1. diodesign Silver badge

    Help-desk hell

    Help-desk hell: Can you beat this iPad-winning story of woe?

    Post away with your top tales.


    1. tjay

      Re: Help-desk hell

      While working in a school, i had a user catch me while i walk passed her office complaining that her machine would not turn on.

      I found that the problem was the power supply.

      So i told her i would have to take her machine away to the IT office to take remove the old power supply and install a new one.

      She agree and thanked me for my effort.

      20 mins later...

      I get a phone call from the same user:

      User: "Now my monitor is not working, the is just a multicolored rectangle just bouncing around the screen"

      Me: "Well, that would be because i have your machine in the IT office, remember?"

      User: "Oh i didn't realize i needed that box"

    2. JAYT

      Re: Help-desk hell

      Linda from Birmingham - you have to do the Brummy accent in your head - would ring up every few months.

      "My keyboard's stuck, I'm entering stuff on the keyboard and the form's not working..."

      "Is there a red light above the F1 button on your keyboard on?" (This was a VT220 green-screen character terminal, none of this GUI shenanigans.


      "Press F1."

      "It's working now."

      "You pressed the Hold button on your keyboard again. Speak to you in a few months, Linda."

    3. The McV

      Re: Help-desk hell

      So there was I at the end of a long hard week, another test system completed and delivered to the assembly line and just in time to retire to the pub for a well earned lunchtime pint...

      When we returned - in a somewhat cheerful state - I was met with a production line stop - Not only the new system, but ALL the systems were down. After the shouting and finger pointing had calmed down a bit I looked at the screen where it said 'Press any key to continue' - pressed a key and all was fine. It transpired that the lovely old Asian lady who had been assigned to the system saw this prompt, but couldn't find a key with 'ANY' printed on it - not wanting to do anything wrok, she asked her friend on the adjacent machine (who had been running it for weeks) - she couldn't find an 'ANY' key either and the consternation worked its way in down the other ladies on the line and they all stopped.

      I solved the problem by writing 'ANY KEY' on the side of the space bar in marker pen.

      Ah... Memories of Thorn EMI on Hayes back in 1990!

    4. theTaxiBunneh

      Re: Help-desk hell

      One of my first jobs was in a small local computer firm.

      I first met my memorable customer when he came into the shop clutching a Hutchinsons Medical Encyclopaedia CDRom.

      He asked if I could tell him how to use it. I said you put the disk in your CDRom drive and it should start the program automatically.

      He replied 'what CDRom drive, I don't think I have one of those'

      (seeing a sales oportunity) I said 'ahh, thats ok I can sort that out' I told hime the price and that I would fit it for him for free.

      'Ok he said and proceeded to get his wallet out'.

      I asked if he was ok to bring his computer to the shop; to which he replied 'I don't have a computer'.

      (yes I should seen the future for this one.... facepalm).

      So I explained how he needed a computer to use CDRom programs. he was interested and between us we agreed on his purchasing a simple system from us (with a CDRom). he spent I think about £1000 for a 386SX PC with 2MB Ram and a printer with an internal 2x CDRom. (this was the early nineties).

      We had many a call and visit explaining the basics of computers and how to use windows (3.1 at the time).

      a few days later I was called to the front office to see a customer wanting a refund.

      I opened the door to find my CDRom customer witll his entire system all boxed up.

      'I want my money back' he says.

      I take a breath and politely ask him why and whats wrong.

      He says the computer has been nothing but trouble (we had had all kinds of sillys like not turning on the monitor, holding the mouse off the desk etc).

      He handed me a stack of paper and told me that under his consumer rights the computer was not fit for the purpose.

      Looking at the printed pages I held my patience and asked whats wrong exactly.

      'It's printing spelling mistakes!' he growled.

      I did a double take, pinched myself mentally as this had to be a dream. I asked him to repeat and he explained its 'printing mistakes and empty pages'

      to sum up I did eventually convince him that it does what he tells it to, and he could not return a typewriter if it printed spelling mistakes.

      one sale I wish I had never made.

    5. Drewc Gold badge

      Re: Help-desk hell

      A nod to our 2009 article - Helpdesk Heroes or unappreciated geeks?, which attracted more than 100 tales of woe from the helldesk.

