Everyone has horrors stories of calling tech support for computer problems -- long waits listening to Barry
Manilow music on Muzak, geeks with unknown and indecipherable accents, and more.
Have you ever wondered about the horror stories they could tell? Of customers who should never be
allowed to own a computer? People who are comfortable only with 18th-century technology? Then read on for some
actual service calls logged by those put-upon help desk denizens. These have been culled from various emails and
KEYBOARDS: If they can't enter commands, they can't hurt anything...
Helpdesk: How may I help you?
Customer: I'm writing my first e-mail.
Helpdesk: OK, and, what seems to be the problem?
Customer: Well, I have the letter 'a' in the address, but how do I get the circle around it?
Helpdesk: Your password is the small letter a as in apple, a capital letter V as in Victor, and the number 7.
Customer: Is that 7 in capital letters?
Customer: My keyboard is not working anymore.
Helpdesk: Are you sure it's plugged into the computer?
Customer: No. I can't get behind the computer.
Helpdesk: Pick up your keyboard and walk 10 paces back.
Helpdesk: Did the keyboard come with you?
Helpdesk: That means the keyboard is not plugged in. Is there another keyboard?
Customer: Yes, there's another one here. Ah... that one does work!
Customer: I'm having a problem installing your software. I've got a fairly old computer, and when I type 'INSTALL',
all it says is 'Bad command or file name'.
Tech Support: Ok, check the directory of the A: drive- go to A:> and type 'dir'.
Customer reads off a list of file names, including 'INSTALL.EXE'.
Tech Support: All right, the correct file is there. Type 'INSTALL' again.
Customer: Ok. (pause) Still says 'Bad command or file name'.
Tech Support: Hmmm. The file's there in the correct place-it can't help but do something. Are you sure you're typing
I-N-S-T-A-L-L and hitting the Enter key?
Customer: Yes, let me try it again. (pause) Nope, still 'Bad command or file name'.
Tech Support: (now really confused) Are you sure you're typing I-N-S-T-A-L-L and hitting the key
that says 'Enter'?
Customer: "Well, yeah. Although my 'N' key is stuck, so I'm using the 'M' key...does that matter?
Tech Support: Okay Bob, let's press the control and escape keys at the same time. That brings up a task list in the
middle of the screen. Now type the letter "P" to bring up the Program Manager.
Customer: I don't have a P.
Tech Support: On your keyboard, Bob.
Customer: What do you mean?
Tech Support: "P".....on your keyboard, Bob.
Customer: I'M NOT GOING TO DO THAT!
Email from a friend: "CanYouFixTheSpaceBarOnMyKeyboard?"
This guy calls in to complain that he gets an "Access Denied" message every time he logs in. It turned out he was typing
his user name and password in capital letters.
Tech Support: OK, let's try once more, but use lower case letters.
Customer: Uh, I only have capital letters on my keyboard.
I have a friend who just bought a computer and was instructed to load a program by typing "A:" and then the name of the
program. My friend told me it would not work because his keyboard was no good. He said he couldn't type the "dot
over dot thingie" and that every time he tried to type the "dot over dot thingie" he kept getting the "dot over
comma thingie" no matter how careful he was to press only on the very top of the key. When I taught him about the
shift key, he thought I was a genius.
Yet another Dell customer called to complain that his keyboard no longer worked. He had cleaned it by filling up his tub
with soap and water and soaking the keyboard for a day, then removing all the keys and washing them individually.
FLOPPY PROBLEMS: These people can't spread viruses by sharing files!
Customer: Hi, this is Celine. I can't get my diskette out.
Helpdesk: Have you tried pushing the button?
Customer: Yes, sure, it's really stuck.
Helpdesk: That doesn't sound good; I'll make a note .
Customer: No, wait a minute... I hadn't inserted it yet... it's still on my desk... Sorry...
An unfailingly polite lady called to ask for help with a Windows installation that had gone terribly wrong.
Customer: I brought my Windows disks from work to install them on my home computer.
(Training stresses that we are "not the Software Police," so I let the little act of piracy slide.)
Tech Support: Umm-hmm. What happened?
Customer: As I put each disk in it turns out they weren't initialized.
Tech Support: Do you remember the message exactly, ma'am?
Customer: (proudly) I wrote it down. 'This is not a Macintosh disk. Would you like to
Tech Support: Er, what happened next?
