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The Frustrations of Supporting Users In Remote Offices

samzenpus posted about two weeks ago | from the is-it-on? dept.

Businesses 129

Esther Schindler writes "You're not alone in your struggle against people who think a shell is something you hold to your ear," writes Carol Pinchefsky. "Other techies are out there supporting users in remote offices, fighting the good fight against computer- and user-related mishaps – or at least tolerating user frustration with a modicum of grace." One example she gives is a tech support person whose systems in Brazil went down — during Carnival: "...We had to wait more than a week for the locals to sober up enough to reconnect the line. In the end, I had to walk a tech (who did not know the system) through the process step by step via an interpreter. Of course, the interpreter was not technical. So it was kind of like explaining to your mom to tell your grandfather (who is hard of hearing) how to do something while she is on the phone and he is across the room from her."

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Users in remote offices are the best users! (5, Insightful)

ShaunC (203807) | about two weeks ago | (#47821891)

Users in remote offices are the best users! They can email, they can call, and they all get a ticket opened for their issue. But they can't come make a scene in your department (or worse, at your own desk) because "the data pull I asked for last week is clearly out of date, my customer from yesterday isn't listed" etc. I would much rather support users via email, via ticketing, and via phone if necessary, than support them in person.

Re:Users in remote offices are the best users! (2)

roc97007 (608802) | about two weeks ago | (#47821973)

Indeed. Moreover, email and/or texting helps surmount miscommunication due to heavy accents and bad phone connections. Often I've ended a puzzling scratchy phone call with "can you send me that request through email?" And then I get the email, oh yeah, that's what he meant.

Re:Users in remote offices are the best users! (1)

ShaunC (203807) | about two weeks ago | (#47822375)

Moreover, email and/or texting helps surmount miscommunication due to heavy accents and bad phone connections.

Indeed. [imdb.com]

Re:Users in remote offices are the best users! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47823243)

Nu-uh, they can't call - there's the helpdesk for that.

I absolutely despise when users call me. Besides I won't help - they can call the helpdesk, then the helpdesk can create a ticket, and that ticket will be prioritized and given to someone that is hopefully not me.
A few is okay - the superusers, I love them. There's also only 5 of them on the system I'm administering, and we've got a close collaboration. The 6000 non-super users, no thanks.

Worst is when end-costumers is directed to me, from a user. I.cannot.speak.human. I don't know what to say to these things, and they're certainly not allowed to know what I know anyway. I just hang up. I'm also pretty sure it's not allowed to redirect them to me.

learn Portuguese (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47821969)

Brazilian-style may be better

Re:learn Portuguese (1)

tepples (727027) | about two weeks ago | (#47821991)

Portuguese won't help you when you get clients in Russia and China, and not all companies are big enough to have fluent speakers of all official languages of the G-20 advanced and emerging economies on staff.

Re:learn Portuguese (3, Insightful)

jedidiah (1196) | about two weeks ago | (#47822181)

If you are big enough to have a branch office in Timbuktu then you should be big enough for there to be someone in the home office that speaks whatever they speak there.

Of course this runs counter to the current corporate culture fad of cost cutting and defining success based on quarterly profits and stock results.

Re:learn Portuguese (1)

fuzzywig (208937) | about two weeks ago | (#47823673)

I'm not sure that cost-cutting is a particularly new-fangled business method, or measuring success based on profits come to that.

Re:learn Portuguese (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47823875)

Well now - finding someone who can solve the problem at hand AND speaks Timbuktu in all your offices is an unreasonable idea. Much more productive idea is to have everyone learn one language to communicate. 200 years ago such language used to be French (lingua franca), now it happens to be English. Perhaps 200 years from now it will be something else.

Re:learn Portuguese (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about two weeks ago | (#47822175)

It would make far more sense for the Brazilian tech to learn English. Many technical docs are available only in English. It is the language of science and technology, and any journal or conference that wants an international audience is conducted in English. It is the language of international business. If the Brazilian tech has any ambition, he is going to have to learn it.

I once spent three weeks in Sao Paulo. I don't speak Portuguese, and only know a little Spanish, but I didn't have much problem. Plenty of people there knew enough English to get their point across, and most tech people that I met were fluent.

Re:learn Portuguese (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47822655)

Bully for you. I just spent five weeks in Brazil, and I can assure you there are 199m people in Brazil who don't speak English.

Re:learn Portuguese (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about two weeks ago | (#47822707)

Spanish? Brazil is Porra last I checked.

Re:learn Portuguese (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about two weeks ago | (#47822827)

Spanish? Brazil is Porra last I checked.

Look at a map. Portugal and Spain share a 1,214 km border. Portuguese is more similar to standard Spanish than some Spanish "dialects" within Spain. If you speak Spanish in Brazil, people will usually get the gist of what you are trying to say. You are not going to be able to do standup comedy, but it will suffice for simple phrases like "I want that" or "where is the toilet". Lots of Brazilians are familiar with Spanish because they watch Mexican soap operas.

Re:learn Portuguese (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47823921)

You will certainly get much further with spanish in Portugal than you will with spanish in Catalonia :-)

Pro tip: If you're in Catalonia make it very clear you're NOT spanish...

Re:learn Portuguese (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47823567)

It would make far more sense for the Brazilian tech to learn English. Many technical docs are available only in English. It is the language of science and technology, and any journal or conference that wants an international audience is conducted in English. It is the language of international business. If the Brazilian tech has any ambition, he is going to have to learn it.

I once spent three weeks in Sao Paulo. I don't speak Portuguese, and only know a little Spanish, but I didn't have much problem. Plenty of people there knew enough English to get their point across, and most tech people that I met were fluent.