      Those posts are here.

  2. lawl

    Stupid Word!

    User: "Come and sort this stupid thing out, Microsoft word's stopped working properly and is going crazy"

    I humbly obliged and trotted over.

    Me:" That's Excel."

  3. Ru

    I've repressed my helldesk days quite effectively, but a few traumatic or entertaining moments sometimes float back up.

    One guy was wondering why his cheapy inkjet had stopped working and was making a funny noise. He was careful to tell me how well he'd treated it, and he'd opened it up and cleaned it and used WD40 on the moving parts and everything...

  4. Lxbr

    Stealing the mouse

    One lunchtime I was helping out in the school computer lab. Two students were sitting side by side on two PCs, one a bit of a bruiser, the other a more shy and retiring type. The larger boy was messing around, swiping his mouse cursor around the screen. It happened that he drove the mouse to the right-hand edge of the screen and therefore lost track of it (since it was the usual left-pointing arrow shape). Coincidentally at about the same time, the boy to his right moved his pointer from the left-hand edge of his screen into the middle. The bruiser immediately jumped up and threatened to thump the other boy for stealing his mouse pointer, luckily I stepped in between them and managed to mollify him by moving his pointer back to the middle of his screen, though he remained convinced that the other boy had somehow managed to nick the pointer...

  5. Colin Wilson 2

    Ask it where I live!

    When I was at school in the 70s the school had one computer - a Digital PDP8-f. A few of us were really into it, and for speech day we were given the task of demonstrating it to parents who had wandered as far as the maths block.

    We wanted it to look impressive, so we set it up with the lights on the front blinking in groovy patterns, the teletype clattering away, the VDU endlessly solving 'The Towers of Hanoi' etc. We were delighted with the results.

    Eventually one mother came in, immaculately dressed, trotting along on high heals, and with a cute, pale blue wide-brimmed hat, which she'd probably worn at Ascot. She took her time looking at the whirring contraptions, then finally said:

    "Ask it where I live"

    We mumbled some reply about it not being Mystic Meg, and after she left we fell about with gleeful scorn. How could anyone be so thick??! For years afterwards I used this story to illustrate the vast gulf between the expectations of people who understood computers, and the great unwashed.

    But suddenly we have phones with things like Siri. You say "Siri, where do I live?" and it tells you. It even shows you on a map.

    1-0 to the muggles!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ask it where I live!

      That wouldn't have been a school in Brighton, would it?

      I remember the PDP8-f:

      The start-up ritual on the front panel switches (Address Load, Extended Address Load, Clear, Reset, Continue).

      Re-loading the basic interpreter from tape everytime someone slammed a door...

      1. Colin Wilson 2

        Re: Ask it where I live!

        It was in Crowthorne in Berkshire. We had an ancient PDP-4 too which originally came from the Harwell Nuclear place, and which we slowly renovated and pieced together.

        Big blue cabinets, 18-bit accumulator, fully transistorised except for the valves in the power supply, banks of 30000 uF capacitors strapped together to make a very rudimentary UPS, KSR-35 - the Rolls-Royce of teletypes, DEC tape, a weird circular VDU with a light pen (we never got that working).

        For my A level Computer Science project I wrote a text editor in PDP-4 machine language. Goodness knows how they marked it :)

        Good times!

        1. Martin Budden

          Re: Ask it where I live!

          Hello, fellow O.W.! By the time I was there in the '80s we had a big shiny new building for all things technical, the lower floor had a large computer lab with at least 20 BBC Model Bs, and those of us who were keen were having fun with fractals.

          Beresford, in case that matters.

  6. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Overheard many years ago.

    Overheard from a colleague a few desks away, known as a true gentleman, but with a short-ish fuse.

    "Ah, I see"

    <sound of gritting teeth>

    "Did you not think that perhaps the smoke might have indicated a problem".

    ...pause... hangup phone gently.

    Then the air turned blue all round his desk for a good 5 minutes.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A user stopped me and asked why her phone wasn't working!!

    Crystal ball to the ready.

    Checked the line cord, connected.

