The 4 words tech support should never say

In this edition of Jeff’s Quick Rants, I’d like to share with you the one thing that should never be said by your customer-facing, level I, level II, and level III support staff.  When an IT person utters this four-word phrase to someone not in IT, the message it sends is, “You’re obviously an idiot because there’s no way on earth that what you’re reporting can possibly be true.  You must be mis-reading or mis-keying or mis-clicking something.” (Unspoken but added in the tone: “You moron!”)

Sometimes, tech support people use this four-word phrase in jest, attempting to use comedic irony to lighten the tone and the mood. That’s acceptable, if the use is truly in jest. Problems occur when the phrase is an automatic response, uttered without thinking first.

Tech Support Rule #1: Listen, Think, Then Talk

IT pros love good, quick answers to questions. Many of us think we have the ability to discern the root cause of a problem and articulate a solution in less than 0.06 seconds – every time. The harsh reality is, however, that most of the time, those snap-quick answers are wrong.

We IT managers and support professionals as a group need to remind ourselves that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason – we should listen twice as much as we talk.  In the early days of tech support, you could solve a lot of problems by asking your customer, “Have you tried rebooting the machine?”

It’s a new world now, folks.  We’re supporting cloud-hosted, Web-based interfaces running simultaneously on desktops, laptops, tablets, and supposedly-smart phones. Our in-house applications are stored on storage area networks and department- and user-level drives are mapped to different letter-names depending on the mood of the tech who built the box or added the user’s access to a resource. You can’t let the first thing that pops into your mind be the first thing that pops out of your mouth.

The four forbidden words

Here are the four words that I recommend we ban from the IT lexicon forever:  “That shouldn’t be happening.” The variation on that phrase, “That shouldn’t have happened,” goes on the list, too.

I’ll tell you why these words make my skin crawl.  Recently I had to move my desktop machine from the sixth floor of the office building to the third floor. While I was waiting on the movers to move the stuff and for tech support to make the ports hot at my new location, I logged on to a public machine in a conference room so I could get some work done while I waited. I logged in, fired up the email client, and sat and watched as the email client flashed various “loading” messages until it timed out and gave up.

I trotted down to the Help Desk Call Center area and said to the tech on duty, “Hey, I’m having problems getting the email client to work on the conference room down the hall. “I’ll take a look at it,” the tech said.  Email access is a big deal on conference room machines, because you frequently need to get into email to pull up the URL for webinars or other online meetings.

The tech “took a look,” all right.  The tech looked at the error message, then went straight into Control Panel and started making changes willy-nilly.  Still the email client wouldn’t load. No problem for me, though, as my new workstation was ready.

Three years of cached email addresses – gone!

I fired up my PC, confirmed my internet access and mapped drives were intact, and launched the email client. I went to compose a new message and — what’s that? The cached email address I needed wasn’t there. In fact, NONE of my cached email addresses were there.  Three years’ worth of email addresses were gone.

I went back to the Help Desk Call Center area and asked, “Hey, did you do something to my email account when you were troubleshooting the machine in the conference room? Because all of my cached email addresses are gone now.”  What do you think the response was?

“That shouldn’t be happening!”

No kidding, Sherlock. It shouldn’t be happening, but is it happening! It happened! Three years ago I got this new machine and for three years the email client had been dutifully caching my email addresses.  Now they’re all gone! And the only response the tech suppport “pro” had to offer was, “Well, gee, uh, doh! That shouldn’t be happening!”

It was as if the person was saying to me, “Come on, you ID-10-T, you must be mistaken.”

What you should say instead

If the support person had simply listened and thought before responding, he might have come up with something like, “That’s not good – let me look into it.”  Or, “gosh, I’m sorry to hear that. Let me look into it.” But no. This person didn’t stop and think, didn’t take two lousy seconds to consider the possibility that whatever he had done while troubleshooting the conference room machine might — just MIGHT! — have resulted in deleting my cached email addresses.

“What did you do to the conference room machine?” I asked. “Well, I deleted your user profile and recreated it and renamed it and….”  I stopped listening.  I said, “So, you did something destructive (deleting the user profile) without knowing with some degree of certainty that it would fix the problem?  “Well, yeah.”

