minutes of trying the drive and checking to see if it was really there.

  • Tech Support: "Sir, could you eject your CD for a moment? We need to check if it's scratched."
  • Customer: "Ok."
  • Tech Support: "Look on the bottom of the CD, and see if there are any scratches on it."
  • Customer: "On the bottom? Shouldn't we check the top?"
  • Tech Support: "Is the shiny side of the CD on the top?"
  • Customer: "Of course."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, could you flip it over so the shiny side is down and then insert it into the drive?"
  • Customer: "Won't it scratch if I put it in like that?"
  • Tech Support: "No, it won't scratch."
  • Customer: "Well, ok...."

He inserted the CD in the drive correctly, and then his computer froze.

  • Customer: "My computer froze! I told you it would scratch the CD!"
  • Tech Support: "I'm sure that's not the problem--"
  • Customer: "I can't believe you scratched the CD."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, sir, could you hold down 'ctrl' and 'alt', and then-- (clunking sounds) Hello? Hello, sir?"

There was no one on the line for a moment. Then he spoke up again.

  • Customer: "I've been holding 'ctrl' and 'alt' for the past two minutes, and nothing is happening at all on my whole damn computer, because you made me scratch the software."

  • Customer: "My program doesn't work."
  • Tech Support: "Which program are you using?"
  • Customer: "The one I use to get my work done."
  • Tech Support: "Ma'am, we support many different programs, what's the name of the program you use?"
  • Customer: "I don't know; it's the one that comes up when I start my computer."
  • Tech Support: "Can you tell me what you see on the screen after you start your computer?"
  • Customer: "No, I can't get the program to come up so I can't tell you what's on the screen."
  • Tech Support: "Is your computer on?"
  • Customer: "Of course it's on! I know how to turn on my computer!"
  • Tech Support: "What kind of computer do you have? Is it a PC, a Macintosh, an Xterminal, or a VT420?"
  • Customer: "I don't know. You're the help desk -- you're supposed to know that."
  • Tech Support: "Uh. Have you tried rebooting your machine?"
  • Customer: (angrily) "I just told you I can't get the program to run. What kind of help desk is this? I don't think you're very helpful, and I'll have you know that I personally know one of the programmers, and I'm going to call her since I know she'll be able to help me!"

This woman calls in, having a problem with her video card. Her initial rundown on the situation seems like she would know what she was talking about. But no.

  • Customer: "So when I go to boot my computer, it just does nothing."
  • Tech Support: "It just does nothing? So, when you turn on your computer you just get a blank screen?"
  • Customer: "Oh no, It comes up and counts my memory, detects hard drives, etc."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, then what happens?"
  • Customer: "It doesn't do nothing."
  • Tech Support: "It doesn't do nothing? I am not sure I understand. Does it lock up at this point?"
  • Customer: "Oh no, after that I get the screen with the clouds that says 'Windows' on it."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, so you turn it on, it starts to boot up, then it goes to the splash screen with the clouds, and this is where you are having problems? What happens here?"
  • Customer: "It doesn't do nothing."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, so can you even get in to Windows? Will the system boot to your desktop?"
  • Customer: "Oh yes."
  • Tech Support: "All right, so, you turn on your system, it counts your RAM, detects your drives, loads the splash screen, boots into Windows, and then what?"
  • Customer: "Nothing."
  • Tech Support: "So what is the problem?"
  • Customer: "The computer doesn't do nothing."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, I need you to be a little more specific here because that so far, this is quite normal."
  • Customer: "Oh yeah, all that stuff is normal."
  • Tech Support: "So again, what is the problem anyway?"
  • Customer: "My desktop is all washed out looking."

I sent a JPEG from my recent vacation to my mother as an email attachment. I then telephoned her to see if she was able to view it. After attempting to get her to use the 'File/Open' command in Netscape, I realized that my 'Open' dialog was different from hers, and so I couldn't talk her through it. But I tried to determine which OS she was running.

  • Me: "Do you know what operating system you're running? Is it Windows 95 or Windows 3.1?"
  • My Mother: "I don't know, but it must be Windows 95."
  • Me: "Ok, do you see a 'My Computer' icon on your screen?"
  • My Mother: "'My Computer'? What's that?"
  • Me: "It's a picture of a computer with the words 'My Computer' underneath it."
  • My Mother: "I don't have that."
  • Me: "It would be on the desktop."
  • My Mother: (getting irate) "I don't know what you're talking about."
  • Me: "Mom, tell me what you see when you turn your computer on."
  • My Mother: "Nothing."
  • Me: "You don't see anything? No words appear on the screen? Nothing? Well, what do you see on your screen right now?"
  • My Mother: "I don't see anything."
  • Me: (getting frustrated) "You're staring at a black screen? There's nothing there at all?"
  • My Mother: "I'm not technical. I don't know these things."
  • Me: "I just want you to describe what you see."
  • My Mother: "I don't see anything. I just get on here and clickity-click."
  • Me: "I gotta go, Mom."

We have one customer who is notorious in the tech support department. We all dread getting a call from her. She is truly stupid when it comes to a computer.