Customer: After they were initialized all the disks appeared to be blank. And now I brought
them back to work, and I can't read them in the A: drive; the PC wants to format them. And this is our only set
of Windows disks for the whole office. Did I do something wrong?
Another caller explained that she had 5.25Ē diskettes, but only a 3.5Ē disk drive on her computer. The technician said
there were two choices: ďGet a second disk drive, or use 3.5Ē diskettes.Ē Later the woman called back complaining
that her disk drive was making a terrible noise. After a bunch of questions, the technician determined the caller
had used scissors to trim the 5.25Ē diskettes to fit the 3.5Ē drive.
Another Compaq technician received a call from a man complaining that the system wouldn't read word processing files
from his old diskettes. After trouble-shooting for magnets and heat failed to diagnose the problem, it was found
that the customer labeled the diskettes then rolled them into the typewriter to type the labels.
Another AST customer was asked to send a copy of her defective diskettes. A few days later a letter arrived from the
customer along with Xeroxed copies of the floppies.
A Dell technician advised his customer to put his troubled floppy back in the drive and close the door. The customer
asked the tech to hold on, and was heard putting the phone down, getting up and crossing the room to close the
door to his room.
PRINTING/FAX PROBLEMS: Let's be thankful these people can't display their brilliance...
Customer: I have problems printing in red...
Helpdesk: Do you have a color printer?
Customer: Aaaah................... Thank you.
Customer: Hi, good afternoon, this is Martha, I can't print. Every time I try, it says 'Can't
find printer'. I've even lifted the printer and placed it in front of the monitor, but the computer still says
it can't find it...
Helpdesk: Good day. How may I help you?
Customer: Hello... I can't print.
Helpdesk: Would you click on start for me and...
Customer: Listen pal; don't start getting technical on me! I'm not Bill Gates damn it!
I had been doing Tech Support for Hewlett-Packard's DeskJet division for about a month when I had a customer call with a
problem I just couldn't solve. She could not print yellow. All the other colors would print fine, which truly
baffled me because the only true colors are cyan, magenta, and yellow. For instance, green is a combination of
cyan and yellow, but green printed fine. Every color of the rainbow printed fine except for yellow.
I had the customer change ink cartridges. I had the customer delete and reinstall the drivers. Nothing worked. I asked my
co-workers for help; they offered no new ideas.
After over two hours of troubleshooting, I was about to tell the customer to send the printer in to us for repair when
she asked quietly, "Should I try printing on a piece of white paper instead of this yellow construction paper?"
Got a call from a woman said that her laser printer was having problems, the bottom half of her printed sheets were coming
out blurry. It seemed strange that the printer was smearing only the bottom half. I walked her through the basics,
then came over and printed out a test sheet. It printed fine. I asked her to print a sheet, so she sent a job to
the printer. As the paper started coming out, she yanked it out and showed it to me. I told her to WAIT until the
paper came out on its own. Problem solved.
Another Dell customer called to say he couldn't get his computer to fax anything. After 40 minutes of trouble-shooting,
the technician discovered the man was trying to fax a piece of paper by holding it in front of the monitor screen
and hitting the "send" key.
A woman customer called the Canon help desk with a problem with her printer.
Tech support: Are you running it under windows?
Customer: No, my desk is next to the door, but that is a good point. The man sitting in
the cubicle next to me is under a window, and his printer is working fine.
MOUSE PROBLEMS: A rodent would likely know more about computers than these folks.
Customer: I have a huge problem. A friend has put a screensaver on my computer, but every time
I move the mouse, it disappears!
Helpdesk: Click on the 'my computer' icon on to the left of the screen.
Customer: Your left or my left?
Tech Support: I need you to right-click on the Open Desktop.
Tech Support: Did you get a pop-up menu?
Tech Support: Ok. Right click again. Do you see a pop-up menu?
Tech Support: Ok, sir. Can you tell me what you have done up until this point?
Customer: Sure, you told me to write 'click' and I wrote 'click'.
(At this point I had to put the caller on hold to tell the rest of the tech support staff what had happened.
I couldn't, however, stop from giggling when I got back to the call.)
Tech Support: Ok, did you type 'click' with the keyboard?
Customer: I have done something dumb, right?
Tech Support: Now, click on the little computer icon.
Customer: I donít believe in icons.