I once spent two hours trying to get a remote user to hit the physical on/off wireless switch on their laptop. I don't know why my company hires people in the USA that can't speak 1st grade English. Minimum support call from her is 30 min. Granted, I was training another tech who initially took the call, and that two hours is total time we both spent. I would have probably resolved it in 45 min....

Before I started at help desk she would drive 30 min to another office just to print or scan because the on-site printer was not functioning. She was not able to communicate this problem to IT and it was broken for months (I blame the previous tech's impatience).

I have also had a user who used their nephew to translate (this is in the USA as well) because she could not speak English AT ALL. However, this was a foster parent, so we didn't really "hire" her.

As long as you can shadow the session, remote support is not an issue. They can just show you where they are getting stuck and the rest is you showing them a process that works. However, if it is a network connectivity issue or a physical hardware issue things change quite a bit, as you're relying on the users ability to describe the situation/problem.

Re: learn Portuguese (1)

jd2112 (1535857) | about two weeks ago | (#47822317)

Easier said than done. Portuguese is one of the most difficult languages to learn.

Re: learn Portuguese (1)

Noah Haders (3621429) | about two weeks ago | (#47822571)

-1 disagree. it's like spanish. source: i learned it.

Re: learn Portuguese (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47822647)

I disagree. It's not like Spanish: source: I didn't learn it very well (and Brazilians can understand some Spanish but few speak it, notwithstanding having plenty of Spanish-speaking visitors).

Re:learn Portuguese (1)

plopez (54068) | about two weeks ago | (#47825039)

I was going to post that! Seriously if we now have "Dev-Ops" why not "Dev-Interps". This is the age of flexibility and doing more with less. I always feel embarrased when I work with someone overseas and I do not know their language, not even please or thank you. They took the trouble to learn my language, I should reciprocate.

Show Users some love! (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47821981)

IT needs to let go of PEBKAC and ID-10-T errors. Your users have difficult jobs and they probably don't want to deal with you any more than you want to deal with them. They probably aren't "bothering" you for fun. If they are, you're doing your job well.

Yes, they can be dense. But guess what -- they are human and so are you! They make mistakes. So do you!
I enjoy The IT Crowd and BOFH, but those are fantasies and should remain such.

There are many reasons to show appreciation for the work your coworkers do. The most important is that without them, you may be lucky enough to find yourself in their shoes.

Re:Show Users some love! (1)

l0n3s0m3phr34k (2613107) | about two weeks ago | (#47822291)

FANTASY? Obviously you've never worked a help desk. The IT Crowd was very accurate, "have you tried turning it off and back on again" solves 80% of all calls.

Re:Show Users some love! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47822349)

You're part of the problem with that attitude. Rebooting only masks the problem/makes it go away temporarily, it doesn't really fix anything. The problem lingers and your user remains frustrated and the cycle continues..

Re: Show Users some love! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47822413)

With closed source there is often no other solution available, though. I pity those poor bastards that have to work around problems caused by software they can't do anything about...

Re:Show Users some love! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47822423)

Actually many times its just some sort of conflict. If a reboot causes the issue to go away and it doesn't reoccur then I don't worry about it. If it happens again then it is an issue that needs to be properly diaged.

Hell, I often stay on the phone with my user until I know he/she is back up and running. I then instruct them to shoot me an email if it reoccurs. Id say about three quarters of the time it does not reoccur. I am guessing you have never actually worked a help desk for a windows shop have you.

Re:Show Users some love! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47824077)

an issue that needs to be properly diaged.

Is this a half-assed version of triaged? Or two-thirds assed?

Re:Show Users some love! (0)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about two weeks ago | (#47822721)

You have obviously never used a computer, nor understand how they work. Billions of complex things happen every second with hundreds of programs interacting and random errors popping up and propagating. The idea that you could solve a random wrong bit in 8 gigs, or even just some weird bug in the source code of windows is beyond absurd. Rebooting permanently SOLVES at least 80% of all problems.

Re:Show Users some love! (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | about two weeks ago | (#47822735)

No. this is wrong. Rebooting shows that the machine can boot properly and the OS is working. It doesnt mask anything, its a basic functionality TEST.

Re:Show Users some love! (1)

vtcodger (957785) | about two weeks ago | (#47823629)

Maybe you're both correct to some extent. Rebooting certainly doesn't solve all problems. But the software architecture used in Windows/Unix does have the unfortunate characteristic that it sometimes manages to transition into states that no one anticipated and that do undesirable things. Rebooting restores a more desirable state. At least for a while.

There is also a problem that few modern PCs use memory capable of detecting memory errors Thus it's possible for values defining system state to change spontaneously without being detected. That's an interesting case of shifting costs from visible hardware costs to less visible support costs -- largely Microsoft's (bad) idea BTW. Long story there. Anyway rebooting will help if important bits somewhere in memory have reset themselves.

There is some credible evidence that flaky PC memory is more common than most people assume. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R... [wikipedia.org]

OTOH, if the problem is a logic error in code, or bad documentation, or an atrocious user interface, or the user -- rebooting can't fix it.

Re:Show Users some love! (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47822891)

Sometimes it does. For example, Windows Servers will occasionally just lose the fact that they have file locks on certain files. They will function, but can't be accessed via the UI.

Only way to fix it is to reboot the server. Trust me, I thought it was insane at first, coming from a Linux/Unix background. There had to be something... nope. If it's not in the main UI, it won't show in any other locations, however, it'll function just fine to lock that file. Rebooting saves a hell of a lot of time. Even if I have to rarely argue with some other IT person. Tell you what, do whatever you want, tell me if the file lock is still there, then reboot the server, and then tell me if it's still there.

Just goes to show how for the fact that Windows Servers have gone along the way to not so crappy, they still have things like that. That's far from the only thing!