  • Tech Support: "Ok, you are in C:\WINDOWS. We need to get to the A: drive. So type 'A' colon and press enter."
  • Customer: "'A'? What's an 'A'?"
  • Tech Support: "It's the first letter of the alphabet. 'A' like apple."
  • Customer: "Ummm...what's an 'A'? I don't know what it is."
  • Tech Support: "Grade school, remember? The letter 'A'?"
  • Customer: "Oh, ok. Where is that?"
  • Tech Support: "Left side of the keyboard. Next to the 'S'."
  • Customer: "Ok...I think I found it. What do I do?"
  • Tech Support: "Press it. See what happens."
  • Customer: "Ok, I've got an 'A' now."
  • Tech Support: "Now press the colon. It's next to the 'L' key."
  • Customer: "How do I get it?"
  • Tech Support: "Hold down the 'shift' key."
  • Customer: "How to you spell that?"
  • Tech Support: "S-H-I-F-T. You have two of them. Near the space bar. Hold that down and press the colon."
  • Customer: "I can't find the colon."
  • Tech Support: "It's to the right of the 'L'."
  • Customer: "How do I get it?"
  • Tech Support: "Hold the shift key and press the colon key."
  • Customer: "Oh, ok...I think I've got it."
  • Tech Support: "Good, now hit 'enter'."
  • Customer: "Where's that?"

This whole conversation of two commands took almost an hour. I have no idea how this lady ever made enough money to buy a computer. It amazes me how someone can forget the alphabet. She's nice, but she's amazingly dumb.

A customer wanted to set up his computer to download something from the Internet. So I spent a nice chunk of time walking him through downloading Netscape and the Plugin Pack and rebooting.

  • Customer: "So are we done yet?"
  • Tech Support: "Not yet."

I spent still more time configuring TCP/IP for the LAN for him.

  • Customer: "So are we done yet?"
  • Tech Support: "Not yet."

I spent still more time with him configuring access through the firewall and setting his preferences. Netscape started fine at this point.

  • Customer: "So are we done yet?"
  • Tech Support: "Yes. Try accessing the site now."
  • Customer: "How do I do that?"

I spent still more time with him explaining how to enter a URL.

  • Customer: "It's not working!"
  • Tech Support: "Where are you trying to go?"

He gave me the address. I tried nslookup and whois on it, but they came up empty.

  • Tech Support: "I'm sorry, that site doesn't exist. Are you sure you wrote it down correctly?"
  • Customer: "Well! All this was a waste of time! We've accomplished nothing!" (click)

A customer called complaining that his display wasn't working. (It turned out to be that his monitor was out of sync.)

  • Customer: "I installed the video drivers and all I see is a postage stamp in the center of the screen."
  • Tech Support: "Can you describe what you see?"
  • Customer: "I just told you, a postage stamp!!"
  • Tech Support: "Does it look like your desktop?"
  • Customer: "Nope. Aren't you listening?? It looks like a postage stamp."
  • Tech Support: "Ok,let's reset the system back to VGA."
  • Customer: "What's that??"
  • Tech Support: "The default video settings...please hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete."
  • Customer: "What is that???"
  • Tech Support: "The three keys. 'Control' and 'Alt' and 'Delete' pressed at the same time."
  • Customer: "Oh, ok. Oh no!! My screen went blank!"
  • Tech Support: "That's ok. When you see OS/2 in the upper left hit 'Alt' and 'F1'."
  • Customer: "'Alt'? 'F1'? Can you speak English?"
  • Tech Support: "Sir, these are keys on your keyboard."
  • Customer: "Oh."
  • Tech Support: (waits a minute for the system to finish booting) "Do you see the OS/2 logo yet?"
  • Customer: "Nope."
  • Tech Support: (waits another minute or two) "Anything yet?"
  • Customer: "Nope. Can I release the keys?"

Twenty minutes later I found out he had a monitor that was only capable of VGA, and then I spent another ten minutes trying to explain why he needed a better monitor to display higher resolutions.

  • Tech Support: "Double click on 'My Computer', then on the 'Dial-up Networking' folder."
  • Customer: "Where is it?"
  • Tech Support: "Excuse me?"
  • Customer: "Where is 'My Computer'?"
  • Tech Support: "In the upper left corner of your screen."
  • Customer: "Oh! Hey! That's pretty good!!"

Twenty five minutes later....

  • Tech Support: "Ok, now go to 'Options' and then 'Mail and News Preferences'."
  • Customer: "Got it."
  • Tech Support: "Now click on the tab that says 'Servers'."
  • Customer: "I don't see it."
  • Tech Support: "What do you see on your screen?"
  • Customer: "Oh! There it is. I was looking on the keyboard."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, now read to me what's in the SMTP field."
  • Customer: "There's nothing there."
  • Tech Support: "Now we know why you can't get your mail. Type in ''."
  • Customer: "M-A-L-E-H-O-S-T..."
  • Tech Support: "No sir. It's spelled M-A-I-L-H-O-S-T."
  • Customer: "Ok...where's the dot?"

I wanted to cry.