Tech Support: Iím sorry, thatís just a computer industry term. Now if youíll click on itĖ
Customer: I told you I donít believe in icons! Iím not a Catholic so I donít have to deal
Tech Support: Okay, why donít you just click on the little picture of the computer.
AST technical support had a caller complaining that her mouse was hard to control with the dust cover on. The cover
turned out to be the plastic bag the mouse was packaged in.
An exasperated caller to Dell Computer Tech Support couldn't get her new Dell Computer to turn on. After ensuring the
computer was plugged in, the technician asked her what happened when she pushed the power button. Her response, "I
pushed and pushed on this foot pedal and nothing happens." The "foot pedal" turned out to be the computer's mouse.
SOFTWARE PROBLEMS: Maybe they should require a license to operate computers...
Helpdesk: What anti-virus program do you use?
Helpdesk: That's not an anti-virus program.
Customer: Oh, sorry... Internet Explorer.
Customer: I'm having trouble installing Microsoft Word.
Tech Support: Tell me what you've done.
Customer: I typed 'A:SETUP'.
Tech Support:Ma'am, remove the disk and tell me what it says.
Customer: It says '[PC manufacturer] Restore and Recovery disk'.
Tech Support: Insert the MS Word setup disk.
Tech Support: Did you buy MS-Word?
Customer: I received the software update you sent, but I am still getting the same error message."
Tech Support: Did you install the update?
Customer: No. Oh, am I supposed to install it to get it to work?
INTERNET: Ohmigod, we've let them loose on the world!!!
A customer couldn't get on the Internet:
Helpdesk:Are you sure you used the right password?
Customer: Yes I'm sure. I saw my colleague do it.
Helpdesk: Can you tell me what the password was?
Customer: Five stars.
Customer: Hello? I'm trying to dial in. I installed the software okay, and it dialed fine. I
could hear that. Then I could hear the two computers connecting. But then the sound all stopped, so I picked up
the phone to see if they were still connected, and I got the message, 'No Carrier,' on my screen. What's wrong?
THE BASICS: Half the battle is catching them BEFORE they do any damage.
Customer: Uhh...I need help unpacking my new PC.
Tech Support: What exactly is the problem?
Customer: I can't open the box.
Tech Support: Well, I'd remove the tape holding the box closed and go from there.
Customer: Uhhhh...ok, thanks....
One woman called Dell's toll-free line to ask how to install the batteries in her laptop. When told that the directions
were on the first page of the manual the woman replied angrily, "I just paid $2,000 for this damn thing, and I'm
not going to read the book."
Another customer called Compaq tech support to say her brand-new computer wouldn't work. She said she unpacked the unit,
plugged it in, and sat there for 20 minutes waiting for something to happen. When asked what happened when she
pressed the power switch, she asked "What power switch?"
HARDWARE ISSUES: I just KNOW it must be busted!
Helpdesk: What kind of computer do you have?
Customer: A white one...
At our company we have asset numbers on the front of everything. They give the location, name, and everything else
just by scanning the computer's asset barcode or using the number beneath the bars.
Customer: Hello. I can't get on the network.
Tech Support: Ok. Just read me your asset number so we can open an outage.
Customer: What is that?
Tech Support: That little barcode on the front of your computer.
Customer: Ok. Big bar, little bar, big bar, big bar ...
Customer: I'd like to return this scanner.
Store clerk:Excuse me?
Customer: This scanner I bought. I paid eighty dollars for this scanner, and it doesn't work!
Store clerk: Uh . . . sir, that's a trackball.
Customer: No, it isn't. It says 600 dpi tracking resolution right here!
True story from a Novell NetWire SysOp:
Caller: Hello, is this Tech Support?
Tech rep: Yes, it is. How may I help you?
Caller: The cup holder on my PC is broken and I am within my warranty period. How do I go about
getting that fixed?
Tech rep: I'm sorry, but did you say a cup holder?
Caller: Yes, it's attached to the front of my computer.
Tech rep: Please excuse me if I seem a bit stumped, it's because I am. Did you receive this
as part of a promotional, at a trade show? How did you get this cup holder? Does it have any trademark on it?
Caller: It came with my computer, I don't know anything about a promotional. It just has '4X' on it.
At this point the Tech Rep had to mute the caller, because he couldn't stand it. The caller had been using the load drawer
of the CD-ROM drive as a cup holder, and snapped it off the drive!
