Help Desk Woes: When The Solution Is The Problem

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William Fulks
...all I can say is that my life is pretty plain. I like watchin' the puddles gather rain...
One of the most frustrating experiences a help desk technician will ever encounter is when a customer comes to them with a solution of their own invention and expects the tech to implement it. This often happens when people with a little bit of tech knowledge concoct ways to fix what they want rather than just telling you what the problem actually is.

Example: I once had a request from a user who was complaining that she did not have admin rights to change the time on her computer. We then consulted her supervisor to get the request approved, and it was denied for good reason. We then checked her PC and found the time was correct already, then asked why she wanted to change it. She thought that adjusting the clock worked like some kind of time machine where it would restore all her files to what they were at that time. I guess she had once heard about "System Restore" and didn't understand how it worked. After going back and forth I finally got the name and location of the file (which was luckily on a server) and was able to restore it from the previous night's backup.

In that example, what originally started as a request for admin rights was really just a backup/restore problem. The user was reluctant to admit that they'd overwritten an important file, so instead they invented a way to restore the file and tied up tech support until we finally identified the real issue and fixed it after a series of phone calls.

You must be careful not to let users dictate to support technicians how they do their job. Sure, in the example above we could have given her admin rights and let her change the system time, but it wouldn't have fixed anything and then the customer would be calling back to complain that we didn't fix her problem.

A really good help desk technician will have the right combination of customer service skills and technical know-how to tell when a customer is not being forthcoming or when their request doesn't quite make sense. Instead of always giving people exactly what they ask for, give them what they need and turn it into a teachable moment.
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