  • Husband: "Hi. I'm having a problem connecting to the Internet."
  • Tech Support: "Ok sir, what operating system are you using?"
  • Husband: "Oh...I'm really not sure...I'm not the computer expert. My wife is. She's sitting at the computer. I'm going to dictate this to her." (pause) "She says we use Windows 95."
  • Tech Support: "Ok. What exactly is the problem?"
  • Husband: "I can't connect."
  • Wife: (in the background) "We can't even get on -- the software is buggy!"
  • Tech Support: "Ok, what happens when you try to connect?"
  • Husband: "Ok, the Connect To: screen pops up, and it asks for my password."
  • Tech Support: "Did you put your password in?"
  • Husband: "Yes, and it keeps asking for it afterwards."
  • Tech Support: "Do you have your caps lock key on?"
  • Husband: "Yes, but that shouldn't make any difference."
  • Tech Support: "Uhm...go ahead and hit the caps lock key until the light goes away."
  • Husband: "Are you sure? We've always got on with the caps lock key on."
  • Tech Support: "Yes, I'm sure."
  • Husband: "Oh, ok. It took my password."
  • Wife: (in the background) "I told you!" (They start arguing. She takes the phone from him.) "HELLO?"
  • Tech Support: "Yes, hello, you should be all set from here."
  • Tech Support: "What program do you use for email, ma'am?"
  • Wife: "I use Windows 95! We already told you that!"
  • Husband: (in the background) "We already told her that, didn't we?"
  • Tech Support: "No, what mail application...such as Eudora, Netscape, Internet Explorer..."
  • Wife: "Microsoft Netscape."
  • Tech Support: "Netscape?"
  • Wife: "Yes, Microsoft Netscape."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, open that up and go to Options, and then Mail and News Preferences--"
  • Wife: "No, I want email! I don't want to surf the net!"
  • Tech Support: "Netscape comes with an email program, and we're going to set it up now."
  • Wife: "Ugh. Fine. Whatever. We'll do it YOUR way."
  • Tech Support: "Ok." (explains how to set up popmail)
  • Wife: "I'm not getting mail."
  • Tech Support: "Do you have two phone lines?"

Suddenly I hear the modem attempting to dial in.

  • Tech Support: (over the roar of the modem) "MA'AM? YOU ONLY HAVE ONE PHONE LINE. DON'T TRY TO DIAL IN."

(beep click click)

  • Tech Support: "You can't dial up with this line. It's already in use."
  • Wife: "I was always able to use it before YOU changed my settings!"
  • Tech Support: "No, you will just have to disconn--"
  • Wife: "You tech support people always mess up my settings, and then I have to bring my computer back to [retailer] to get it fixed! You know, you cost me so much money!"
  • Tech Support: "Ma'am, I didn't change any of your Internet settings."
  • Wife: "Yes you did, we just went through a NUMBER of things."
  • Tech Support: "All we did was--"
  • Wife: "I've had ENOUGH of your service. I'm going back to AOL." (click)

I got a call from an older lady who stated that after installing our software, her mouse would not work. After further questioning, I learned that she got a message when booting the system that a device was not found. I had her power off the PC, disconnect, and then reconnect the mouse. After rebooting, the mouse functioned fine. But instead of thanking me, she asked me sourly, "Why did your software unplug my mouse?" I attempted to explain to the lady that that was not possible and that all it was was a loose connection. It wasn't good enough for her. She put her husband on, who asked, "Why did your software decide my computer didn't need a mouse?" Again, trying to explain the loose connection was of little use, and he wanted another number to call to return the software.

  • Tech Support: "So the mouse won't move?"
  • Customer: "No."
  • Tech Support: "Does the numlock or capslock work?"
  • Customer: "No."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, you'll need to hit the reset button."
  • Customer: "Ok."
  • Tech Support: "Is the system booting back up yet?"
  • Customer: "Ummm..." (pause)
  • Tech Support: "Is it rebooting?"
  • Customer: "I see a return button. Is that the one you want?"
  • Tech Support: "No, the reset button. It's on the front of the computer. You're looking at the keyboard."
  • Customer: "Oh, umm...there's just one button, and it says 'power'."
  • Tech Support: "That's the monitor. The computer is that box that all those things plug into."
  • Customer: "Umm...ohh! I see it now -- how silly of me. Ok, I pressed it."
  • Tech Support: "Is the system rebooting now?"
  • Customer: "No, it's still locked up."
  • Tech Support: "You're sure you pressed the button marked 'reset'?"
  • Customer: "Yes, it's right here next to the one labeled 'Form Feed'."
  • Tech Support: "Ma'am, that's the printer."
  • Customer: "Maybe you just need to come here and fix it."
  • Tech Support: "Ma'am, do you use any floppy disks?"
  • Customer: "Yes, I save all my letters on them."
  • Tech Support: "The computer is the thing you stick the disks into."
  • Customer: "OHHH!!!! It's under the desk...hang on. Well! Look at that; there's a reset button. I pressed it, now my computer is acting like I just turned it on."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, good."
  • Customer: "Wait, what's this button that says 'Turbo'?"
  • Tech Support: "That's there so you can slow the system down to run older software and games."
  • Customer: "Is that why my system is so slow?"
  • Tech Support: "Is the yellow light on?"
  • Customer: "No."
  • Tech Support: "Press that button."
  • Customer: "WOW!!!"
  • Tech Support: "What?"
  • Customer: "My report didn't freeze up this time."

That turned out to be the cause of her system locking up. It wasn't really locking up, it was just going so slow it seemed that way, and she never waited long enough for it to finish processing her reports.