Customer: Your sound card is defective and I want a new one.
Tech Support: What seems to be the problem?
Customer: The balance is backwards. The left channel is coming out of the right speaker and the
right channel is coming out the left. It's defective.
Tech Support: You can solve the problem by moving the left speaker to the right side of the
machine and vice versa.
Customer: (sputter) (click)
Tech Support: (snicker)
Other excerpts from a Wall Street Journal article by Jim Carlton --
Compaq is considering changing the command "Press Any Key" to "Press Return Key" because of the flood of calls asking
where the "Any" key is.
Another Dell customer needed help setting up a new program, so a Dell tech suggested he go to the local Egghead.
"Yeah, I got me a couple of friends," the customer replied. When told Egghead was a software store, the man
said, "Oh, I thought you meant for me to find a couple of geeks."
A Dell technician received a call from a customer who was enraged because his computer had told him he was "bad and
an invalid". The tech explained that the computer's "bad command" and "invalid" responses shouldn't be taken
A customer who had just received a laptop computer asked about the power-saving feature known as hibernate. ďWould
this hibernate device work in the spring and summer?Ē the caller asked.
My friend was on duty in the main lab on a quiet afternoon. He noticed a young woman sitting in front of one of the
workstations with her arms crossed across her chest and staring at the screen. After about 15 minutes he noticed
that she was still in the same position, only now she was impatiently tapping her foot. He asked if she needed
help and she replied, "It's about time! I pushed the F1 button over twenty minutes ago!"
At 3:37 a.m. on a Sunday, I had just looked at the clock to determine my annoyance level, when I received a frantic
phone call from a new user of a Macintosh Plus. She had gotten her entire family out of the house and was
calling from her neighbor's. She had just received her first system errror and interpreted the picture of the
bomb on the screen as a warning that the computer was going to blow up.
Tech Support: Ok, in the bottom left hand side of the screen, can you see the 'OK' button
Customer: Wow. How can you see my screen from there?
Helpdesk: What's on your monitor now ma'am?
Customer: A teddy bear my boyfriend bought for me in the supermarket.
Sometimes, the key is to outwit the person who knows it all -
Tech Support: What's the problem?
Customer: There is smoke coming out of the power supply.
Tech Support: You'll need a new power supply.
Customer: No, I don't! I just need to change the startup files.
Tech Support: Sir, the power supply is faulty. You'll need to replace it.
Customer: No way! Someone told me that I just needed to change the startup files and it
will fix the problem! All I need is for you to tell me the command.
10 minutes later, the User is still adamant that they are right. The tech is frustrated and fed up.
Tech Support: Sorry, Sir. We don't normally tell our customers this, but there is an
undocumented DOS command that will fix the problem.
Customer: I knew it!
Tech Support: Just add the line LOAD NOSMOKE.COM at the end of the CONFIG.SYS. Let me
know how it goes.
Ten minutes later.
Customer: It didn't work. The power supply is still smoking.
Tech Support: Well, what version of DOS are you using?
Customer: MS-DOS 6.22.
Tech Support: That's your problem there. That version of DOS didn't come with NOSMOKE.
Contact Microsoft and ask them for a patch that will give you the file. Let me know how it goes.
One hour later.
Customer: I need a new power supply.
Tech Support: How did you come to that conclusion?
Customer: Well, I called Microsoft and told him about what you said, and he started
asking questions about the make of power supply.
Tech Support: Then what did he say?
Customer: He told me that my power supply isn't compatible with NOSMOKE.
Of course, some problems are just basic.
Customer: Iím having trouble with WordPerfect.
Tech Support: What sort of trouble?
Customer: Well, I was just typing along, and all of a sudden the words went away.
Tech Support: Went away?
Customer: They disappeared.
Tech Support: Hmm. So what does your screen look like now
Customer: Nothing. It's blank; it wonít accept anything when I type.
Tech Support: Are you still in WordPerfect, or did you get out?
Customer: How do I tell?
Tech Support: (Uh-oh. Well, letís give it a try anyway.) Can you see the C:\
prompt on the screen?
Customer: Whatís a sea-prompt?
Tech Support: (Uh-huh, thought so. Letís try a different tack.) Never mind.
Can you move the cursor around on the screen?
Customer: There isnít any cursor. I told you, it wonít accept anything I type.
