back to article AF-FIR-MAT-IVE: Second suspension for robot-voice helldesker

An IT help desk staffer at New York City's Health Department is facing his second suspension for answering customer calls in a robot voice. Ronald Dillon has worked for the Health Department since 1976, and holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics as well as an MBA. He was once a project manager and supervisor at the Health …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That's OK, we have all been there

    So? I used to ask people to smile.

    You have to get past the grind somehow, especially if you are doing it because it has to be done and it is not your main job.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That's OK, we have all been there

      Done something fairly similar to this guy myself. The first line desk needed a team brief so they us cover their phones for an hour. I answered the phone normally, but with as much enthusiasm as anybody has for answering 1st line calls. The servicedesk manager walking past asked us to answer the phones with a bit more enthusiasm (at 0905 on Monday morning)

      I promptly picked up the next call and enthusiastically boomed:-

      (Me) IT Servicedesk, <name speaking> HOW CAN I HELP?

      (User, with a complete and total lack of any enthusiasm)That's a bit enthusiastic for Monday morning.


      The other techs were in stiches, and we had a competition for who could act the most absurdly over enthusiastic without getting caught out as acting by the user. The worst we got was a disapproving glare from the servicedesk manager when he realized how we'd been answering his phones. Probably because the deputy head of department was in the room listening and literally in tears laughing.

      Ho hum. We had fun, and later found out that the feedback things that went out when we closed the tickets showed an insanely high level of customer satisfaction for that hour, though that might just have been the first time fix rate going up like a rocket.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: That's OK, we have all been there

        We used to chat up the girls at the stores when EPOS systems went down, got invited to many parties and such. Used to drive the supervisor mad though, especially as we were actually rebuilding the servers while gassing so they couldn't say we were slacking as such.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    as well as an MBA

    That was my schadenfreude rush for the day, thanks!

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Demoted it would seem and they expect him to be Mr. Cheerful?

    Good lord, what a fall he took... to the Helldesk. I would guess that someone demoted him to that level hoping he'd quit.

    1. PleebSmash

      Re: Demoted it would seem and they expect him to be Mr. Cheerful?

      Maybe Helldesk without pay will do the trick?

    2. John Tserkezis

      Re: Demoted it would seem and they expect him to be Mr. Cheerful?

      "Good lord, what a fall he took... to the Helldesk. I would guess that someone demoted him to that level hoping he'd quit"

      Oh no, you don't quit a helpdesk position, the only step down from there is slashing your wrists.

      So basically, on the off chance you survive that, you'll live forever.

    3. g e

      Re: Demoted it would seem and they expect him to be Mr. Cheerful?

      Presumably if he were able to get a better job then he would. If you don't like the job you're in get another one unless you're so unemployable in which case be thankful that someone will actually pay you.

      Perhaps he feels Apple or Intel should be kicking his door down to employ him and 'more fool them' if they haven't got in touch yet, because he's above looking for a new job and feels he should somehow be headhunted. Despite being about to have no job and no prospects cos he'll have a 'special' reference to give to prospective new employers, saying 'His name is xx and he worked here from yy to zz'.

      1. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

        Re: Demoted it would seem and they expect him to be Mr. Cheerful?

        It think you got down-voted because Steve Jobs died before he could hire him to work for nothing.

    4. David Robinson 1

      Re: Demoted it would seem and they expect him to be Mr. Cheerful?

      I think the final straw would be if they took his red stapler.

    5. Pookietoo

      Re: Demoted it would seem and they expect him to be Mr. Cheerful?

      Just one more year then he's done his 40 and can leave with a full pension. I'm guessing.

  4. hplasm Silver badge


    is a terrible thing. It can lead to all sorts of weird behaviour...

    And 'professional' as a word, is highly overrated.


    1. goldcd


      Normally is used purely in the context of responding to the idiotic.

      Don't mention, put up with it, overcome it - professional.

      Anything else from pointing out the ridiculousness of the request through to failing to deliver on the impossible - unprofessional.

      1. theModge

        Re: 'professional'

        I like to point out that my behaviour is professional. I'm being paid to do it, that makes it professional.

        The key is not to do so at a time such that people are inclined to stop paying you. Then it would be unprofessional.

  5. chivo243 Silver badge

    Poor guy...

    Maybe they would hire him here:

    1. stucs201

      Re: Poor guy...

      Or here:

  6. moiety

    "What was apparent from his rambling explanation,,,"

    Well that isn't very professional either. Sounds like a long-term grudge match to me, and we're only hearing the management side.