Re:Show Users some love! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47823197)

Seriously? Reboot a server to unlock a file? Stick with your Linux background if you don't want to learn how to work with a Windows server. Then get out of the help desk area, as you obviously don't care about doing some root cause analysis to find out the real source of the problem.

That's the kind of help desk support that masks a problem longer than it needs to.

Looking for job security?

Re:Show Users some love! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47824045)

You have no idea what most computers do when they reboot. In a normal domain environment a computer and user accounts loads it's data on boot. Most basic issues involving GPO updates or access to shared resources can be reset by simply rebooting the PC. The computer goes down, it comes back up, inherits all of it's rights and access information, and the user logs back in with a fresh connection to all of the network resources. It's the simplest and easiest way to handle users, especially remote users, when you want to get them back up and running asap.

Re:Show Users some love! (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about two weeks ago | (#47822717)

That doesnt mean your users are idiots, and if thats your starting point, you're probably creating more of your own problems than anyone else.

Re:Show Users some love! (5, Insightful)

spire3661 (1038968) | about two weeks ago | (#47822727)

Stop. Users are often absolutely unreasonable. I understand what you are saying but it swings both ways. You ever have a high school drop-out salesman flat out tell you that they dont know why we have I.T. at all? Users often ARE idiots. You know what office workers in the past did? THEY TOOK CLASSES IN OFFICE AUTOMATION so that they understood the tools they work with every day.

Re:Show Users some love! (1)

BVis (267028) | about two weeks ago | (#47824087)

They could do that, but their whiny lazy asses would want the company to pay for the training. Paying for training literally makes you Hitler.

Re:Show Users some love! (4, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | about two weeks ago | (#47823193)

Sorry, but no. Simple as that. No. The problem is that people are to use a tool and cannot be assed to learn how to use it. And don't turn around and blame corporate by "but they make me". Then learn to do your goddamn job or GTFO of it, you're wasting valuable oxygen someone else could use productively.

I've spent a good deal of my youth in support jobs. They work well as part time during your university years, and that you're treated like garbage by the cheese-for-brains idiots doesn't really help to endear them to you either. I've seen them all. From the lady who flat out refuses to remember passwords and needs a reset twice a day (one in the morning, one when she returns from lunch) to the gentleman who calls every other day to be walked step by step through the same problem who yells obscenities at you to compensate for his own idiocy that apparently keeps him from writing down those steps.

No. Sorry. My patience with users has expired long, long ago. Learn to use your tools or vacate the position for someone willing and able to do so.

Re:Show Users some love! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47825117)

You are missing one major thing here: We can't afford these people. We can't afford to hire and fire in an endless cycle until we weed out all the morons that get through interviews sailing on a ship of lies. We put a list of skills on a job posting and then offer a salary that, if the candidate actually had those skills, they would laugh at.

No, I'm not talking IT here - I'm talking your general office worker who is one of those morons calling IT all the time with these issues.

As much as you might detest it, the current reality is that these moronic users are the only swarm of drones cheap enough to keep a business running. And why is that? Your salary, distributed over all those drones, makes them only slightly more expensive but waaaaay more productive. You are the reason that these people exist. Your value is so much higher than theirs, yet costs so little more, that it is YOU (and people like you) that makes hiring these stupid cheap fuckers possible.

Now quit your bitching, or find another job.

Au contraire! (4, Insightful)

nuckfuts (690967) | about two weeks ago | (#47822005)

What a useless and whinging article! You find remote support frustrating? Some of us recall the days before remote support was an option, having to hop in a car and drive somewhere every time a problem occurred. Remote support is a f*cking godsend. Don't work in support if you can't handle a bit of frustration.

Re:Au contraire! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47822031)

Some of us recall the days before...

Here we go!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAtSw3daGoo [youtube.com]

Re:Au contraire! (2)

roc97007 (608802) | about two weeks ago | (#47822061)

What a useless and whinging article! You find remote support frustrating? Some of us recall the days before remote support was an option, having to hop in a car and drive somewhere every time a problem occurred. Remote support is a f*cking godsend. Don't work in support if you can't handle a bit of frustration.

I remember those days. We had to strip RG58 cable with our teeth and punch down wires with our foreheads while holding a 50 pound roll of Cat 3 in each hand. Kids today, they don't know how good they got it.

Now get off my BBS.

I think the author's point was, in today's world remote support has a few new wrinkles, like distances you couldn't drive in a reasonable amount of time, different cultures, language and technology barriers. Some of us got an early start in this area (I worked for a Japanese-based company in the 1980's) but for many people, having to support users outside the country is a new thing.

Re:Au contraire! (1)

Gr8Apes (679165) | about two weeks ago | (#47822651)

They're still whiners. Try writing code to support multiple languages simultaneously on heterogenous environments with users attempting to look at the same data. Back around Y2K. And then supports those users.

For some reason, kids today think they have all these new exciting special problems and that they're in a eureka moment. That wasn't even true when I encountered those issues more than a decade earlier. I'm pretty sure the initial international connections for what became the internet were not even the first instance of this issue, as there were those wonderful 300 baud links way back in the 70s, and possibly earlier.

I think I'd rather see a story about the challenges of dealing with clueless tech support. Yes, I rebooted the system. Yes, I rebooted the network. I even checked that all links internally are live and that the problem appears to be your modem not connecting reliably to the outside world. Response: can you unplug your computer and reboot it? (Just one example of idiot tech support)

Re:Au contraire! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47825345)

For some reason, kids today think they have all these new exciting special problems and that they're in a eureka moment. That wasn't even true when I encountered those issues more than a decade earlier. I'm pretty sure the initial international connections for what became the internet were not even the first instance of this issue, as there were those wonderful 300 baud links way back in the 70s, and possibly earlier.

Sounds like you were one of those kids in your own time, just grown up now. It was not special then either.