    Check the power cord, UNPLUGED from the 13A mains outlet!!!!

    W O W, god help her children.

  8. Andy_H

    Printer Issues

    A couple of years ago I had one user who complained that their laserjet printer was making a bit of a noise. They also suggested it may be the "drive belt" that was causing this unusual noise. After a short trip down to see the printer it turned out the drive belt they mentioned was an elastic band which had found it's way into the output tray...problem solved...

  9. nomski


    I was working at a stock broking firm where the more difficult users were those on the trade floor. I was trying to co-ordinate a desk move one day with a rather argumentative trader who was not impressed with the idea even though he had requested it.

    After 5 date changes we finally settled on one which would work for him, I then had to say that unfortunately it would not be possible to leave all his spreadsheets open for him whilst I was doing this. He got fairly irate with me and demanded to know why I was being so difficult. Trying to keep a straight face whilst explaining computers didn't have batteries and therefore it wouldn't stay on while I relocated it to the other side of the room was hard work.

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: spreadsheets

      I do love Hibernate on modern PCs :)

  10. Netman

    Problem with TV

    "The TV attached to my PC does not appear to be working and I've got a lesson in a few minutes. Help!" She points remote control at the TV. Nothing happens.

    I reach across and press the craftily hidden power button on the underside of the flatscreen monitor.

    "Oh, I didn't know it had one of those. I'm really embarrased."

    "That's okay. I won't tell a soul!" :-)

  11. Ian Bremner

    Space: The Final Front Ear

    Talking to a draughtsman on the phone, trying to figure out why AutoCAD coudldn't pick up a licence from our licence server.

    Me: Ok, if you click 'Start', then 'Run'

    Him: OK.

    Me: In the box type 'cmd', that's 'C' for Charlie, 'M'. for Mike and 'D' for Delta, then press the Enter key

    Him : Ok, I have a black window open up now.

    Me: Ok, in that window can you type Ping, that's 'P' for Peter, 'I' for India, 'N' for November, 'G' for Golf and then a space.

    Him: What kind of space?

    The guy who was doing on-the-job traiing with me swore my face changed colour.

    I have also had calls where I have spent upwards of 15 minutes trying to help someone find the Enter key.

    1. Vector

      Re: Space: The Final Front Ear

      "I have also had calls where I have spent upwards of 15 minutes trying to help someone find the Enter key."

      ...better than the "Any" key!

  12. 27escape

    Could you send a copy of your data

    Cue a fax of the floppy disk.

    Another send the data on a 5.25 floppy, stapled through the disc attached to a covering letter.

    Ahh the good old days

    1. Vector

      Re: Could you send a copy of your data

      A friend related the story of a woman who came into his shop with a bad 5 1/4 floppy. He checked it, found it was corrupted, reformatted it and sent her on her way. This process repeated several times until he decided he'd best visit her at home to see what was causing the problem. After watching her go through her routine and finding nothing wrong, he told her he would have to do some research into her problem and get back to her.

      As he prepared to leave, she took the disk out of her computer, walked over and stuck it to the refrigerator with a magnet...

    2. Laurent_Z

      Re: Could you send a copy of your data

      Fax of a floppy disk is a good one.

      I had an accountant tell me he made regular copies of his floppies for backup. He had a full drawer full of photocopiesof his 5 1/4 disks.

      Another one was very organized. He put all his floppies in a three-ring binder.

      Of course, for convenience sake he also used the puncher so that he could put his floppies in the rings.

      My favorite one was a dear old Direction Secretary. Se just got a brand new PS/2 with the 3 1/2 floppies and complained it wasn't working and she couldn't read her old floppies.

      As the 5 1/4 floppies didn't fit she folded it in 4 so it would fit in the 3 1/2 drive...

  13. Jerboa

    Back in the 90's

    I used to do voluntary work at a community computing charity. One day a well-intentioned local architects company rang us up to offer some paid support work - they had a floppy that wasn't working and could we recover the important data for them?

    This was one of the old 5 1/4 inch "floppy" floppies which had a magnetic disk inside a cardboard sleeve.