  • Customer: "When I dial your service, the system asks me some questions and then it kicks me off."
  • Tech Support: "What were the questions that it asked you?"
  • Customer: "I don't remember."
  • Tech Support: "Well, sir, if you don't remember what they were, I don't know what the problem is and I can't help you."
  • Customer: "So I need to call you and go through this again after seeing the questions again?"
  • Tech Support: "Yes."
  • Customer: "Can't I just keep you on while I call?"
  • Tech Support: "Is your modem on another line?"
  • Customer: "No, same line."
  • Tech Support: "Well, sir, you can't do's like someone picking up the phone now and dialing while we are talking."
  • Customer: "Can I at least try?"

He tried. Twice. Ugh.

  • Customer: "My Internet doesn't work!"
  • Tech Support: "Ok, do you have an icon for Internet on your desktop?"
  • Customer: "An icon? Desktop??"
  • Tech Support: "Are you using Windows 95?"
  • Customer: "Don't know. You said Windows??? By the way, how do you type a capital 'e' instead of a lower case 'e'?"
  • Tech Support: (crying) "Hold 'shift' while pressing 'e'."
  • Customer: "What is 'shift'??"

  • Customer: "My modem is not working."
  • Tech Support: "Ok. Let's start simply. Do you have a phone line running from the back of the computer to the wall?"
  • Customer: "I have no dial tone when I pick up the phone."
  • Tech Support: "Do you have a phone line running from the back of the computer to the wall?"
  • Customer: "I bought this new computer, it's got (reads from store receipt) and 32 megs of RAM. But it won't work."
  • Tech Support: "Ok. Tell me how you have it set up right now."
  • Customer: "Well, I have it setting next to the phone, and the phone line is hooked into it."
  • Tech Support: "Is anything running into the wall?"
  • Customer: "No."
  • Tech Support: "So you have the computer sitting next to the phone, the phone line running into the computer, and that's it?"
  • Customer: "Yes. Am I supposed to plug the computer in?"
  • Tech Support: "Yes, it needs to be plugged in so the modem can dial."
  • Customer: "What's a modem?"

My boss sent an update of our current program via modem to all of our online customers, with instructions to call in and be walked through the upgrade if they needed it. He had to leave the office for a few hours, so he gave me instructions on how to start the upgrade once they had downloaded it.

I got a call while he was away. Details you should know: the lady who called me for instructions was not the person who was operating the computer. That person was on the other side of the room, and everything had to be relayed through the lady on the phone. For reasons of brevity, I won't bother typing out every sentence being repeated several times back and forth.

  • Customer: "We got your program, along with a note that we were supposed to call...?"
  • Tech Support: "Ok, I can help you with that. Type [the command] and press Return."
  • Customer: "It says that file doesn't exist."
  • Tech Support: "Huh? Ok...are you in the [directory] directory?"
  • Customer: "Yes."
  • Tech Support: "Hmmm. Let's try this again, just to be sure."

I spelled out the command exactly and got her to read it back to me before she hit Return. But she got the same error.

  • Tech Support: "All right, let's make sure the program is installed in the right directory. Could you take a look in the directory tree and let me know what you find in--"
  • Customer: "Tree? TREE?? There's no trees anywhere near my computer! Whaddaya mean a tree might have caused the problem???"

Needless to say, that took a while to straighten out. Anyway, it turned out the upgrade wasn't in the directory at all.

  • Tech Support: "Did you receive the program OK? No error messages or anything popped up during the transmission?"
  • Customer: "Oh no, everything went fine. I've got it right here in my hand."

Sigh. Someone had transferred the download to disk in order to install it on a second computer, handed it to her, and told her to call us. Apparently it never occurred to her to get the program on the computer somehow before calling.

  • Tech Support: "What do you have connected to the back of your computer?"
  • Customer: "I have a printer, a modem and the System 7 module."
  • Tech Support: "Excuse me, but could you repeat the last item?"
  • Customer: "The System 7 module."
  • Tech Support: "The System 7 what?"
  • Customer: "It's the module to upgrade the system to 7.5."
  • Tech Support: "...and it plugs into the back of your computer?"
  • Customer: "Yes."
  • Tech Support: "Does this 'module' plug into anything else?"
  • Customer: "It plugs into the wall outlet."
  • Tech Support: "Ma'am, that's the power cord."
  • Customer: "No, I can see the power cord, and this module is plugged in right next to it."
  • Tech Support: "Ma'am, there is no such thing as a System 7 module."
  • Customer: "Oh my goodness, I'm sorry, I forgot. It's the power supply to the HyperCard."
  • Tech Support: "Ma'am, HyperCard does not have a separate power supply. Would you mind following the cord from the outlet until you find what it plugs into?"
  • Customer: "Ok."

Ten minutes later...

  • Customer: "It hooks into the printer."

This call took more than 45 minutes, in case you wanted to know why there are hold times on support numbers.