Au contraire - INDEED (4, Insightful)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about two weeks ago | (#47822081)

What a useless and whinging article! You find remote support frustrating?

It's more than that. these "support" people find their "users" objectionable - the people for whom they serve and the reason they have a job.

Many if not most people use computers for a varying scale of applications. Most of these people are not "computer professionals". If you are in "support", your job is to "support" these people. If you can't handle that, it's time for a new job.

Re:Au contraire - INDEED (2)

rmdingler (1955220) | about two weeks ago | (#47822195)

You're right, of course, but there are always tendencies towards tribalism within the support team.

Stupid customer said what?

Sure, it's biting the hand that feeds you, but the us versus them theme is practically genetic.

Re:Au contraire - INDEED (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | about two weeks ago | (#47822747)

I dont 'serve' you, we are peers. Support only goes so far. Office professionals should take classes in the tools they use everyday. If you use a computer everyday for work and dont understand it, the fault lies with you. Its not my job to wipe your fucking nose and do your work for you. Learn office automation like people in the past did.

Re:Au contraire - INDEED (1)

BVis (267028) | about two weeks ago | (#47824121)

If you are in "support", your job is to "support" these people. If you can't handle that, it's time for a new job.

You sound like a real treat to work with. Issues like yours mysteriously found their way to the absolute bottom of my list, because when you treat people whose assistance you need to do your job like shit, they react accordingly. Tech support is not your personal abuse sponge. And you don't need to be a fucking "computer professional" to remember an 8-character password, or to know that you should try rebooting your system before you call.

Re:Au contraire - INDEED (2)

tlhIngan (30335) | about two weeks ago | (#47825671)

Issues like yours mysteriously found their way to the absolute bottom of my list

And then IT wonders why people circumvent their policies. And then semi-tech-savvy people implement workarounds outside of IT and it all goes well until it doesn't.

And when it doesn't, the crap hits the fan quickly because most likely it's some hacked-together system some manager set up years ago that ended up as a production critical system. That no one remembers, or even knows where it's at until some move later or IT comes around and cleans up an odd PC sitting by the wall.

Be difficult, and people will find an easier solution. Now, sometimes emergencies are unavoidable (and using the old "your lack of planning doesn't constitute an emergency on my part" can lead to shadow IT as well when someone needs a server quickly and IT gives them the runaround), so the goal is to find a way to accommodate those requests reasonably.

The other problem with "expect people to learn their tools" is well, there's a gulf between "knows little" and "knows enough to support themselves" which is called "knows enough to be extremely dangerous". You know the kind - need to share a document with a customer? They'll set up a dropbox account or 10.

That, and tools are tools. Unless you want to wait while your mechanic compiles a new kernel while fixing your car, that is.

Computers are wonderful tools because they enable a lot, but they're also quite complex to use because they can do a lot. It's the role of IT to provide the systems necessary so users can use the tools in ways it was designed to, and try to prevent users from doing things they aren't supposed to.

And no, I rarely need support unless it's really a problem outside of my control (our IT guy comes to ME (and several others) for problems!). And I also know how users get creative in order to do their jobs.

Re:Au contraire! (2)

rtb61 (674572) | about two weeks ago | (#47822187)

What I found really smooth was to use create a mix of internal and external contracted support. Troublesome users are passed off to the external support and good users are done internally. The troublesome types want to use some else to prove how bad you are and they are happy until they start to realise how long external support takes and management gets the bill for that detailed external support of them. Everyone else learns to be a lot happier with the quick, direct, personal support and of course in overload situations passing them off to the external contractors helps balance out costs and in the case of remote locations, establishes the use of external contractors. Of course relying on external contractors alone becomes really costly and response times being grossly inefficient.

Re:Au contraire! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47823481)

A couple of years ago someone on slashdot posted an interesting system for dealing with obnoxious assholes. If I recall correctly they were doing support as external contractors.
What they did was that they always wrote down who it was that needed support and how much time was spent on it, and then they put together a high-score list every month.
This had many benefits. First of all their customer got to see that they weren't really expensive, it was just that some people in the office needed a lot of support.
Those who couldn't be arsed to do simple tasks were quicker to learn it since no-one wanted to be the one who needed a lot of support when there were others in the office that needed none and the regular assholes who just called support to get someone to abuse couldn't do that without getting on the list and end up looking incompetent. There are few things assholes dislike as much as looking incompetent.

Re:Au contraire! (1)

TheGoodNamesWereGone (1844118) | about two weeks ago | (#47823715)

I would *much* rather help a user by actually being there than trying to explain how the CD-ROM tray isn't a coffee cup holder. I've worked in IT since the mid-90s and let me tell you, it's less frustrating for all involved that way-- except for the bean counters, who have to pay me to hop in my car and do that. They'd much rather pay a less skilled person less money to try to resolve things over the phone. Except for the smallest problems, THAT is the only reason remote support exists. How many times have you called a big company for help with something (not just computers, but anything) only to be stymied by some level one drone who reads from a script? They provide this crappy support because they can get away with it.

Re:Au contraire! (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | about two weeks ago | (#47824535)

They provide this crappy support because they can get away with it.

You're lying. Everyone knows private industry is so much more efficient and responsive than the government so you're just making up this shit.

Private industry would NEVER treat their customers in the manner you described. They would bend over backwards, expending all needed time, effort and money to make sure your problem is resolved quickly and efficiently.

For those who don't grasp sarcasm, this was it. I work for a government agency and while we have all the people described in this thread, I can assure you, the private sector is just as incompetent and slow moving as anything the government does. The stories I could tell you about slow response, pawned off troubles and general incompetence. . .