Tech Support: (Ah Ė at least she knows what a cursor is. Sounds like a hardware problem.
I wonder if sheís kicked the monitorís power plug.) Does your monitor have a power indicator?
Customer: Whatís a monitor?
Tech Support: Itís the thing with the screen on it that looks like a TV. Does it have a
little light that tells you when itís on?
Customer: I donít know.
Tech Support: Well, then, look on the back of the monitor and find where the power cord
goes into it. Can you see that?
Customer: (sound of rustling and jostling) [muffled] Yes, I think so.
Tech Support: Great. Follow the cord to the plug, and tell me if itís plugged into the wall.
Customer: [pause] Yes, it is.
Tech Support: (Hmm. Well, thatís interesting. I doubt she would have accidentally turned it off,
and I donít want to send her hunting for the power switch because I donít know what kind of monitor she has and
itís bound to have more than one switch on it. Maybe the video cable is loose or something.) When you were behind
the monitor, did you notice that there were two cables plugged into the back of it, not just one?
Tech Support: Well, there are. I need you to look back there again and find the other cable.
Customer: [muffled] Okay, here it is.
Tech Support: Follow it for me, and tell me if itís plugged securely into the back of your
Customer: [muffled] I canít reach.
Tech Support: Uh huh. Well, can you see if it is?
Customer: [clear again] No.
Tech Support: Even if you maybe put your knee on something and lean way over?
Customer: Oh, itís not because I donít have the right angle. Itís because itís dark.
Tech Support: Dark?
Customer: Yes Ė the office light is off, and the only light I have is coming in from the window.
Tech Support: Well, turn on the office light then.
Customer: I canít.
Tech Support: Because thereís a power outage.
Customer: A power -- !?! (AAAARRGGGH!!!) A power outage? Aha! Okay, weíve got it licked now. Do you
still have the boxes and manuals and packing stuff your computer came in?
Tech Support: Well, yes, I keep them in the closet.
Customer: Good! Go get them, and unplug your system and pack it up just like it was when you got it. Then
take it back to the store you bought it from.
Tech Support: Really? Is it that bad?
Customer:Yes, Iím afraid it is.
Tech Support: Well, all right then, I suppose. What do I tell them?
Customer: Tell them youíre TOO STUPID TO OWN A COMPUTER! [slam]
And every so rarely, you have the irritating customer that gets his just desserts..
Customer: I got this problem. You people sent me this install disk, and now my A: drive won't work.
Tech Support: Your A drive won't work?
Customer: That's what I said. You sent me a bad disk, it got stuck in my drive, now it won't work
Tech Support: Did it not install properly? What kind of error messages did you get?
Customer:I didn't get any error message. The disk got stuck in the drive and wouldn't come
out. So I got these pliers and tried to get it out. That didn't work either.
Tech Support:You did what, sir?
Customer: I got these pliers, and tried to get the disk out, but it wouldn't budge. I just ended
up cracking the plastic stuff a bit.
Tech Support: I don't understand sir, did you push the eject button?
Customer: No, so then I got a stick of butter and melted it and used a turkey baster and put the
butter in the drive, around the disk, and that got it loose. Then I used the pliers and it came out fine. I can't
believe you would send me a disk that was broke and defective.
Tech Support: Let me get this clear. You put melted butter in your A: drive and used pliers to
pull the disk out? (At this point, I put the call on the speaker phone and motioned at the other techs to listen
Tech Support: Just so I am absolutely clear on this, can you repeat what you just said?
Customer: I said I put butter in my A: drive to get your crappy disk out, then I had to use
pliers to pull it out.
Tech Support: Did you push that little button that was sticking out when the disk was in the
drive, you know, the thing called the disk eject button?
Tech Support: Sir?
Tech Support: Sir, did you push the eject button?
Customer: No, but you people are going to fix my computer, or I am going to sue you for breaking
Tech Support: Let me get this straight. You are going to sue our company because you put the disk
in the A: drive, didn't follow the instructions we sent you, didn't actually seek professional advice, didn't
consult your user's manual on how to use your computer properly, instead proceeding to pour butter into the drive
and physically rip the disk out?
Tech Support: Do you really think you stand a chance, since we do record every call and have it
Customer: (now rather humbled) But you're supposed to help!
Tech Support: I am sorry sir, but there is nothing we can do for you. Have a nice day.