How the story ended

Some of you might be thinking, “Come on, Jeff, what’s the big deal? You just re-enter your email addresses.” Yeah? Thanks for the empathy. Let me delete all of your cached email addresses and we’ll see how much you like it.

The tech who blindly deleted my user profile off the conference room machine kept jabbering about how “that shouldn’t have happened.” Who knows what this schmuck actually did to the conference room machine, but there was no doubt that whatever he did adversely affected my ability to do my job.

I got the tech’s manager involved, and eventually they produced a copy of the NK2 contacts file from backups that contained my cached email addresses, but they didn’t have any idea how to import them back into my email client. “Just copy and paste them into an email address and that should retain them.”  I tried that trick, and it didn’t work.

I’ve saved the NK2 data so I can search it and copy-and-paste email addresses when I need them. But overall, this was an epic tech support fail. I reported a problem on a community machine. The tech support person didn’t stop and think. Didn’t stop and google. He just dove in and made a destructive change that didn’t work. Then all he had to say to me, the client, was “That shouldn’t be happening.”

I was thinking the same thing about his paycheck.

What shouldn’t be happening in your shop?

Listen to your techs when they’re on the phone with customers. Are they making ridiculous statements like “That shouldn’t be happening?” If so, you may want to send them a link to this article, because they’re doing a disservice to your IT organization’s reputation.

To share your “it shouldn’t be happening” story, post a comment below or drop me a note.

Related reading:

Jeff’s Quick Tips: 5 things techies should NEVER do or say (in sales presentations)

5 replies
  1. misgci
    misgci says:

    Good article about thinking about how what you say can come across the wrong way to your end users.

    I am more than a little a little surprised however that dealing with an NK2 file seems to have completely baffled your tech people. This is basic stuff, and even if they somehow never came across this before, searching “restore NK2 file” brings a plethora of links to easy instructions for restoring to Outlook 2007 or earlier or importing into Outlook 2010 or later.
    The fact that they left you with such a kludgy solution as searching for and copy and pasting addresses also says a lot about their level of support.

    • Jeff Davis
      Jeff Davis says:

      >I am more than a little a little surprised however that dealing with an NK2 file seems to have completely baffled your tech people< Thanks for the post. I was more than a little surprised, too!

  2. Jeff Davis
    Jeff Davis says:

    Wolf, thanks for the comments. >You rely on your .nk2 cache for email addresses?< I didn't say I relied on that file. The tech support people relied on it - that was the best they could come up with. The point of the story is that the addresses never should have been deleted in the first place, had the tech done actual research instead of guessing.

  3. jmalone
    jmalone says:

    Having had to endure the opposite side of the issue, I empathize a bit with the support desk. For clarity-I am chief cook and bottle washer-all things IT for several associated sister companies. I have worked in IT for 30+ years, and I’ve spent the past 15 years working with SMBs.

    The “it’s not supposed to do that” phrase is not an a-tpical response, nor is it normally meant as you interpreted it, i.e. – “you’re a blithering idiot”. More often than not, it’s a response of shock, BECAUSE computers are supposed to do what they’re told to do and for some reason you have reported a deviation from the norm-in other words, you’ve “stumped the expert” momentarily.

    The situation you described, without knowing the underlying reason why the tech support person acted as they did, is misleading. And, in all honesty, is partly YOUR fault. How you may ask defensively?

    Why did you keep a CACHE of 3 years email addresses without converting that cache to personal contacts? If an email address is that improtant, you SHOULD have created a personal contact for that email address.

    The NK2 file and the cache are tools of convenience.

    • Jeff Davis
      Jeff Davis says:

      >If an email address is that important, you SHOULD have created a personal contact for that email address.< Fair enough. >without knowing the underlying reason why the tech support person acted as they did< That's the most important part of the story. You can hold me accountable for my own contacts list, I reckon, but what the tech did was delete something without knowing for sure it would work. That's not a "temporarily stumped expert," it's bad tech support.

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