Patience is the key (4, Insightful)

roc97007 (608802) | about two weeks ago | (#47822007)

For me it's important to keep in mind, I get paid the same regardless, so it's not worth getting twisted up about it. Communicate slowly and clearly, use simple instructions, ask politely for feedback (what do you see on your screen now?) and you'll eventually get there. Unless your remote user is trying to defuse a bomb, how long this takes probably doesn't matter much in the long run. So relax.

Once, at 3AM or so, modem out of commission, no way to log in, I talked an operator through editing a backup script that another admin had broken. (Made a change, didn't test it.) It took a long time, but we got it done and I didn't have to drive in. In his favor, the operator was excellent at following instructions and telling me what exactly he was seeing on the screen.

Re:Patience is the key (4, Insightful)

ldobehardcore (1738858) | about two weeks ago | (#47822325)

the operator was excellent at following instructions and telling me what exactly he was seeing on the screen.

As someone fairly green on the helpdesk (just hit the 1 year mark), I must say that I appreciate ten times more a user who follows instructions and describes what's on their screen, than users who claim to be tech savvy, broke what they were working on, and can't seem to fix it themselves.

What I really hate are those users who never learned how to use their computer. They know how to operate one or two programs on the computer, but they always say "I'm not a computer person", and use that as an excuse for never learning the difference between the mouse, the monitor and the tower. The kinds of users who can't take instructions because they're unwilling to focus their eyes in unfamiliar territory on the the screen.

I'm fine with ignorance, ignorance can be fixed, and ignorance is honest. What I can't stand is when people call in asking for help, but refusing to say what they need help with, then when you pry it out of them, they refuse to follow the instructions you give them. Those are the worst users.

So yeah. Compassion is great. I do my level best every day to put myself in the users shoes, because I understand how stressful it is when your tools fail you. But there is certainly a point where the patience runs out, because someone who is asking for help (often demanding help) is not willing to be helped once they have my attention.

Re:Patience is the key (1)

Harlequin80 (1671040) | about two weeks ago | (#47822755)

My favourite ones are ones that go along the lines of.
"My email is all gobbledy gook, can you fix it"
"Ok, forward the email to it@blah.com and I will have a look"
"How do I forward an email?"
"Push the button that says forward and has an arrow pointing right. It is on the right hand side of your email about half way up"
"No it's not"
"Ok. Can you see a menu up the top marked message"
"No - where would that be"
"If you start at the top left corner you will see File, then Edit, View, and finally Message"
"Oooo the forward button has appeared! It wasn't there before!"

Calm. Calm. Deep Breaths....

Re:Patience is the key (2)

Opportunist (166417) | about two weeks ago | (#47823211)

A year? You're a veteran. Maybe at the pinnacle of your productivity.

Past the 1.5 years mark, everyone just either loses any kind of motivation or starts doing happy pills to stomach the crap.

Re:Patience is the key (4, Insightful)

David_Hart (1184661) | about two weeks ago | (#47822799)

For me it's important to keep in mind, I get paid the same regardless, so it's not worth getting twisted up about it. Communicate slowly and clearly, use simple instructions, ask politely for feedback (what do you see on your screen now?) and you'll eventually get there. Unless your remote user is trying to defuse a bomb, how long this takes probably doesn't matter much in the long run. So relax.

Once, at 3AM or so, modem out of commission, no way to log in, I talked an operator through editing a backup script that another admin had broken. (Made a change, didn't test it.) It took a long time, but we got it done and I didn't have to drive in. In his favor, the operator was excellent at following instructions and telling me what exactly he was seeing on the screen.

In some ways I got lucky. One of my first jobs was supporting point-of-sale systems and pump controllers at 100 gas stations, about 30% were 24-hour. There is nothing like walking a minimum wage cashier through resetting a pump controller and being woken up at 3:00am in the morning as trucks are lining up and they can't pump gas... If you have the patience to do that, you can support just about anything...

It taught me how to be patient, professional, to ask all kinds of questions, and to pay attention to any and all details that are provided. It also taught me how to put myself in the place of the person on the other end of the phone and how to calm them down.

Re:Patience is the key (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47824033)

My first support was also POS, for fast food places.

once you figure out how to ask the questions that give you the answer you want (and begin to speak their language, like instead of saying "CPU" call everything a "modem") things get easier.
NEVER ASK A QUESTION THAT HAS A YES/NO ANSWER. When you do you'll always get a yes or a no (and consistently the same answer) no matter what the reality of the situation is.
Don't ask "Does it say 'started' next to the line for 'print spooler'?" they will always say yes.
instead ask "What does it say next to 'print spooler'?" you'll get a longer answer... it will include some useless information, but eventually they will tell you that it says "stopped"

The other thing I learned is that rebooting machines is for whimps who don't want to know what is really wrong... we couldn't reboot certain machines, it'd take 20 minutes to get the store back up if we did... so we'd troubleshoot the actual software configuration and restart processes that were hung instead of taking the entire system down for one failed service... Of course that is an ideology that doesn't permeate the world of support.... and quality support is rare because most people in support seem to think that IT Crowd is 100% real and they should be disillusioned into thinking their job is so easy they shouldn't bother to try to actually do anything other than give users what they want, not what they really need.

Re:Patience is the key (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about two weeks ago | (#47825659)

> The other thing I learned is that rebooting machines is for whimps who don't want to know what is really wrong... we couldn't reboot certain machines, it'd take 20 minutes to get the store back up if we did... so we'd troubleshoot the actual software configuration and restart processes that were hung instead of taking the entire system down for one failed service... Of course that is an ideology that doesn't permeate the world of support.... and quality support is rare because most people in support seem to think that IT Crowd is 100% real and they should be disillusioned into thinking their job is so easy they shouldn't bother to try to actually do anything other than give users what they want, not what they really need.