    After trying a couple of things over the phone, it seemed this would be a job for some specialised software, meaning we needed to physically obtain the disk. Despite being situated about 500 yards from us, they insisted on mailing the disk to us.

    So a couple of days later we received post, containing the troublesome floppy, and a nice "Complements of ..." slip from the architects.

    One slight problem - complements slip stapled right through the middle of the disk.

    No, I didn't even try putting it in a drive.


    We replaced the bosses's secretary's PC with something a bit less antiquated and more presentable. A few days later while passing, we popped in to check up how she was getting on with it.

    Secretary: "Yeah, it's ok, but I was wondering if I could have my old monitor back"

    Support: "Yes you can, but why would you want it?" (The new one was obviously better)

    "The old one had all the icons in the right places".

  15. stain2319

    User: Hi, I'm having trouble connecting to my wireless network. It's been working fine for weeks but today I can't connect.

    Me: OK, exactly what error message do you get, or what happens when you try to connect to the network?

    User: It says I am not authorized to access the network. It keeps saying something about a WPA Key. Do you know what that is?

    Me: Yes, that's a security password that is set up on your wireless router. You need to input that security password. Do you know how to access the administration page for your router?

    User: Well, it's not really MY router, it's my neighbor's... I've just been using the connection. Is there any way to get around this?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


  16. Mshriver

    Still waiting

    Returned to my desk and had a voice message. Message said " Hey Mike, my computer is acting really stupid, what do you think it is ? Call me. 'click' " I trust this person still isn't waiting for a return call.

  17. Anonymous John

    A client was having trouble with his fax and called me. When asked to try and send a test page to me, he faxed his company price list. I solved his problem and we ended the call. A few minutes later he called back and said: "I am not sure I should have sent that list, can you fax it back to me?"

    I hope he did.

    Before I retired I was part of the unofficial second tier support team to the official IT bods.Once,I saw all four scratching their heads next to a PC. i walked up, read the error message, ejected the floppy, hit the any key, and walked away in total silence.

  18. Sequin

    Users - don't you just love them!

    While working for a government department, I was the only person who could support a legacy system used to receive overtime claims via modem link, which were then fed into a mainframe based payroll system. This ran on an old CCP/M system in the datacentre, while I was based in another office about 5 miles away.

    One day I got a panicked phone call to say the system had gone haywire and they needed to get it working before that night's payroll run, or there would be huge ructions if the overtime was not paid on time.

    I asked what was wrong with it and was told that most of the menu items had disappeared. Thinking that the programs had been corrupted in some way, I gathered together the backup disks, manuals etc and jumped in a taxi.

    After being admitted through the airlocks, I examined the system, turned up the monitor brightness, then walked out again.

    It turns out that they had had some IT cleaners in, who were to clean the monitors, mice and keyboards. While cleaning the old green screen monitor, they had accidentally turned down the brightness/contrast so that only the highlighted menu options, shown in reverse video, were visible!

  19. El Presidente

    Virgin Media Drone

    Called Virgin Media as my fat pipe had been playing up all day.

    Got through to a call centre in India, explained the situation, asked if there were any faults in the area and roughly when could I expect my excellent service to be back to normal.

    After some lost in translation nonsense and further attempted clarification that I didn't need any help with my "laptop" (no idea where the drone got that idea from) I was told by the drone that it 'would not help me unless you give me access to your computer'

    Two words, second word: Off - Click, I hung up.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They are fing awful, that lot.

      I've been told to remove TCP/IP from my computer by them, had pretty much every piece of hardware and software on all my various devices blamed - all while I had a perfectly functioning local network.

      Some of the things they asked me to do would have left an ordinary punter utterly f'ed up - I was just fed up.

      Maybe it is some sort of karmic thing whereby a servicedesk somewhere gets to torture users on behalf of all the other servicedeskers that have themselves been put through the wringer by twits.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The reason why 99% of the time the customer gets treated like a muppet

        Is because 99% of customers are muppets.

        1. El Presidente

          Re: The reason why 99% of the time the customer gets treated like a muppet

          Hello call centre worker. If you had actually listened at school instead of being a muppet then you would have a marketable skill which didn't involve sitting on your lardy butt all day talking bolix to "muppets" for minimum wage.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The reason why 99% of the time the customer gets treated like a muppet

            The evidence of customers being muppets is in this thread.