  • Customer: "I haven't had sound for about a month."
  • Tech Support: "What kind of speakers do you have?"
  • Customer: "They are stereo."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, do they plug into the wall?"
  • Customer: "No."
  • Tech Support: "So they are the little boxes that don't attach to the monitor?"
  • Customer: [angrily] "Yes."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, let's see if maybe the speakers are the problem. Do you have a music CD?"
  • Customer: "Yes."
  • Tech Support: "Would you go get it?"
  • Customer: "Sure." [clunk clunk clunk] "Do you want one that came with the computer?"
  • Tech Support: "No, I need a music CD."
  • Customer: "I think 'The Animals' has music."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, maybe I am being unclear, I need a regular CD not a cdrom -- one you buy at a music store."
  • Customer: "I have a Garth Brooks CD, but I bought it at a swap meet."
  • Tech Support: "That's great; that CD will work."
  • Customer: "I go to swap meets all the time to get great deals on stuff. We don't ever go to the music stores."

We get the CD playing with AudioStation, but there's no sound.

  • Tech Support: "Ok, let's check the volume."
  • Customer: "I already checked the damn volume when it stopped making sound a month ago!"
  • Tech Support: "I understand. Let's just double check it real quick."

The volume level turns out ok, and the sound's not muted.

  • Customer: "I'll just turn it all the way up.... Nope, can't hear a damn thing."
  • Tech Support: "It looks like you are ok there, now let's check those speakers."
  • Customer: "Ok, but you might as well replace the whole damn thing right now."
  • Tech Support: "I'll be happy to replace anything that needs replacing. I just want to make sure we get everything working for you."
  • Customer: "All right."
  • Tech Support: "Now those speakers...they are all hooked up? The left connects to the right and then the right connects to the computer?"
  • Customer: [obviously without checking] "Yup."
  • Tech Support: "Ok. And they are turned off right?"
  • Customer: "...Listen to me you little..."

I endure a three minute profanity/threat combo.

  • Customer: "...Of course they are turned on!! Now you--"
  • Tech Support: "Whoa, slow down a sec...I want you to turn them to the off position, please."

Country music blares. The rest of the conversation takes place shouting over it.

  • Customer: "Heck son, I don't believe it! What was the problem?"
  • Tech Support: "The batteries must be dead."

I used to work as a salesman for a computer wholesaler a number of years ago. I got a call from a woman who was fit to be tied. She found out that the person who sold her the computer bought it from our company and called us to complain.

  • Customer: "I need help with this computer!"
  • Tech Support: "Well what do you need to know?"
  • Customer: (screaming) "Well I bought this damn computer from this guy who says he bought it from you and he came to my house and hooked it up. Now while he's explaining to my daughter how to use it, she's telling him 'yeah, yeah,' she knows what he's talking about. I'm in the kitchen cooking peppers and onions while my daughter is going 'yeah, yeah,' then this guy leaves, and I ask my daughter if she knows how to use the computer, and she says she was too embarrassed to tell him she didn't understand and just told him 'yeah, yeah.' Now I paid over $1000 for this thing and I don't even know how to use it!"
  • Tech Support: "Uh, well is there anything in particular you want to know how to do?"

I never anticipated her answer.

  • Customer: "I wanna make a tennis game."
  • Tech Support: "A what!?"
  • Customer: "A tennis game with the paddles."
  • Tech Support: "What, you mean like pong?"
  • Customer: "No, tennis!"
  • Tech Support: "You mean with graphics?"
  • Customer: "I wanna make a tennis game with the, you know, rackets and the ball."
  • Tech Support: (in shock, I start blurting nonsense) "Well, do you know Windows?"
  • Customer: "I don't know anything about computers, I was frying sausages in the kitchen..."

She tells me the whole story again.

  • Tech Support: "Well, you would need to lean how to program in a computer language like C++ and that takes many years of experience. I'd suggest you first start slowly and learn DOS and Windows."

After that, I spent twenty minutes talking her down from a seething boil to a cool simmer and finally got her off the phone. I imagine this woman aggravated the poor slob who sold her the computer until he caved in and gave her our number. Nice guy.

  • Customer: "Look, look!!!!! Look what it's doing!!! Can you BELIEVE this?? Why is it doing that??"
  • Tech Support: "Sir, I can't see your computer, what is it doing?"
  • Customer: "WHAT??? Can't you figure it out?? LOOK AT MY COMPUTER SCREEN!!!!! You can see it, can't you?!"

This was my slowest caller ever:

  • Tech Support: "Thank you for calling; how may I help you?"
  • Customer: " doesn't work."

Direct and to the point, but just a touch vague. So I prodded him for more information about his problem.

  • Tech Support: "What does not work?"
  • Customer: "Ummm...the program doesn't work."
  • Tech Support: "Could you please be more specific? Was there an error message?"
  • Customer: "Yes."

I waited a moment, thinking that he would continue on his own. But he didn't.

  • Tech Support: "And the message was?"
  • Customer: "Something about a GPF."
  • Tech Support: "Are you in front of the computer now?"
  • Customer: "No."
  • Tech Support: "Can you get in front of the computer?"
  • Customer: "I guess; let me get out of bed."

Shuffling. Stepping down stairs.

  • Tech Support: "Are you still there?"
  • Customer: "Yeah, I have to go downstairs and turn on the computer."

This guy has a 386-25 with 2 megs of RAM loading Windows. It takes about five minutes to boot up his machine.

  • Tech Support: "Ok, are you in Windows?"
  • Customer: "Uhhhh...almost...."


  • Tech Support: "Ok, are you in Windows?"
  • Customer: "Uhhhh...almost...."