Man, I hear ya. I have a nephew who works in support for a company's products who's initials are Microsoft... His response to troubleshooting is (a) have the user reboot (no matter what kind of system or what task(s) it's doing), if that doesn't work, (b) uninstall the software, and then reinstall, (c) if that doesn't work, reinstall the operating system. "What? It's no trouble. I do it all the time." If that doesn't work, or the user declines to reinstall the entire frakking machine, (d) say "well, it works on my machine. It has 36 processors and eighty-twelve gigabytes of ram and an ATI 36000000 video card. You should upgrade your machine."

At this point, I'll enter the conversation, maybe ask the user to open the task manager and resource monitor, look for processes that are hung, pinning the CPU, taking an inordinate amount of memory, camping on a disk, or all of the above. Trace the offending process to the offending application, and start there.

Or at very least, google the error message, for Fudd's sake.

When I take him (nephew) to task for passing out idiot troubleshooting steps suitable for someone getting paid in paises, he gets huffy. Go figure.

local support (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47822059)

all major cities have some form of IT support available on an adhoc basis for remote hands - what is the problem? ping off an email to the local LUG for supplier recommendations...

Re:local support (2)

BitZtream (692029) | about two weeks ago | (#47822087)

The problem is the person complaining isn't very good at his job or prepared for situations that should be expected.

He seems to think getting something done during Carnival is supposed to be easier than getting anything done in France during August or over Christmas weekend in Spain or the USA.

Re:local support (1)

l0n3s0m3phr34k (2613107) | about two weeks ago | (#47822303)

My clients still get 24/7 support over holidays...but the main client is American Airlines so I'm sure their paying $$$$$ to have use here.

Re:local support (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about two weeks ago | (#47824337)

So do mine, but I'm prepared for providing them service during holidays by having SLAs across my vendors that ensure they will be supported during those holidays.

I also test on random occasions my vendors ability to support these times by intentionally 'breaking' something or at least simulating a break.

What I don't do is act surprised that Joe's no name 'data center in my closet at home' isn't around to support my servers in his closet because its that time of year when he goes and does something else ... at the same time ... every year ... for the past several hundred years ... without any backup or any expectation of backup ... which is essentially what this story is about.

If you need to provide 24/7 support, you plan for it. The story author apparently didn't plan for a well known (around the world) holiday and then got caught with his pants down. I've been there myself, made that mistake ... I learned from it.

I did not, however come to slashdot and whine about it, in fact I tried not to tell a bunch of people about it, I get embarrassed when I make mistakes due to my own ignorance and lack of training.

Re:local support (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47822381)

I don't know wtf you're talking about. It's pretty standard for any *real* datacenters to be staffed 24/7 with helpdesk who can always reach out to a proper technical resources. It's pretty simple:

- Change requests are scheduled with at minimum 1wk notice unless it can be justified as having a severe impact if not done sooner.
- We won't accept any change requests to be scheduled on the 25th or 26th of December.
- On-call support is available is always available. Our SLAs applies 365 days a year

Btw, I'm in Canada but I'm pretty sure what I've described above applies to datacenters in the US as well. Someone who runs a hosting company with one of those lame website templates and calls himself a datacenter because he rents a rack isn't who I'm talking about here...

Re:local support (1)

ruir (2709173) | about two weeks ago | (#47823591)

We also do not accept changes to the systems Fridays and a few days before senior admins go in vacations.

heldesk people writing articles wow! (2)

ruir (2709173) | about two weeks ago | (#47822151)

No, your problems are not "people who think a shell is something you hold to your ear"; your bigger problems are people who *think* they know something, specially when in positions of power, or the miraculous consultants management brings him, that where captured by the consulting firm as rookies (because you know, rookies dont have vices and are better to "reprogram") that think they are the best thing since sliced bread, but only know how to use expensive suits, spew pretty reports and shrink wrap what bobs that hates you tells them during the "discover/gathering facts" phase.

Remote Presence Devices (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47822159)

Not just for wielding the clue bat. A camera to obviate the endless "what's on the screen" back-and-forth would often shorten the pain drastically.

Re:Remote Presence Devices (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about two weeks ago | (#47823213)

If only someone invented something that allowed me to see what's on the person's screen...

Re: Remote Presence Devices (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47823659)

You've clearly never had one of those clients who cannot even find the address bar in internet explorer...

Re: Remote Presence Devices (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47825459)

You have clearly not heard of remote desktop sharing. It can even be initiated by the support person, and companywide configured to auto-accept on the users dekstop.

Bad Analogy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47822279)

So it was kind of like explaining to your mom to tell your grandfather (who is hard of hearing) how to do something while she is on the phone and he is across the room from her.

This assumes that your grandfather is technical and your mom is not. Even then, your mom can just repeat what you say word for word loudly enough for grandpa to hear. I think a better analogy is to say it's like trying to work with someone that speaks another language, when the interpreter is not a technical person.

Re:Bad Analogy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47822335)

I think a better analogy is to say it's like trying to work with someone that speaks another language, when the interpreter is not a technical person.

That's not an analogy. That's a summary.

Use your cell phone (2)

DigiShaman (671371) | about two weeks ago | (#47822285)

When conducting remote support, the cell phone is an invaluable tool. For one, you can talk to someone directly as you walk them through the wiring closet / rack if needed. Most importantly, is the ability for them to take photos and send them via SMS. Video capture can be important if you suspect activity lights are wonky (failing switch, rare but happens). But most important, you are providing them to tools to help you dive remotely and be self-sufficient. Remember the phrase "help me, help you".

Re:Use your cell phone (1)

Frankie70 (803801) | about two weeks ago | (#47823449)

Remember the phrase "help me, help you"

The right phrase is "Help me help you". The comma changes the meaning to something irrelevant to this discussion.

