We asked for your worst stories of working IT phone support — and boy, did you ever answer our call. You have the patience of saints and the fortitude of soldiers. We’ll never look at a phone the same way again.
I wanted to share one of my most favorite IT Support calls I experienced while serving in the Navy aboard ship.
“I was stationed on the USS Inchon (LPH-12) as a Data System Technician, it was my job to repair and maintain the Honeywell mainframe and the systems (dumb terminals and printers) connected to it. I received a call one evening from someone in the Engineering Department, they were reporting a problem with their printer, it just wouldn’t print no matter how many times that pressed the “Print” button. I headed down to take a look, figuring the terminal had locked up and just needed to be reset. I get down to the office and the printer is turned off (old dot matrix printer), I figured they turned it off in an attempt to fix the issue.
I reach down, turn the printer on and it starts printing. The guy looks at me and says, “Damn, that was quick! What did you do?” I then realized what the issue was. I told him, “It was a problem with the O-N-O-F-F switch. We’ll need to order a replacement.” He replied, “Ok, just let me know when it comes in.”
First thing in the morning, I get a call from a VP in a major printing company, a man in his late fifties. He called in person, introduced himself and since it was his first time speaking to me (we had just one another tech supporter), he chatted with me for five minutes to describe his position, my skills, role and discretion.
After that, he started describing his problem and I realized he knew nothing of computers, web-surfing or how to handle Windows.
HIM: “A client sent me a presentation and it’s hosted on some secure machine on the Internet and I can’t get to it.”
ME: “Could you be more specific, where is it located, what’s the URL?”
H: “I’m not sure, he wrote down the address and when I try it, I see weird text and numbers that won’t let me access the files”.
M: “Can you give me the URL?”
H: “I’m not too sure what it is, can you help me like this; I have the site in front of me...”
Eventually, after ten minutes of having him explain to me what he sees, how he moves his mouse and hearing random employees enter his office and chat with him, he gets upset when I offer to use a remote desktop program to do it myself and hangs up.
An hour passes and he calls back. We go through the same routine; I try to direct and ask questions, he describes useless or unrelated issues, doesn’t follow what I ask and when I suggest the remote control option, he gets upset and hangs up.
Two hours later, he calls again. I recognize the number on the phone and ask the other supporter to answer it.
He picks up the phone, introduces himself and passes the call back to me; the client insists I help him.
Another five minutes pass, with him not being able to describe the problem correctly, not being able to follow direct instructions and getting upset when I say that remote control seems to be the only option.
He yells, hangs up in anger and a minute later calls back, says he’s sorry and asks how I can control his PC from afar.
I, slowly, talk him into running the remote control program and log into his computer.
He directs me to a note in his mail folder, I can’t see it.
two minutes later, it turns out it’s a physical note on his actual desktop.
He reads it out loud and I type it into the browser.
I find out what the problem was... his “client” had sent him the presentation via a free, online sharing site, protected by CAPTCHA.
This was the first time he’s ever encountered it and had no idea how to use it.
I explain the use of the CAPTCHA and type in the numbers while I hear him telling at his secretary in the background.
As the site loads, I see the file he’s been trying to download the entire day: “Blond anal thresome.mpg”.
He coughs a few times, whispers thank you, returns to yell at whoever is in his office, clocks the download link and closes the remote access link.
He called a few more times during the time I worked there, never spoke to me and (I assume) never had a CAPTCHA issue again.
I used to do tech support for a very large company. You’ve probably heard of them. So, a guy calls up and tells me angrily that a repair agent was working on his computer remotely and suddenly stopped. This kinda irked me so I talked up my supervisor who contacted that agent’s supervisor to see why he stopped working on the computer.
Halfway through the call, as i’m about to dispatch to another remote session, the agent finally comes online and tells me that he stopped working on the computer because he found child porn. I did NOT verify this myself, just disconnected the remote session immediately due to the fact that, you know, it’s flipping child porn and I don’t want to see that kinda stuff. I tell my supervisor and about half an hour later I get called into the meeting room and have a very awkward discussion with the police as they asked me questions as a witness, despite not having witnessed anything. At least I was off the phones for an hour.
I handled support calls for a retail computer outlet years ago. One day a gentleman called and the conversation went as follows:
Customer : My laptop is really slow. I think it has viruses. Can I trust you to be discreet?
Me: We can certainly help you out if there are viruses on your system.
Customer: Are you a man of honor, can you be discreet?
Me: I’m sorry?
Customer: I’m a bachelor. There are things we do that we don’t want other people to know.