  • Customer: "Ok."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, you are in Windows, can you get into the program for me please?"
  • Customer: "How do I do that?"
  • Tech Support: "Just the way you normally do."
  • Customer: "I don't remember. It's late, and I'm tired. Step me through it."
  • Tech Support: "Double click on the icon for the program please."
  • Customer: "Where is that?"

I slowly drop my head to the desk. Finally, I get him to start our application and wait three minutes for the software to load. I'm now fifteen minutes into this call, and I normally average three and a half.

  • Tech Support: "Ok, can you duplicate the problem for me?"
  • Customer: ""
  • Tech Support: "Why not?"
  • Customer: "I don't remember where it happened."
  • Tech Support: "I'm afraid I really won't able to help unless I know the error message and where it occured. You will need to recreate the message and call us back with that information."
  • Customer: "But I waited so long to talk to you, you people really need to be faster if you expect people to use your service. It takes too long to talk to you. You will lose customers unless you speed it up."
  • Tech Support: "Thanks for calling, bye-bye."

  • Customer: "It was working last night, but it's not working any longer. And I haven't changed anything."
  • Tech Support: "You sure you haven't changed anything? Nobody's gone near the machine?"
  • Customer: "Yeah, yeah, nobody touched it."
  • Tech Support: "What's not working?"
  • Customer: "I can't get into my POP account."

Alarm bells go off in my head. The user doesn't have a POP account.

  • Tech Support: "Oh. All right. Do you have the letter we sent you with your POP account details?"
  • Customer: "Yeah, uh, it's...around here somewhere." [scrabbling sounds]
  • Tech Support: "Ok, let's forget the POP account for a moment. Can you tell me exactly what happened?"
  • Customer: "Well, I moved everything onto my new machine this morning, and it's not working."
  • Tech Support: "I thought you said that you didn't change anything???"
  • Customer: "But I didn't!"

  • Tech Support: "Ok, type 'cd windows.'"
  • Customer: "Right."
  • Tech Support: "What does it say?"
  • Customer: "It says 'see colon slash greater-than see dee windows.'"
  • Tech Support: [sigh] "Press return."
  • Customer: "Ok, it says 'see colon slash windows slash greater-than.'"
  • Tech Support: "Right, do a dir."
  • Customer: ""
  • Tech Support: "Type 'dir'."
  • Customer: "It says 'see colon slash windows slash greater-than dir.'"
  • Tech Support: [adding teethmarks to the phone] "Press return!"
  • Customer: "Ok, it says lots of different things, and then, 'see colon slash windows slash greater-than.' Oh, and there's always a flashy line after the greater-than; did I mention that?"

A user calls from Chicago. (We are in central Illinois.) She wants to register for classes via our online registration system. In the course of the discussion I discover that:

  1. She is definitely "Not A Computer Person" (tm).
  2. She is at her friend's house, but her friend is not there.
  3. Her friend has a computer, but she doesn't know what kind.
  4. She has never turned it on.
  5. She thinks it has a modem, but she is not sure.
  6. She has never logged on to any of her university accounts.
  7. She has never used any terminal software and doesn't know what type her friend has.

She was deeply upset that "no one will help her." Sadly, I was also unable to do so. I mean, what do you do?

I once received a call from a woman with a heavy, throaty, not-real-educated-or-bright voice from New York. She asked if the...

  • Customer: " tape, ya know, the plasticky thingie I got in the mail...does that work even if I don't put it in my compoota??"
  • Tech Support: "No, ma'am, the software does not work unless it is installed on to your hard drive."
  • Customer: "But this isn't soft...this is a small hard plastic square..."
  • Tech Support: "Yes, ma'am, that's called software, and you need to insert it into the disk drive to use it."
  • Customer: "Look, lady, I'm not stupid -- this isn't soft -- and I don't appreciate you making fun of me." [click]

  • Tech Support: "Now, do you see the words '[etc etc etc]'."
  • Customer: "Um, no."
  • Tech Support: "Scroll down, there should be the words '[etc etc etc]' enclosed in brackets."
  • Customer: "They're not here."
  • Tech Support: [loading up the same file in EDIT on my machine] "Ok, starting from the top, you'll see '[this]', '[that]', and '[the other]'. The next section will have '[etc etc etc]' in brackets."
  • Customer: "Oh, you mean '[etc etc etc]'!"
  • Tech Support: "Yes. Now, under that is a blank line."
  • Customer: "Ok."
  • Tech Support: "Now, move the cursor to that blank line."
  • Customer: "I don't understand what you mean."

I spent about ten minutes trying to navigate him to the beginning of the blank line so that he can type in a single line of text. He seemed to completely lack comprehension. The man understood English, but there was something he seemed to be failing to grasp.

  • Tech Support: [getting frustrated and barely keeping calm] "Now, right below the words '[etc etc etc]' is a blank line."
  • Customer: "Oh! You mean the line that doesn't have anything on it!"
  • Tech Support: "YES!"

  • Tech Support: "Sir, open up your System Folder and find the Launcher Items folder."
  • Customer: "I don't have a Systems Folder."

