Monday, August 29, 2011

The Un-Help Line

Have you ever known the exact cause of a problem, but found yourself incapable of convincing the one person who is supposed to help you rectify it that you really do know what you're talking about?

This isn't the same as bringing your car to a mechanic, only to have that bizarre squealing sound stop two minutes before you get there. Equally annoying? Sure, just not the same thing. I'm talking about those times when you are dead certain, no question, not even the trace of a spark of a doubt in your mind. You know precisely what's going on and you can explain the situation so concisely and coherently that even a monkey could understand it.

If only monkeys manned the help lines.

Last week, when I couldn't access any of my employer's secure web tools, I did the first thing a remote office employee should do: I checked our router to make certain we had a live wireless signal in the house. We did. Next step was to see if the other computers in the house could access the wireless signal. They could. Third and final step was to reboot my work-supplied laptop, a trick that typically resolves 99.9% of its misbehavior. After the reboot, the problem persisted. Even though the laptop was picking up the wireless signal and I could dial in to the secure VPN, I still could not access my email or our intranet services.

Because of changes to our problem-reporting procedures, we can no longer circumvent our official IT help line and go directly to the people in charge of our IT department. I can understand how this makes life more pleasant and less chaotic for the people in charge of our IT department, but what it means for the rest of us is that we have to spend anywhere from an hour to an entire day futzing around with whomever answers the 800 help line before we eventually get transferred to the people in charge of our IT department.

I want to state at this time, for the record, that the person who answered the help line was as pleasant as pleasant can possibly be, and he really was trying his best to help me. That said, I wasn't filled with hope when he said "sometimes only the Shadow knows why things don't work right." Not only does he seem to lack confidence in his own problem-solving abilities, he's paraphrasing from a 1930s serialized radio show. Something tells me this guy might be a little long in the tooth.

When he asks me to explain my problem, I tell him the company's server must be down. He tells me this can't be the case since his computer uses the company's server and he isn't having any trouble. I tell him the company has a second server primarily for remote employees like me, and his voice immediately adopts the kind of tone one uses when in the vicinity of a homeless person who might be emotionally unstable.

Instead of getting out of his chair and conferring with the other IT help line staffers to see if any other remote employees have reported similar connectivity issues, he starts putting me through the expected paces.

Are you using a router?


Can you unplug it, wait 60 seconds, then plug it back in?

I don't have to, because I can see by my other computers that the router is working.

I just have to rule out the router as the source of the problem.

Okay, since you're talking to me nicely, I will go through this ridiculously purposeless exercise for you.

Did reseting your router do anything?

Yes, now the the rest of my computers are offline.

Luckily for me, two steps shy of suggesting we wipe my hard drive of all files and restore the machine to its factory settings, the people around him intervened. Turns out the secondary server for remote employees had been down all morning. Go figure...

© 2011 Mark Feggeler

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