    1. Little Mouse

      There's definitely more to the story than meets the eye. Overqualified veterans of almost 40 years don't end up back on the 1st rung of the career ladder unless something somewhere got seriously messed up.

      Regardless of who was to blame, I can't imagine anyone in that position turning up to work everyday with a smile on their face...

      Poking management with a sharp stick is probably the only way he makes it through each day.

      1. Chika

        It doesn't work that way. You could be absolutely fantastic at whatever you do until the day that job disappears and the higher ups have to decide what to do with you. They don't necessarily want to lose your experience, so the next possible solution is.... the helldesk!

        Believe me. I've been there.

        1. moiety

          Not convinced that's the case here. Key to what it's about is why he got transferred to the helldesk job in the first place...could be any number of reasons with fault on either side. Or both.

          Whatever happened then; it's adversarial now...the guy was understandably pissed off about the demotion and management are definitely on the prod for him: A key witness in the case was an agency senior director who just happened to call his customer service line (and email to complain about it):

          The Health Department also presented an email from a senior director at the agency who complained to Dillon's supervisor that Dillon also spoke in a robotic voice to him during a customer-service call on March 18, 2014. (Linked DNAinfo aticle)

          His defence:

          "he was speaking in a neutral manner to appease his supervisors, who complained about his tone of voice."

          ...suggests that this is several rounds into the match and it sounds like the old resistance-by-obeying-orders-exactly game; in which case, I hope he keeps copies of emails.

          With just this information my money would be on either him massively pissing off someone high up in the organisation; a personal flaw (mental/alcohol etc); or the organisation attempting to force him out before they have to cough up his pension. If I had to guess one, it'd be the pension thing.

          1. Mark 85 Silver badge

            It won't affect his pension. He's long vested in it and it's a government job.

  7. Chris Miller

    I would sometimes answer the (non-IT) helpdesk phone with:

    "International Rescue, Blodwyn speaking."

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      I once left a 'Christmas' message on the support helpline just before signing off on Dec 24th - it didn't go down too well with the workaholics as the message was along the lines of "What are doing working on Christmas Eve, go home and spend time with your family".

      My manager had to give me a telling off, but the effect was blunted since he was laughing so much...thems were the days :)

    2. Youngone Silver badge

      Bloody Helpdesk

      I used to answer the helpdesk line with "What the hell do you want now"?

      In my defense I could see the extension number and would know the person on the other end, and would know that they could take a joke.

      My boss would answer "Oh for God's sake, phone Youngone" and hang up sometimes.

      Good times.

  8. James Micallef Silver badge


    If he thinks he can get a better job, he should look around and apply for some.

    Nevertheless, that's actually quite funny and pretty harmless. I can't believe whoever called the helpdesk even reported him

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: overqualified?

      Pretty hard to get a new job if you've been at the same place for 39 years and been demoted, probably the department trying to avoid having to pay him redundancy / early retirement. Infact that's almost exactly what it is.

  9. John Robson Silver badge

    Hello, Bank of England

    Works well, I often answer the desk phone as such.

    It's not a helpdesk phone though, and the number of people who call me on it is rather limited.

    Unfortunately I have to credit it to the jokers who did all the glass blowing at university - I needed a couple of bespoke flasks for an experiment, and that response is really offputting - even when you know you dialled an internal number.

    1. Chika

      Hello! Battersea Dogs' Home! (was: Hello, Bank of England)

      Woof woof woof woof!

      1. moiety

        "Hello Lesbian Switchboard; may I take your order?" always good for a few seconds of stunned silence. I don't do that any more - not politically correct apparently...

      2. theModge

        Re: Hello! Battersea Dogs' Home! (was: Hello, Bank of England)

        If you're going to be Battersea Dogs home you should go the whole hog:

        "Hello! Battersea Dogs' Home! Jack Russel speaking"

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ahhh, helpdesk duty, always in need of something to keep the bordedom at bay.

    We used to do "talk like an Australian" day.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Well, what do they expect if you give helpdesk staff a script and don't let them deviate.

      Treat people like robots and then they act like one and then complain. Hypocrisy.

    2. RoninRodent

      At one of my phone jobs (many years ago, not a helldesk) there was a guy who would answer every single call in a different accent. Sometimes if the caller had an accent he would mimic it if they spoke first. His accents were really good too.

      This place had a script which he kept to and was a total professional other than the accents so whilst management weren't overly happy with it they couldn't actually find anything other than the accents to reprimand him for. None of the callers ever complained. His defence was "well, would you have a problem if I was genuinely from Scotland or somewhere else where an accent was common?"

  11. TheProf


    Of course it's the people calling in who should be talking like robots.

    Caller: Extension three please.