My patience with such customers was wearing thin. After a short pause:

  • Tech Support: "It's in your hard disk, sir. You must have one, or else your computer wouldn't start properly."
  • Customer: "Hard disk, hard disk...hmmm -- is that little rectangle in the top right?"
  • Tech Support: "Yes."
  • Customer: "Ok, but mine doesn't say 'Hard Disk.' It's just labeled with a period. How did that happen?"
  • Tech Support: "Well, you can name it anything you want, perhaps yours was named accidentally."
  • Customer: "Oh. What now?"
  • Tech Support: "Open your System Folder."
  • Customer: "I don't have a systems folder. Oh, oh, here it is! Ok, ok, I'm opening the Systems Envelope now."

And after an excruciating 30 minutes of how to make an alias and reminding him that he truly did have a System Folder (or, as he called it, an "Envelope") and where it was, we got his new software on the Launcher.

Ten minutes later he called me back and told me how he had written down my directions to the "Systems Envelope" so he could put more programs on his Launcher. One of the programs didn't work, however, and after another 45 minutes of sheer hell, I told him we needed to send him some new floppies.

  • Customer: "Hey, can you send me a dozen apples too? My wife would like to make a pie. Ha ha! Apples. Get it? Macintoshes? Ha ha. Don't you get it?"

If I had a button on my phone to administer electro-shock to this man, I would have.

  • Tech Support: "Yes sir, I do."

  • Customer: "I get garbage when I log onto IndyNet."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, what software are you using?"
  • Customer: "Internet."
  • Tech Support: "Yes, I know you're connecting to the Internet, but what software do you use to make the connection?"
  • Customer: "Oh! Windows."
  • Tech Support: "Yes, but what software inside of Windows do you use?"
  • Customer: "Oh! Ok, yes, I have an Acer 486-66D...."
  • Tech Support: "No! The software! Do you know what software is?"
  • Customer: "Uh, kind of."
  • Tech Support: "Ok. Software is the program that you run in order to make the computer do anything, ok?"
  • Customer: "Ok."
  • Tech Support: "So what program do you run to call us?"
  • Customer: "ATDTxxxxxxx."

  • Tech Support: "Welch Hall computer assistant; may I help you?"
  • Customer: "Yes, well, I'm having trouble with WordPerfect."
  • Tech Support: "What sort of trouble?"
  • Customer: "Well, I was just typing along, and all of a sudden the words went away."
  • Tech Support: "Went away?"
  • Customer: "They disappeared."
  • Tech Support: "Hmm. So what does your screen look like now?"
  • Customer: "Nothing."
  • Tech Support: "Nothing?"
  • Customer: "It's blank; it won't accept anything when I type."
  • Tech Support: "Are you still in WordPerfect, or did you get out?"
  • Customer: "How do I tell?"
  • Tech Support: "Can you see the C:\> prompt on the screen?"
  • Customer: "What's a sea-prompt?"
  • Tech Support: "Never mind. Can you move the cursor around on the screen?"
  • Customer: "There isn't any cursor; I told you, it won't accept anything I type."
  • Tech Support: "Does your monitor have a power indicator?"
  • Customer: "What's a monitor?"
  • Tech Support: "It's the thing with the screen on it that looks like a TV. Does it have a little light that tells you when it's on?"
  • Customer: "I don't know."
  • Tech Support: "Well, then look on the back of the monitor and find where the power cord goes into it. Can you see that?"

(Rustling and jostling heard in the background.)

  • Customer: [muffled] "Yes, I think so."
  • Tech Support: "Great! Follow the cord to the plug and tell me if it's plugged into the wall."
  • Customer: "Yes, it is."
  • Tech Support: "When you were behind the monitor, did you notice that there were two cables plugged into the back of it, not just one?"
  • Customer: "No."
  • Tech Support: "Well, there are. I need you to look back there again and find the other cable."

(Rustle, rustle.)

  • Customer: [muffled] "Ok, here it is."
  • Tech Support: "Follow it for me and tell me if it's plugged securely into the back of your computer."
  • Customer: [still muffled] "I can't reach."
  • Tech Support: "Uh huh. Well, can you see if it is?"
  • Customer: "No."
  • Tech Support: "Even if you maybe put your knee on something and lean way over?"
  • Customer: "Oh, it's not because I don't have the right angle -- it's because it's dark in here."
  • Tech Support: "Dark?"
  • Customer: "Yes -- the office light is off, and the only light I have is coming in from the window."
  • Tech Support: "Well, turn on the office light then."
  • Customer: "I can't."
  • Tech Support: "No? Why not?"
  • Customer: "Because there's a power outage."
  • Tech Support: "A p-!" [AARGH!]

This woman was good friends with my supervisor. She's now also my wife.

[Editor's Note: This story is true but heavily circulated with a fictitious ending: see]

  • Tech Support: "Ok, now type 'C D space backslash'."
  • Customer: "Um, can you repeat that?"
  • Tech Support: "Yes, 'C D space backslash'."
  • Customer: "'C P'?"
  • Tech Support: "No, 'C D'."
  • Customer: "Ok, 'C D slash backspace'."
  • Tech Support: "No, 'C D SPACE BACKSLASH'."
  • Customer: "'C D slash space backspace'."
  • Tech Support: "No, 'C D SPACE BACKSLASH'."
  • Customer: "'C D slash backspace'."
  • Tech Support: "'C D SPACE BACKSLASH'."
  • Customer: "'C D space backslash'."