Me: (after a brief pause) Yeah, just bring it in. None of your personal files will be gone through.
The next day he brought in the laptop and the desktop was full of saved pictures of mostly boobs and a lot of .exe files with names like “porndialer”. We ended up having to re-install Windows.
I worked for a University’s help desk, one night I received a call from our 24 hour computer lab.
The caller (actually a very nice young lady) had a serious case of the giggles, and asked “Yes sir, is it okay for us students, to um. . . look at Chinese women in the shower. . . um, naked. . . on the computers in the lab?”
My response was actually well rehearsed, because believe it or not, this had happened before. “No ma’am, the labs are for academic use only, personal use such as Facebook, and. . . pornography, are frowned upon.”
Her response: “Well, this kid is watching a girl in the shower on here, and we don’t know what to do.”
We remotely connected to his session in the lab, and found that not only was he indeed watching naughtiness on the lab computer, he was plagiarizing a Wikipedia article about horses for one of his 10th grade HIGH SCHOOL classes.
So I had to go to the lab and deal with the problem. As soon as I got into the room it was obvious who it was. There was a teenager in the corner who was pleasuring himself, to shower porn. I could hear the noise from his headphones as soon as I entered, and because his volume was up so loud, he had no idea that the entire row of students behind him was literally rolling in the floor laughing.
I don’t know who felt worse, me or the kid. I walked over to the computer, and causally unplugged his ethernet cable, told him to leave or I was calling the campus police, and they would call his parents.
There are somethings I wish I could un-see.
We did remote support for small companies. This wasn’t that long ago, probably 2012. We used logmein.com as a fallback if they couldn’t figure out how to install the gotomypc client.
I heard the tech tell her to go to www.logmein.com. After walking her through that process he puts her on speakerphone. All we heard was screaming on the other end and an office full of women laughing.
She went to logmen.com (missing the ‘i’) She never called back.
We would get calls from people who have no idea of what kind of support we offered, like this girl who called to ask her shoe to be repaired because she twisted her ankle and one of her shoe’s heel broke off.
And then... there was this who called asking for “office supplies”. These office supplies were actually rolls of toilet paper. That’s normal, we attended that kind of requests for all the branches around Perú. What makes this pure gold was the last part of the request “Do you think you could hurry and leave one of the rolls under the fourth door in the men’s restroom?”
I worked for an isp (Comcast) as one of their tech support reps, one time I was helping a sweet older lady troubleshoot her home network, when we got to a step that required that she “close all open Windows, and restart computer”
To which the sweet old lady replies “oh,....Ok” and a sound of which I imagine was the sound of her putting the phone down. She returns a few minutes later and says “well I can’t reach the kitchen window but I’ve closes all the other open ones, how do I restart my computer?”
She had apparently misunderstood what Windows meant and closes the Windows in her house...
I worked for a major US electronics retailer which provided in-home services for computer repair. (see where I’m going with this?) I had worked there for over a year doing this job, and it was pretty crap, usually due to angry customers because they generally got screwed buying stuff from us.
I got an interesting job setting up a new computer for a guy who lived at the old folks’ home just across the highway from the store. He was a really interesting guy, and was an interesting set-up because he needed stuff to be really huge on the screen. After awhile, he is telling me how I need to explain some stuff to his wife because while he knows what to do (he did) he has advanced Alzheimer’s and he’ll screw stuff up and not remember what he’s doing for awhile and then he doesn’t know how to fix what he’s done. His wife was in no way interested in touching any computer, so she refused to listen to what I had to say, which was fine.
A couple of days later I look on my reservations for the next couple of days and I see the exact same job come up, I assumed it was a mistake and I called HQ to see what the deal was, but they had a purchase date and apparently he just came in and bought the exact same service, only this time it wasn’t with the purchase of a new computer so it cost like 150 dollars more. I went over there and realized he had done exactly what he said he would do and I put everything back the way he had it, and got the printer working again (he had deleted the driver somehow).
I had some extra time so I made a script which reset his browser and desktop icons to a specific layout and verified that his outlook was set up correctly. Then I printed off and put into a binder for him large instructions with how to run the script. It wouldn’t fix his printer problems or stuff like that, but it would prevent him having to call us just because he deleted shortcuts somewhere. So I obviously got called out there again about 2 days later, and I reminded him of how to run the script again, which solved all his issues.