    2. evs

      Re: Virgin Media Drone

      Sounds like a perfect opportunity for "Taste the soup!" (look it up).

    3. sgrier23

      Re: Virgin Media Drone

      The Virgin Media helpdesk are quite frankly awful. Quite Frankly every IT service desk I have called have been more than poor - they are sh7e.

      I switched off Virgin and moved to Sky - this was when you could not get sky 1 on virgin, and also I worked for the 2nd line team for Virgin (Telewest at the time).

      We were constantly getting idiots on the phone and the 1st lineers basically could not deal with them- they had to get the call and logi it within 300 seconds - YES 300 seconds. after that time they were told to pass them over to us.

      I remember one guy who was complaining that his internet was not working - we had been informed that British Gas had cut through the cable whilst doing their own repair. We had engineers enroute, and the ETA was approx 3 hours to complete the repair.

      This guy was complaining that there was an important football match on and he could not see that either. I explained that the cable into his area was damaged and the engineers are enroute to fix it - I have him the ETA.

      He said he was very angry and was wanting to watch the football. I explained that the fault was going to be repaired - but it needed time. He saidif the repair was not completed in 1 hour he was cancelling his account.

      OK I said, and gave him the cancellations number.

      I don't know if he called....

    4. Just a geek

      Re: Virgin Media Drone

      Oh I can beat that with a BT internet drone.

      I was having issues sending email did a few checks to find that the BT SMTP server wasn't accepting traffic on port 25 like it normally does so I phone up the disservice desk to tell them that the SMTP server is out of action. The drone refuses to listen without going through the script then she decides that she can help me if she can take remote control of the PC.

      So, as I had nothing better to do I let her take remote control of my PC.

      She clicks on Start -> Run -> CMD -> IPCONFIG

      up comes my IP address 172.16.1.X

      She says....... 'Oh that's your problem Sir, BT use 192.168.Y.Z IP ranges. You are not connected to the internet'.

      Even when I pointed out that I must be connected to the internet thanks to the powers of a NATTed router and how could she be accessing my PC if I wasn't she wasn't having any of it and insisted that I needed to change my IP address to a valid one.........

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Talking a family member through searching for a pst file in windows.

    ME: "Put *.pst in the search bar"

    RELATION: "Nope nothing has come up"

    ME:"tell me how you have spelt *.pst"


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So helpdesk error not user error

      Your laughing at them because you cannot give clear instructions?

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      A similar one from a supplier of the XYZ system (names have been changed to protect the innocent) and neatly proving that even those "users" who should know better, sometimes don't. Unix software, from before the days of POSIX directory structures.

      "I've installed your software and it doesn't work".

      "Which user account did you use to perform the installation?"

      "My own".

      "Ah. It clearly says in the installation guide that you must install as root. Do you have the root password?".

      "No, but I can get it."

      "Ok. Do that and I'll wait."

      <Time passes>

      "Right. Got it and logged in."

      "Good. We need to reinstall but, before we do, we'll just tidy up the previous error to be on the safe side."

      "Cd to slash bin."

      "Ok. Done that."

      "Right. Now type rm, minus rf, XYZ star."


      "Right now type..."

      " hasn't come back yet."

      "Is it finished yet?"


      <Deep sense of foreboding.....>

      "Read back exactly what you typed in, including the spaces."

      "Rm, space, minus rf, space, XYZ, space, star."

      "Oooooookkaaaaayyyyyyy. Tell me. Do you have a recent system backup to hand.....?"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Ooh, nasty.

      2. Sooty


        It's hard to lay that one on the user... If you have to explain to someone over the phone what to type the absolute last thing you should tell them is to log in as root and use rm -rf

        its never going to end well.

        We script up the noddiest of things and tell them to just run the script.

  21. fearnothing

    I've worked for a couple of tech support places, and two stories stand out:

    While working for Apple support, we would occasionally get calls that related to trojans - not often, but it happened. One particular one was a bug that messed with the user's DNS settings. A security firm released a fix and the word came down from on high that we should just assist customers in reaching the site the fix could be downloaded from. Underneath the download link was the following description (paraphrased somewhat, I can't remember the exact wording):

    This tool will remove the DNS changer trojan from your system and restore normal operation. This malware is most commonly encountered purporting to be a video codec required to view content on pornography sites.