    Robot: Did you say 'eggs pens and peas?'

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: Voice

      Sorry, I thought you said 'Extendable Fleas' and I got to wondering how big they would be.

    2. Blank-Reg

      Re: Voice

      Hahaha, reminds me of fonejacker

      Caller: "One Bedroom garden flat"

      Fonejacker "Three bedroom bisexual houseshare in Walthamstow, is this correct?"

      Caller: "No"

      Fonejacker "I'm sorry, this property has been rented. Do you wish to start again?"

      Caller "Fuck off" -click-

  12. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Perhaps he has an attitude problem...

    Maths grads generally believe they are smarter than the average bear or above the general churn of life. Until it comes to finding a job or more "common sense" tasks. Don't even get me started on my view of the MBAs that I have had the pleasure of watching fail when they have been faced with practical or complex tasks in real world situations.

    I may be being a little harsh, but if he was that good then surely he wouldn't be working on the helpdesk? And if he has worked on bigger and better things in the past, then perhaps he needs to look at himself in the mirror for the answers rather than acting like a child as it appears in this case.

    Chip on his shoulder you say? I say it's the entire timber yard.

    1. David Robinson 1

      Re: Perhaps he has an attitude problem...

      I'll just leave this here...


      (BTW, BSc Maths here)

    2. Joe Drunk

      Re: Perhaps he has an attitude problem...

      He definitely has some kind of problem. That kind of career path indicates either unsuitability for all but the most menial tasks or, as he is a government employee, failure to play quid pro quo. Making your work life extremely unpleasant is SOP in any organization in the hopes you'll quit so they won't have to pay you any severance, retirement, unused vacation, etc.

      Unfortunately since his 36 years at NYHD show he has a proven track record of failure he is unemployable in all but fast food / office cleaning industries.

  13. Elmer Phud Silver badge

    Here I am, brain the size of a planet . . .

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge

      brain the size of a planet

      Really? That doesn't match with "has an MBA"

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Working for them since 1976

    So he's been working there for nearly 40 years, must be in his sixties, used to be a project manager, and is now on the help desk. Does anyone else think there may, just may, be some background to this case which is relevant here.

    I think that jumping to a conclusion before finding out more about the background would be foolish. The conclusion could be anything from "constructive dismissal" to "nightmare employee", but I just don't think you can tell from this.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Working for them since 1976

      Wanting him to jump ship before they have to give him retirement or redundancy.

      He used to be Project Manager and Supervisor, now he's rank and file help desk, now my experience is only of the UK Public sector and only due to my folks being shop stewards. But that's the kind of move a public body does when it wants rid either because they don't want to pay out or because the persons a drunk.

      You don't just demote someone after 36 years service.

      1. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

        Re: Working for them since 1976

        Wanting him to jump ship before they have to give him retirement or redundancy.

        That was apparently a bit of a thing in Japan for a while. Employers wanted to axe older staff, but couldn't do it directly, so they gave them a "window seat" job. That is, given nothing to do all day but look out the window or do some patently useless tasks as making an inventory of paper clips or somesuch. I guess a western version would involving writing TPS reports about TPS reports.

        A short article about the “window ledge tribe” (madogiwazoku – 窓際族) phenomenon is here

  15. Stoneshop Silver badge



  16. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    An Expressionless Monotone, then?

    I thought 'Mericans naturally spoke like that.

  17. Sceptic Tank

    But ....

    Will he be baaaack?

  18. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Up

    Glad to be of service.

    Share and Enjoy!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Glad to be of service.

      brilliant :) All call workers should adopt a totally supercilious and overly happy demeanor on all their internal calls, but use their normal voices to customers.

  19. Quortney Fortensplibe


    I presume Stephen Hawking wouldn't have much luck, applying for a job there.

  20. Mike 16 Silver badge

    Helpdesk Holidays

    Back in the day, I was made an "honorary IT guy" because I knew something about computers and tended to come in at 8AM or earlier, as opposed to the actual BOFH and PFY. Well, actually they were both decent chaps and could take a joke as well as give it, like when I replaced the PFY's VT100 with a Teletype 33, leaving a note that a new-hire needed a terminal and since he was a TECO user...

    Anyway, the days from Christmas to New Years leave the office more than a bit sparse. BOFH has gone off for two weeks, and PFY applies to take his holiday too. I'm "the man" for that week. Not to worry, PFY left me a nice document with hints how to deal with expected possible problems, and a list of phone numbers to reach him if I really need to.

    Sure enough, a problem _not_ on the list arises. Call the first number: Answering machine saying out of town. Second number: (His inlaws' place) no answer. Last number? Dial a Prayer.

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