Okay, so here’s where stuff got messed up. The very next day I see his wife checking out from the front desk buying the exact same thing again. She made it out the door by the time I got up there so I asked what she just bought. I called a meeting with all the sales people and managers (I had already spoken with the managers) and explained about the script and do not let either of them come in and pay 250 dollars for me to come out and click a button just because he’s lost the binder. Everyone agreed that this was the right thing to do. The next week I looked at my schedule and he was put on there twice in the same week. So I called all the managers over to discuss this and how to give him his refund and they got visibly angry with me yelling at me about how it’s totally fine to exploit this old man’s Alzheimer’s. “If he wants to spend the money and he’s got the money then it’s his business!”
I put in my notice immediately following this meeting.
Jaymie Jessica writes:
Worked in a call center back in the days of dialup. I could barely understand one caller because of all the static. They couldn’t manage to get online. I asked if they were calling on the same line they tried to get online with. Yes, but, “the phone company told me you’d try to blame it on them!”
After way too long of trying a few things and trying unsuccessfully to convince the caller it was the line, they mentioned the static started two weeks ago when the phone company started working on the lines outside their house. That was also when they could no longer get online. The light dawned on the understanding of the caller.
“Do you think the phone company is lying to me?”
“Can’t say for sure, but I admit it might be possible.”
An interesting moment was struggling with a local wireless point to point internet provider. They had this family convinced that they had a virus on their laptop and that was the reason why they couldn’t get online. I went out under the assumption that it was going to be a fairly standard cleanup and repair only to find that with the exception of a few toolbars their laptop was running perfectly. I checked their connection and found that their router wasn’t getting an IP from the access point\gateway. At that point I tested the power adapter sending power to the access point and found it was perfectly functional.
I told them to call the provider and get them to do a service call to check the access point and the ethernet line in case it was damaged. I don’t hear back from them for a few weeks so I assume everything is fine. Then I get a call from them saying that the internet provider had told them I was lying in order to scam them. So I showed up the next day with a new router, new cables and my personal laptop and tested every fucking component in the house for free. Called them up, told them exactly what I did and told them to get their asses out there to fix it because that poor family had been without internet for over a month.
They finally showed up a week after that and fixed the defective access point that should have been repaired a month ago.
I used to work for a company that sold training for Cisco certifications. Aside from workbooks and videos, we also offered rack rentals so you could practice on a rack before getting to your tests.
I worked Tier 3 support, so I took a lot of calls from people on racks (Tiers 1 and 2 dealt with website issues and workbook problems; Tier 3 pretty much exclusively was there for “OMG MY RACK ISN’T WORKING RIGHT!”) who were having problems. Normally, it was a pretty easy job - ping a few switches to see if it was the rack or not; check the student’s progress on the workbook in case their “problem” was just part of the configuration we pre-loaded; stuff like that.
I will never forget the day that I took a call from a gentleman who insisted that our rack was down. I could ping the switches, and I even called someone in the rack room to have them check that everything was plugged in properly. It was all fine. So I figured the guy was having a problem with telnetting in, and I asked him what client he was using to initiate the telnet; lots of our users had PUTTY or something and didn’t use the command line. This guy, who was in the middle of training for his CCIE, says, “I’m using my browser.”
“Sir, you can’t telnet from a browser. It doesn’t work like that.”
“I ping stuff from a browser all the time!”
“That’s not how telnetting works, though. You need something like PUTTY, or use the command line built in to your PC, but you can’t input telnet codes from your browser.”
“Yes. I can. I always have.”
Okay. Maybe he’s using some fancy browser that I’ve never ever heard of that magically has telnet capabilities? “What browser are you using, sir?”
“ ... how do I tell that?”
I repeat. In the middle. Of training. For his CCIE.
Lady calls in with a Microsoft Word issue. Fairly simple call. Took about 2-3 minutes to resolve her issue. She’s all happy. She then says, “Wow, that was easy......I’m easy”. I had to hold back laughing but thanked her for calling.
Another great one. Back before these fancy super fast internet connections people had at home you were stuck with either dial-up, or if your fancy pants you got the company to pay for ISDN. ISDN was like 200 dollars a month for a 48k connection. Well this one special lady lived on a house boat. She had her ISDN line installed to the dock and then a special line to the boat. Every time an ISDN person went out there she wouldn’t let them leave until we verify they did their job right. We have no way to see, nor detect what they did since they only hook up the ISDN. But she was adamant that we check. So I pretended to check in my system and let the guy go.
Then you have the tons of people who call when there machine crashed and they were working on something super important. I needed to fix it right away and get their work back. Those calls pretty much where me teaching them how to save manually and no rely on auto-save.