I never thought I'd be one of these posters (1)

AbRASiON (589899) | about two weeks ago | (#47822299)

but consider yourself lucky someone wants or needs your help. This industry and capitalism's desire for endless efficiency and profit means a fair few of us reading your post are sitting at home without a job at all.

I'd gladly sit on the phone through a translator to fix something, infact I'd be inclined to think you're probably at a medium sized business or smaller if you're dealing with something like that, so it's probably within your power to do some pretty interesting and dare I say "cowboy-ish" stuff. Once a business reaches a certain size, your hands are constantly tied for experimenting or learning.

Meanwhile, yeah I'm here in my pajamas still at midday but my bank account won't last forever.

Re:I never thought I'd be one of these posters (3, Funny)

zephvark (1812804) | about two weeks ago | (#47822337)

I'd gladly sit on the phone

You're doing it wrong.

See, this is the kind of problem that makes it difficult for tech support to help you.

Re:I never thought I'd be one of these posters (1)

AbRASiON (589899) | about two weeks ago | (#47822385)

If you read his post, I got the impression the link was down, remote access wasn't a viable option. If that means an administrator needs to talk someone through unplugging / re-plugging something or confirming a diagnostics LED, so be it, they're employed regardless.

Re:I never thought I'd be one of these posters (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about two weeks ago | (#47825205)

***woooooosh

If you're sitting on the phone, you probably can't hear whats being said or talk to the person on the other end.

It was a joke.

Re:I never thought I'd be one of these posters (1)

sjames (1099) | about two weeks ago | (#47825565)

I believe he's suggesting that sitting on a chair and talking on the phone is more effective than the other way around.

Re:I never thought I'd be one of these posters (1)

AbRASiON (589899) | about two weeks ago | (#47822629)

Oh wait, I just got it........sheeeit.

this (1)

BringsApples (3418089) | about two weeks ago | (#47822327)

This article really brings to light the fact that some people seem to require perfection to the extent that they cannot see life as it is, but only how it's supposed to be. There is no way to ease their frustration.

If you work in support, you're going to eventually end up in a situation where there is a server that needs to be addressed, but there is no phone in that room, and so you end up with this same sort of scenario (talking through someone). You should probably just express your frustrations with your work mates, blow off some steam, try to laugh, but then forget about it.

Lots of people in the IT world seem to feel that their ability/knowledge should allow them to get frustrated when things don't go smoothly. Hell one reason that I have a successful IT business is due to the fact that I'm able to cope with people who need my services. I make sure that I do it in a way that makes them feel better. That way whenever there's some PC problem at a site, no one there hates to have to call me, and then bombard me with criticism once I get there.

Focus on the solution and the problem goes away. Make sure that the client is focused on what's going right, and not what's going wrong.

Re:this (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | about two weeks ago | (#47822467)

Personally, I'm surprised if someone in IT even knows what a shell is. As an end user I'm frustrated by being told to turn it off and back on again, or being transferred through three departments until they find the one and only IT employee who actually understands computers.

Remote offices are great. It means not everyone has to crowd into the main headquarters, it also means that the IT people don't have to all crowd together too. What's good for all workers is good for IT workers, so it's a good thing to allow remote offices and allow working from home and allow going home at 5pm, etc. If too many complain about the frustration of remote users then be careful that the boss doesn't pull a Marissa Mayers and cancel the perqs.

The solution is to put an IT worker in the remote site, or get a contractor on retainer. If it's a really small site then hopefully someone is at least in the region that can drive over. If not, well, put up with it because that remote site is most likely earning revenue for the company, and IT's job is to support the company.

It's easier now (1)

Colin Lewis (3398815) | about two weeks ago | (#47822575)

My first experience of remote tech support was in 1986, when one of our systems in Bahrain needed support. The only communications available were phone or Telex. With timezone differences, we used Telex. I had to anticipate what might happen, describe what to look for, detail what to type, etc. without knowing if they'd get it right until the return Telex the next day. One of the trickier bits was describing what keys to press, as Telex had a far more limited character set than the computer keyboard. I would spend the first half of a message defining what keys I meant. Later experience showed me that users tend to lie: "Would you check that the cable is plugged in, please?" 3 microseconds later "Yep!" So I started resorting to "Please unplug the cable" 10 seconds later "OK". "Now plug it in again, please, and make sure it is the right way up and all the way in".

what? (5, Insightful)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about two weeks ago | (#47822621)

One example she gives is a tech support person whose systems in Brazil went down — during Carnival: "...We had to wait more than a week for the locals to sober up enough to reconnect the line. In the end, I had to walk a tech (who did not know the system) through the process step by step via an interpreter. Of course, the interpreter was not technical. So it was kind of like explaining to your mom to tell your grandfather (who is hard of hearing) how to do something while she is on the phone and he is across the room from her."

Ok, that's just... I don't even know what it is... ethnocentric? It's stupid... not everyone in Brazil gets wasted during carnival. Businesses still run, things still work. If you had a line go down for a week without repair, that wasn't your remote users fault. That was your businesses fault for having a shit contract. Where we work we have tens of thousands of data and voice connections in every remote area you can imagine and there's no way something could go out for a week without a very good excuse like the building burnt down, or there was a flood. Even then we'd find a way around the problem temporarily. It's been more than one time I've kept a company in business with Cat5 strung through some trees.

And the language thing? Give me an Fing break. I had to support a doctor in India that did not speak english, so I made a wild guess, hit the directory of the hospital and looked for an American sounding name. Sure enough it was an American and he was nice, helped translate. I sent him detailed instructions and he helped walk the other doctor through it. That's our Job If I'm a window washer, I'm not going to complain when I come across a dirty one.

/. is dead (1, Insightful)

vbraga (228124) | about two weeks ago | (#47822675)

Is this stuff that matters?!

filling filling for the filter filling filling
Cat got your tongue? (something important seems to be missing from your comment ... like the body or the subject!)
Cat got your tongue? (something important seems to be missing from your comment ... like the body or the subject!)

