Ever wonder what those
esoteric error codes used by helpdesk operators really mean? Maybe this
comprehensive list can help you...
Types of customers
- Fat finger syndrome:
When the customer can't seem to type
anything the operator quotes without adding a few extra characters and
an unwanted space or two, despite repeated tries.
- Finger error:
Finger error indicates that the customer has
yet to master the concept of 'double-clicking'. He, she or it will click
on two separate icons, with two separate fingers or on two completely
different computers rather than figure out a double-click requires two
clicks on one icon.
How I wish there was a way to remotely alter
a user's phone so that each number requires two presses.
- Goldfish syndrome:
This is the unfortunate medical condition
that causes the caller to forget what the technician has said as soon as
it leaves his mouth. It leads to repetition, needlessly stupid acts on
the keyboard, and the same technical issue coming back again and again,
as in the following all-too-common example:
Operator: "I'd like
you to double-click on My Computer and open Dial Up Networking."
Customer: "Do what?"
Operator: "Double-click on My
Computer and open Dial Up Networking."
Customer: "What was that
Operator: "Double-click on My Computer."
Customer: "Okay... done. Then what?"
Dial Up Networking."
icons do you see listed there?"
Operator: "Hello? Are you still there?"
was that first thing again?"
- I D ten-T error:
This code is used to indicate that the
customer is a complete loser who would be lucky to tie his own shoelaces
without technical support from the Nike helpdesk. It takes stupidity of
truly heroic proportions to qualify for the designation of
- Meat virus:
A meat virus infection generally follows closely
behind a more common problem and causes settings to be changed at
random. A stealth meat virus infection is when the meat involved denies
changing settings at random in order to solve the initial problem. Meat
virus infections tend to be recurring, but unfortunately, no company has
yet been able to provide a virus scanner capable of disinfecting an
- Mute abuse:
The technical term for an operator putting the
customer on hold or pressing the mute button in order to cuss out the
customer, the customer's parents, teachers, hardware vendor and drug
Indicates that there is a phenomenal blockage in the
computer's normal function, and it's sitting there with a phone to its
ear, scratching its belly. PEBCAK stands for Problem Exists Between
Chair And Keyboard.
- Phone-induced amnesia:
When customers instantly forget how to
perform routine tasks while speaking to a helpdesk operator. Amnesic
customers have to be shown how to do things like opening their browser
or email program, or even just double-clicking.
Someone who Gives a Shit. Where you get transferred when
you've called Faults in order to complain about your bill, or your
children's internet habits, or your unfulfilled dreams of Broadway
- Sin bin:
Putting a customer on hold until they're ready to
"I sin-binned him until he got lonely enough to
listen to what I was telling him."
- Wetware error:
Wetware is the part of the computer most
necessary to productive function. It can be located about three inches
above the neck of the average computer user, midway between the left ear
and right ear. Some people, sad to say, don't have any. The only way to
make that computer work is an upgrade to a new user.
You Get What You Pay For. It's a constant source of
surprise to our customers that five-star service only comes with
five-star pricing and vice versa.
- Alphabet soup:
A caller who will announce all his technical
qualifications and certifications at the first opportunity, without ever
displaying any of the skills or intelligence you'd expect someone having
achieved those dizzying heights to possess.
- Artful dodger:
A caller who is normally fairly adept, but
becomes helpless and absent-minded when the topic of payment comes up.
If they pretend ignorance or deliberately misunderstand the questions
long enough, the operator they speak with will hopefully give up in
sheer frustration and just give them the refund they want.
- Broken record:
"All I know is, I'm paying for a service I'm
Don't try explaining to Broken Record. He treasures
his ignorance. Don't try reasoning with him. Your words bounce off the
shield of his cold certainty. He's said it himself, repeatedly: all he
knows is that something isn't right, and that someone else has to
do something about it. The only way to convince him to work with
you instead of at cross-purposes is to be even more stubborn than he
- Drive by:
A customer who calls intending only to report a
problem and hang up, completely unprepared for any questions they might
face like "what error message did you see", "what do you hear when you
pick up the receiver" or "what number are you calling from".
A caller who can't answer the questions the
operator is asking, but is too proud to admit it, or suspect their
problem might be unsupported. They're rather ignore or deliberately
misunderstand the question, or invent something on the spot, rather than
say those three words: "I don't know."
A customer who's not happy unless he's got something to
be unhappy about. If things fail to go wrong, he can usually be depended
on to screw things up for himself by messing with his PC settings or his
service package using the online account utilities the company so
helpfully provides -- and then the barrage of emails, faxes and phone
calls will begin.
Gimp's secret motto is 'Hurt me more'.
A 'goto' is an archaic command which allows a program
to jump from one set of instructions to another without going through
them the normal way. Now that your average software package comprises
hundreds of thousands or millions of instructions, the goto command
makes a program hard to follow, and forward-thinking program developers
have ditched it.
Unfortunately, customers still jump from
topic to topic, making it hard for a support agent to keep up. When you
start by mentioning an email problem then switch to a connection issue
while we're still trying to get the details of your email situation,
then skip over onto complaining about spam, the only thing we can see
clearly is the approaching migraine headache.