I’ll leave you with one more. Lady comes in monday and calls the helpdesk because her machine doesn’t “boot up right”. We send desk side, they re-image her machine. Next monday, same thing. So I got curious. I went with desk side to see the machine. It was booting up in Linux...and running a Unreal Tournament server. Apparently her son would take the her work laptop over the weekend - wipe the hard drive, and set up a unreal tournament for him and his friends. How she kept her job is beyond me.
Joe the Tech writes:
Oh, so many stories. I think this one is self-explanatory, though. My favorite part is where they’re in the process of installing yet another toolbar.
I used to do IT phone support for a local hospital system. In that job i had everyone from doctors and nurses, to the office staff, to the guy who mops the floor calling for help as they all used a computer in one way or another. Most of my calls i could laugh at because they’re clearly just a stressed out/distracted person who would eventually say something irrational or dumb. Ex. i reset a password and tell them it’s “abc123 in lowercase” and they might ask me if the numbers are lowercase too. To which i replied after a pause “...yes.”
One of the most frustrating calls i remember was when i had someone who was so bewildered by electronics that she couldn’t even locate the power button on her computer that she uses everyday. I spent at least 5 minutes describing this symbol that exists on pretty much any device that plugs in until she found it.
Follow-up comment of awesome knowledge: Hutnick: Maybe you know this, but that symbol is a “1” and a “0”, representing the binary states of on/off. It’s perfect!
Worked for a large internet Phone support call center, 2nd shift, 3-11pm.
We got this kid, maybe 6-9 years old, he figured out how to call the internet tech support area, and then proceeded to get all the girls on the phone(hung up when males answered the phone), and told them all that “he wanted to make the sex with them”.
Managers are trying to find out if the number he’s calling from is one of our numbers, the girls tried to find out his first/last name, but he would taunt just enough to get semi-graphic and then hang up, dial again, and find another female in the call center.
Mr. Universe writes:
1) We had a reoccurring client that would callus and argue, talk or whatever pleased him about our product. I got the call one day and immediately put him on mute because it was going to be a long call. There was a certain number on one of the reports we generated he didn’t understand and wanted to go over it. I said sure but first I would need X and Y and Z from these areas of the software to do the equation so I could show where the number came from. This was the response from him “I can’t get that right now, I’m in the shower eating cherries and they are so good!” I, 28 year old man, turn red at the thought of this and just told him to call back when he could…
2) The second is with a temp we had hired. I got a call about the product being slow. His quote was this “The electrons on a mother board can be slow sometimes because of the angle of the computer. Is your computer leaning?” I know this not because I heard what he said, but because one of the floor managers happened to be monitoring his call and ran out of her office “STOP STOP STOP” and took over the call. We all died laughing. That rep is now a vice president at another support firm. Sigh.
I work for a Small Health insurance company. I will never forget one day I get a call from an employee requesting “ I want to be able to Fax from my computer to the departments copier”. Since our copiers are set up as the departments printers I politely corrected her “ So you want to print to your departments copier?”. This woman would not be corrected though insisting that she wanted to FAX her word documents and receive them on the copier. After about 10 minutes of this I installed the print drives and renamed the copier from Xerox copier to FAX.
I used to work for McAfee phone support, back before it was moved to Malaysia, this created a couple of interesting stories.
The first was a woman I spend thirty minutes with before realizing she was entering “at” instead of “@” for her email to download the software; it took thirty minutes because she would hunt and peck to enter her email...her email was her full name.
The absolutely weirdest however were for obviously highly classified groups, they still had to submit a ticket but they literally could not tell us anything else. This meant that calls would go something like this:
Me: “Hello, <company> support, my name is Talgrath, can I have your name please?”
Caller: “No you cannot. I need you to submit a ticket to <queue> with the title being “Support” and the text saying “Support Ticket”, then I need the ticket number.”
It’s weird asking for someone’s name and being told you don’t even have the clearance for that.
I work in Tier 2 support at a Hosted Exchange company. A lady called and eventually was escalated to management. Her issue; The internet is the problem, and she just needed their phone number...
Here’s one from the old days: a secretary’s computer worked fine all day but every day the next morning the files she’s entered were unreadable. The IT guys tried everything, but couldn’t find a problem. In desperation they had her show them exactly how she shut down her machine. She saved and closed all the files, removed the floppy disk from the drive, turned the computer off, then put the floppy on the side of her file cabinet with a refrigerator magnet.