Got you all beat. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47822697)

Applecare tech support, with a phone call from a tele-sign language interpreter.

Talking to someone who is being filmed turning your words into sign language, which is sent over a shitty connection to a user looking for support on the computer that happens to be running the sign language call software.

Exercise in futility. And illegal to hang up.

You are there to serve them (2)

iamacat (583406) | about two weeks ago | (#47822833)

Calmly try your best for 40 hours/week or whatever you agreed to. Explain limitations and possible solutions, like user training and shifting parts of infrastructure to where you are in a better position to maintain it. Then set the limits, but don't be rude. You don't pay the company's bills, your users do.

who hasn't made a 12 hour flight (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47823073)

to explain that the blue cable goes into the port with the nice big blue sticker, the yellow to yellow and green to green. In person because the email, phone calls and skype were apparently not enough.

Then back to the airport and another 12 hour return home.

Your company's fault actually (3, Insightful)

Torp (199297) | about two weeks ago | (#47823187)

... for not having contacted a local tech contractor with some english speaking skills that could help. Someone that comes in a couple hours now and then to solve any issues.
Remote tech support is all fine and dandy, but sometimes you do need (technically literate) hands and eyes on the ground. I've taken care of servers on a different continent - 99% of the time I just ssh-ed in. The 1% I've had someone local - and technical! - drive in with a laptop and help.

BT, DT... (1)

Terje Mathisen (128806) | about two weeks ago | (#47823515)

Many, many years ago (1986 or so?) we had a branch oil exploration office in Iran, surveying new oil fields close to the border with Iraq.

Getting any kind of computer gear in or or out of the country was "difficult", and the best possible data connection was an extremely expensive 256 kbit/s satellite line.

One day I was told to help, over a bad phone line, a guy down in Teheran whose PcDos computer had crashed:

I was able to figure out that his crash had modified/overwritten the Boot Block on his hard drive, but that he did have a bootable Dos diskette available, so I sat for about 45 minutes on the phone, talking him through the DEBUG commands needed to load the boot block and manually modify it back to how it should have been, then write it back.

It worked on the first attempt. :-)

Terje

I see it differently... (3, Insightful)

Max_W (812974) | about two weeks ago | (#47823701)

She works with a whole system in Brazil via an non technical interpreter? Did it ever occur to her to learn Portuguese language?

Re:I see it differently... (1)

sociocapitalist (2471722) | about two weeks ago | (#47824049)

She works with a whole system in Brazil via an non technical interpreter? Did it ever occur to her to learn Portuguese language?

Sure that's practical, along with learning all the languages of all the offices one has to support globally.

Re:I see it differently... (1)

Max_W (812974) | about two weeks ago | (#47824115)

Then at least she could avoid blaming a carnival, and concentrate more on her linguistic skills. Or hiring Portuguese speaking engineers instead of non technical interpreters to run a computer system in Brazil.

Many people around the world speak English at different levels. Sometimes it is just Globish or an Airport English. But Brazil is an enormous country where people do speak Portuguese. No way around it.

Re:I see it differently... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47824545)

I believe the summary implied that while they had someone that could NORMALLY help the customer / or at least the primary IT in the US... but said person was having fun at Carnivale.

So the only person they could get ahold of was a non-tech employee to act as an interpreter for the customer.

Re:I see it differently... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47825703)

My guess is they didnt want to actually pay for the 24/7 tech availability (or were stupid enough not to require it in contract) and now they are reaping the benefits (and blaming someone else)

Re:I see it differently... (0)

BitZtream (692029) | about two weeks ago | (#47825281)

Not being able to communicate with people you are hired to support is most certainly your problem. If she had no viable method to do the job, why did she accept it? That makes her pretty stupid from the start.

If you want to talk about practical, it started long before someone mentioned learning the language.

Do you think its okay for someone to claim they are a Java developer without knowing a single bit of Java?

Re:I see it differently... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47825503)

Frankly we have exactly the same problem at my place, we have a small office in Brazil, while our main office is in London. 80% of my work is supporting systems in the UK and 20% in overseas offices, but support for our Brazil office is tacked on. The applications and technology I am supporting for the London office are so obscure and industry specific that I seriously doubt that there is anyone in the world who can support the UK software and speaks Portuguese.

The best bit is that the applications used in Brazil is very standard and it would be fairly easy to get someone to support them, but their are not enough of them to justify having a support person on tap.

Re:I see it differently... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47824149)

It depends on their situation.

It's possible she works for a company with dozens of satellite sites across the globe, and the Brazil one was just a minor one. My friend is in that situation: literally 50+ sites, some have thousands of people and some have 10 people.

In which case, what do you do? Lean dozens of languages... often so you can help the 5 Portuguese-speaking people in a site that hardly ever call?

What is support? (1)

gelfling (6534) | about two weeks ago | (#47824003)

This is the NEW economy, pal. There's no support. But no one cares either because all executives are compensated according to how LITTLE they spend even if, especially if, the job done is shit.

Soo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about two weeks ago | (#47824081)

Sounds like you missed a chance to go to Brazil for carnivale

Did it a long time ago ... (1)

kbahey (102895) | about two weeks ago | (#47825023)

I had to deal with a remote customer whose person on site does not speak English, by getting him to enter UNIX shell commands. His native language (and mine) was Arabic.

What I did was to tell him what Arabic key to press so that the English equivalent would be the one sent to the shell.

We were lucky that his Arabic keyboard layout was the same as mine. That was not a given in those days (Late 80s, early 90s), but we lucked out.

He was describing to me the output in English (vertical bar, vertical bar with a circle at the bottom, ...etc).

It worked out and we solved the problem in less than an hour.

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