To a Hand-Waver, any factor which could prevent
them from getting connected is Not Important. Error messages? Not
Important. High-speed download limits? Not Important. Is that actually
your credit card number you're giving us? Not Important.
Hand-Wavers are eternally frustrated by the fact we can't be persuaded
not to worry about these things.
The Lad has a vague suspicion that the gigabytes of porn
he downloads every week makes him a bit of a loser, but he just can't
seem to help himself. He calls the helpdesk for two reasons -- first to
indulge in a bit of buddy talk with the techs -- he's just like us, he's
one of the lads, honest, he's heard of this new thing, it reckons it's
going to kill spam completely, what do we think of that? -- and then to
quiz us about his favourite subject, because someone who's right at the
source like us must know all the best sites, right? We can get him some
passwords, can't we? Come on, he's just one of the boys, do a mate a
- Life Story:
A customer who thinks it's reasonable to respond
to a question like "Is that box ticked?" with an answer like "Well, last
week I was trying to look at this website..."
- Little brother:
A caller who routinely draws on some higher
authority in the form of a manager friend, a PC technician relative, an
acquaintance of a half-brother of a cousin who heard that it's not
really like we've been telling them, and will get us fired unless we
give them what they want.
- Lonely caller:
A caller who doesn't really have a need for
support, who has invented a pretext for calling in order to have someone
to listen while they talk. Generally older people who live alone, some
Lonely Callers will quite ruthlessly steamroll over any attempt to cut
the one-sided conversation short.
Just like a monkey in a science lab, this caller has been trained to press buttons in exchange for a banana. The monkey usually describes itself as an IT manager or a network technician, and doesn't realise those titles imply a certain amount of technical knowledge.
The customer pays a technician to drive out to
his house, the 'technician' calls the helpdesk so someone can walk him
through the solution to the problem. Essentially, he's getting paid
$50/hour plus callout fee just for holding the phone.
A customer who's incapable of doing anything on a
computer without having skilled assistance standing by. It's implied
that the easiest way to get a customer to update his settings is to
attach wires to his fingers and move them over the keys.
was a complete muppet -- wanted me to stick my hand up his bum and type
in his password for him."
- One-stop shopper:
A customer who's convinced his ISP
helpdesk can help him with any technology problems he encounters,
whether or not they're internet- or PC-related. Shoppers are often
disappointed to find we can't help them programme their VCRs, record
answering machine messages, hook up an office network, or write their
own best-seller games, no matter how much they insist.
A caller who is suspected of having downed a few
magic pills before picking up the phone.
A caller who collects technical terms, then either
misapplies them or invents his own jargon. He thinks he sounds educated,
but actually he's just confusing.
Passive-Agressive obviously thinks
you're full of shit, but rather than say so, she'll continue weakly
protesting that it was working yesterday and she's never had to do
anything like what you're asking before. Meanwhile you're repeating
explanations and instructions and wishing she'd either come out with it
and call you a liar so you can (politely) tell her to go to hell, or
just give in and let you fix her problem.
See 'Sob Sister'.
When asked to click on an icon, this customer will
immediately read out a full list of every icon he can see. When
he opens up a new window, he starts reciting the options from the menu
bar. God help you when you try taking Reader through a setup screen,
because the instructions are right there in front of him, whole
paragraphs of them, and he can't be stopped.
A customer who will call multiple times with the
same problem, either unable or unwilling to follow the advice they've
- Sob Sister:
A caller who starts reciting a list of their
personal, professional and financial problems as soon as their call is
answered, in preparation to asking for a refund.
- Time traveller:
Your caller ID shows that Time traveller has
been waiting less than five minutes, but he insists it's been long
enough to varnish the dog, defrost the lawn, re-upholster all his family
members and knit a 3rd-world country. At least half an
- Tinfoil Hat:
Tinfoil Hat has a burning conviction that any
and all problems he suffers are the result of breakdowns at his telco's
end -- not that they'd admit it, of course. They're all liars. He
doesn't know if it's mechanical failure or incompetence, but he knows it
can't be his equipment. He's not going to let them fob him off
that way. If his telco claimed that grass was green, Tinfoil Hat would
stick his head out a window to check.
Hmm. It took a long time to log in this morning --
my god, it must be a virus! The internet is full of viruses and
worms and they're all trying to infect her PC. Illegal operation?
It's a virus! Crackling speakers? Virus! Email from someone she doesn't
know? It's an all-out attack of spammers and hackers coming at her
armed with viruses!
(This was written before it became
common practice for spammers to use trojans like netsky to turn personal
computers into spam relays. Not that this makes it any less stupid.)
Waffler has a point to make, but first he has to
spend five minutes slowly circling it, like a vulture closing in on a
A customer who calls with a simple problem, and is
shown how to fix it. Then calls the next day with the same simple
problem, and is shown how to fix it. Then calls the next day with the
same simple problem and...
It doesn't matter how hard you throw
it, because a yo-yo is tied to your hand.
- Zoo keeper:
A parent who calls during a school holiday or
weekend, frantic because their pay-per-view TV is out, and they're left
with no choice but to interact with their children.