I once got a call at the help desk because this person’s computer wouldn’t turn on. “I keep pushing the power button, but nothing happens.” Suspecting a dead power supply, or more likely, it was unplugged, I head down there to “fix” it. When I get there I take a quick look and I say, “Ah, here’s your problem. Someone’s removed the contents of your computer case.” In shock and awe, they don’t believe me at first, but I open up the box, and it’s empty. Someone had gone into their office the night before, and meticulously removed every single part, including the power supply, reassembled the case, and tried to make it look like nothing was wrong. I still couldn’t convince them we needed security cameras.
Working the graveyard shift at an ISP, I am the only person in the call center other than the guard. I received a call from a grandmotherly sounding woman about getting email. The conversation detailed below has not been altered.
Me: Alright, to get your email first you’ll need to click on the Outlook Express icon.
Cust: This is a good god fearing Christian home and we do not have icons. *click*
The phone rings again and I go through the standard greeting.
Cust: I had a terrible man trying to get me to worship at some icon.
Me: That’s terrible, well lets get your email setup, if you’d please click on the little picture of an envelope that is called ‘Outlook Express’ please.
I was working as a front line customer service representative at a company we’ll call BA (a telecom in Eastern Canada) in 2013. As front line it was my job to do sales, billing, inquiries, retention and tech support, basically a bit of everything. If I couldn’t resolve the problem, then you’d get sent off to someone who worked in that department. One day I received a call from an older gentleman saying that his internet was no longer working. I jumped into my programs and checked everything on his account that would normally cause an internet outage. Everything checked out on my system, but I saw that he just switched to our new FibreOp fibre network from copper, so I figured I’d ask him some questions about his router in hopes that we didn’t mess up the install. When I asked him if he was getting any signal on his laptop, he said “No, I’m using a desktop, I’ve just got it plugged in”. So then I asked him what lights were illuminated on the router. He had no clue what I was talking about, and eventually said “There’s no lights, it’s just plugged into the phone jack”.
Then it hit me. This guy, who has had DSL on his account since 2006 and had a wireless router since 2009, was still using dial-up. A guy who had access to at least 7mbps for 7 years was using 30 kbps. He had no idea what “high speed” internet actually was. I put him on hold and checked his bill and there it was, $39.95 a month for dial-up service and this was ON TOP of the ~$200 a month the guy was already paying for DSL, Home Phone and Digital Cable. I got back on the phone with him and tried to walk him through setting up the router near his computer so he could plug in, but that was definitely a bit over his head (by the sounds of it the guy must have been 70, and all he wanted to do was e-mail with his kids). I told him to hang on and that I’d call him back in a few minutes with a solution.
I got on the phone with dispatch (the internal department that directs our technicians) and found out there was a tech in the area who could squeeze in setting up a router within the hour. I then took the 39.95, multiplied it by 84 months (the amount of time he had DSL), deducted the cost of a technician visit ($120) to give me 3,155.90. After a quick trip to my manager and some work of my silver tongue, the old dude had a $3000 credit applied to his account. I never managed to get a credit that big for a customer before or since, but since providing the dial-up was basically free for us and double charging seniors doesn’t make for good media I got that one.
I called him back and told him that a technician would be there soon to set up his router and plug it in, and explained to him why his internet cut out in the first place. The guy still had no idea what I was really talking about, but he understood that he’d be able to see pics of the grandkids again pretty soon. Then I told him that I applied a $3000 credit to his account, and he damn near took my eardrum out with his yelling. He was laughing to the point of almost crying, then suddenly I hear him take a breath like he was punched in the gut. Then another. Then another.
“Sir, are you alright?” I asked. “No”, he replied in another gasp. Believe it our not, they actually train us for stuff like this. “Sir do you want me to call you an ambulance?” All there was on the other end now was gasps. I told him to wait on the line and I called 911, giving them the address he called from (perks of working for a telco) and explaining that I just gave him exciting news and it sounded like he was struggling to breathe. Then I conferenced 911 in with the customer and the operator and she took over from there (but I got to eavesdrop on the rest of the call!).
Once EMS arrived we ended the call, and then it was back to work. The next day when I came in, I was called into my managers office first thing. Apparently the family had contacted BA to thank us and let us know the guy was fine (he had a chronic breathing condition and I guess the good news just got him in a spell). I ended up getting a $100 bonus which was pretty cool. Kicker is I checked his account a few weeks later to see if he was actually using his high-speed. Was he ever, the next set of notes on the account after mine were him calling in and asking if he downloaded a virus from clicking an ad on a porn site.
You guys really knocked it out of the park this time ‘round. If you have more stories of the calls that made you want to set your phone on fire, tell us in the comments — we can’t get enough. Thank you for your service, IT citizens.