    You could hear, in the customer's tone of voice, the moment of comprehension.

    "Has the website loaded sir? You will find some information about the malware and a link to download the tool to fix it."

    "Oh that's great, thank you so much! Let's see now. Uh huh. Mhm.

    ... ah. Thanks a lot, goodbye!" *click*

    The other was in a similar role supporting the Xbox and Xbox 360. One guy phoned up saying his 360 wouldn't turn on at all, no lights, nothing. That's usually a power supply problem, so I got him to check the power supply was plugged in. He'd already done that - fair enough. I asked him how it was connected to the mains - he was using one of those multi-socket extension cords. At this point I found out that the lamp also connected to this extension wasn't working either. He went on a mission to find where the extension lead was plugged in, and came back to tell me he'd found the problem.

    What was it? The extension cord went around the back of his armchair in a nice big loop... and plugged back into itself!

  22. Kerry Hoskin

    low printer toner

    One that always sticks in my mind was one that one of our boffins (I work in a research Lab) came out with. We have a shared printer on each floor of the lab, the boffin came in and said the printer was low on toner on the 3rd floor and could we change it. Normally we don’t we just ask the user to give the toner a shake and it’s good for a few more hundred pages, anyway I said to the boffin “ok could you give it a shake, and got the classic answer “what the printer?” Now these printers are HP Laserjet 4300DTN (extra paper trays) so weigh in at around 30kg!

  23. EddieD

    Corny, unoriginal, but true

    I used to work for a charity giving computer training (word processing, spreadsheets and the like) to special needs groups. We had both a wee "school" where a friend and I managed to blag a Netware3 license from the Uni and we set up a small "Office" network, but also an outreach program, where housebound individuals were given a PC, they were given worksheets, one of our Tutor/Befrienders would spend a couple of hours a week with them, and they submitted their work on 3.5 floppy disks (remember them :) which were collected by our drivers.

    One day, one of the folk on the outreach program rang and said that she couldn't save anything, her PC wasn't working. I asked a few questions, but it was quite clear that she wasn't able to really help, so I asked Henry, our driver to collect it and bring to the office so I could look at it.

    As soon as it arrived, I put it on the desk, and without even switching it on, I knew the problem - when I put it down, it sounded like a money box. I opened the machine, took out the floppy drive and shook it - a shower of coins fell out. I rang the lass concerned, and asked if her baby was now mobile. She said yes, it's lovely. I said, aye, it is - he thinks the floppy drive is his money box...and that's why you couldn't save anything. She asked me then how the machine was......

    "Well, there's no change yet", was my reply.


  24. Rupert Fiennes Bronze badge

    A couple...

    I could be cruel about the severely dyslexic users given free PC's in some asinine Government program, very few of which could read "Connect" on a button. Not their fault of course, it's the moronic politicians and civil servants who think such ailments can be banished by spending money on PC's :-(

    I could marvel at the optimism of the Italian running the French version of Windows 95, who seemed to think schoolboy French involved fluency :-)

    But I think the man who wins the prize has to be the one who double-clicked on "Connect to the Internet" and got nowhere. He called me, who, ever anxious to please, asked him if he could hear his modem dialling, imitating the sound to help. He said he couldn't hear anything, so I asked if his modem was turned on: he replied "I don't have a phone line" :-)

    1. keithpeter

      Re: A couple...

      "I could be cruel about the severely dyslexic users given free PC's in some asinine Government program, ("

      Well, I made it through a Phd and seem to be able to manage to plug my PC in, thanks very much, the pictures help. And I've written a couple of textbook chapters over the years. Wonderful things, spellchecks.

      Some of my students found the cheap (not free) Government PCs quite useful as well as it happens, especially the one who is now a qualified physiotherapist.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Rumour has it

        that some of the disabled students at my university who got given computers, promptly flogged them on eBay because they already had one. (I wasn't so dishonest.)


POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019