In my previous job, we often had to contact clients in Pacific Island nations where office technology seems to be even more feared than usual. A relaxed attitude to time adds to the battle. One day I had to send a fax to a number in the Cook Islands. I called.

  • Me: "Hi, I'm trying to send a fax."
  • Person #1: "Hello."
  • Me: "Hello. Is this your fax number? I'm trying to send a fax to you."
  • Person #1: "Hello."

It became apparent that "Hello" comprises the majority of this person's English.

  • Me: "Is Mr. [name] there? Could you get him, please?"
  • Person #1: "Mr. [name]. OK."

He wandered off. Shouting and a leisurely background conversation followed. Five minutes later a different person came to the phone.

  • Person #2: "Hello."
  • Me: (resisting the urge to scream) "Hello, I'm calling from overseas, and I'm trying to send a fax. Could you please press your fax button?"
  • Person #2: "I thought you wanted Mr. [name]. He's not here."
  • Me: "Well, no, it doesn't matter who I talk to. Can you just press the fax button so I can get this fax through to you?"
  • Person #2: "I don't know how all this works. I can leave a message for Mr. [name] if you like."
  • Me: "No, you just need to press that big button on the fax machine. Can you do that now, please?"
  • Person #2: "Wait, [another name] is here. She might know." (wanders off for another ten minutes; much background conversation) "She says the fax machine is turned off."
  • Me: "Well, can you turn it on please? Or should I try again later?"
  • Person #2: "I think we haven't got enough power for the fax machine right now. I'll have to start up the generator."
  • Me: "No, no, I'll try again tomorrow. You don't need to--"
  • Person #2: "It's around the back of the building. I'll be right back." (wanders off)

I was just about to hang up when someone picked up the phone.

  • Person #1: "Hello. Hello. Hello."

I hung up.

  • Tech Support: "Now we need to check the communications driver. In Program Manager, click on File and select Run. "
  • Customer: "I don't have anything that says 'Run.'"
  • Tech Support: "What do you have at the very top of the Window?"
  • Customer: "Program Manager."
  • Tech Support: "Good. And what is right beneath that?"
  • Customer: "Main, Accessories, Applications--"
  • Tech Support: "No, no. What do you see between the bar where it says 'Program Manager' and those boxes?"
  • Customer: "Nothing."
  • Tech Support: "Ok, do you see that white bar underneath the Program Manager bar?"
  • Customer: "Yes."
  • Tech Support: "Good. What's on the far left of that bar?"
  • Customer: "It says 'File.'"
  • Tech Support: "All right, click on File and select Run."
  • Customer: "It's asking me if I want to exit Windows. Do I click on OK?"
  • Tech Support: "Click on Cancel. Now, click of File and then click on Run."
  • Customer: "It brought up a box with 'Program Item' and 'Program Group' in it. Which one do you want?"
  • Tech Support: "Click on Cancel. Click on File and hit 'R' on the keyboard."
  • Customer: "There's no 'R' in the list."
  • Tech Support: "On the keyboard there should be an 'R' key."
  • Customer: "Oh, yes."
  • Tech Support: "Press it."
  • Customer: "Now it's asking for a 'Command Line.'"
  • Tech Support: "Good. Type 'sysedit', s-y-s-e-d-i-t, and hit Enter."
  • Customer: "I don't see Enter. Do you want me to click on 'OK'?"
  • Tech Support: "That'll work."
  • Customer: "It says it couldn't find the file."
  • Tech Support: "Let's try it again: S...Y...S...E...D...I...T."
  • Customer: "S...Y...F...E...C...I...V."
  • Tech Support: "No, no. Sysedit. As in system editor."
  • Customer: "S...Y...S...T...E...M..."
  • Tech Support: "No. Just sysedit. S...Y...S...E...D...I...T."
  • Customer: "Ok, that brought up a window with four windows inside it."
  • Tech Support: "Good. Bring up the system.ini window."
  • Customer: "How do I do that?"
  • Tech Support: "Close the first window, the autoexec.bat."
  • Customer: "Ok."
  • Tech Support: "Now close the config.sys window."
  • Customer: "I can't. I guess I closed the wrong window. The only window I have now is Program Manager."

Fast forward about five minutes to when Sysedit is finally up and the system.ini is being displayed. However, the user is unable to find the comm.drv line in 14 attempts of going down the list line by line for the first 12 lines. The other techs have been listening to this and are almost on the floor laughing.

  • Tech Support: "Ok, click on Search and select Find."
  • Customer: "I don't see Search."

Yep, you guessed it. Repeat the whole File->Run routine right down to being unable to type in "comm" in the search-for line. Almost 10 minutes more to find the line -- seventh line down.

  • Tech Support: "What does the line read?"
  • Customer: "'comm.drv=rhodsi.drv'"

Bingo! Home stretch now. Have the user comment out that line and put in Windows' driver back.

  • Tech Support: "Now exit out of Windows and restart."
  • Customer: "Windows won't start. It says something about a device driver."

I'm grateful now for using SysEdit. Restore the backup SysEdit automatically makes. Try changing the line using DOS Edit three times. Each time is the same -- device driver error.

  • Tech Support: "Type 'copy system.syd system.ini' and hit Enter."
  • Customer: "Ok."
  • Tech Support: "Type 'win' and hit Enter."
  • Customer: "It's starting."
  • Tech Support: "You should be set then."

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