Proper IT help desk etiquette

Since I have been involved with computer support for over 6 years at different stages of my life, I think I have finally put together a good list of things users should NOT do when their local IT guy visits. I know more will come as time goes on, or maybe I’ll get another job and won’t have to expand this list. Anyways, if you are an IT person, feel free to add your unacceptable behaviors in the comments.

If I am an employee of your group, you can trust me. I am not stealing data or snooping around (at least not when you’re in the room.) Seriously, though, that’s a huge breach of ethics and I don’t care about your messy custody battle or interest in septuagenarian adult websites.

If I want to explain what I m doing, I will ask for you to watch and I will slowly go over, step-by-step, what you need to know. Otherwise, I am plowing through solutions to fix your problem with much knowledge and many tools you would not understand. Also, NO, I will not explain what I am doing or why.

As a basic rule of thumb for many of the following, ask yourself this: Would I treat my auto mechanic this way? Would I stand under the lift while he is replacing my 1995 Grand Caravan transmission and question every step and every tool he uses? You’ll see this is quite a handy question as I continue.

I will get to you as soon as I can if it is an emergency. If you believe you need me sooner, call me or the number I tell you to reach if I am not around. If you decide I am not their fast enough, don’t ask the new guy (or gal) who seems tech savvy to fix the problem then, once I arrive, leave the resulting mess to me.

Often times, a computer problem is like a crime scene: evidence needs to be analyzed, witnesses need to be interrogated, theories need to be tested. If someone comes in and smears the blood around, touches the loaded weapon with their fingerprints, and rearranges the furniture, we are all screwed. I need to be able to trace why things went wrong when they did without some clown’s sloppy finger-painting handiwork mucking up the application or OS.

If you tried to fix your brakes and sliced the brake line, you wouldn’t expect the mechanic to make everything better and not charge you a bazillion dollars extra, would you?

I’m not talking about a work machine at home, that’s different. I am talking your family computer with Reader Rabbit, versions 3-9, and 3500 pictures of your dog and kid’s birthday parties. This reeks to high heaven on two counts. Point one, I don’t care about your family computer. Obviously you didn’t care either because you decided to never learn how to maintain it or upgrade it from Windows 98. Therefore, why should I care? Point the second, I am on the company’s dime, not yours. You want me to muck around for a price, well, that’s a different story. (Don’t be surprised if that price seems to have risen dramatically since your request.)

Now you try: What would happen if you brought your family car to the company’s leasing-pool mechanic? See, you’re catching on.

I take purchases, both big and small very seriously. I know money is no object, so I do my best to find that sweet spot were price meets performance (i.e. “value). I labor over website reviews and various online and in-store prices to find you a good deal, high in fiber…er…value, I mean. When I give you two or three items with two to three prices each, PLUS walk you through of my methodology (that’s the “show your work” segment for you high school math teachers), don’t see me in the hall and say, “My nephew recommended the Dell Inspiron because its cheaper. What do you think?” I might reply, “I think you’re an ass-hat.”

Look, if you are not as serious about receiving my recommendation as I am preparing it for you, don’t ask. Your nephew, or cousin, or daughter’s boyfriend or whatever is not an IT professional. And if they are, they’ll say, “Why the hell you bugging me about your purchase? Go ask your local IT guy.” Their is honor among our ranks.

You might not know what you’re doing with a computer. That’s fine. You might not be familiar with the operating system on your desk. That’s okay. You might not understand how to use a multi-function printer. That’s understandable. However, if I politely offer repeatedly to give you my undivided attention for a period of time, don’t ignore my generous offer.

Usually, this is my courteous way of saying, “Your ignorance about this (fill in the blank) is becoming a burden in the way of you calling me every day to demonstrate the exact same fix from yesterday. I need to hold your hand like I am potty training you until you stop urinating all over your onesie and the bathroom.” I am trying to be proactive (and a good colleague) by empowering you to properly use the tools at your disposal AND maybe even teach you some valuable troubleshooting skills. I am trying to lower my blood pressure every time you call to say, “My printer’s dead” when actually you are trying to print while the scanning application is open. Of course, we would have covered this in a nice coffee-time atmosphere instead of the “it’s-4:40pm-on-a-Friday-and-I-am-envisioning-stranging-you-with-this-USB-cord” atmosphere. Your choice.

This is where the mechanic analogy might break down, because I’m not too sure many mechanics will teach you how to properly operate a manual transmission to lower the wear and tear on your clutch.

That’s my list. If I should ever be at the end of that help desk phone call and I visit, please review the above. It will make us both enjoy our day.

One Response to “Proper IT help desk etiquette”

  1. jasonakai
    March 5th, 2008 | 8:37 pm


    Excellent review. I will add some of my own that I can think of anyway….

    1 – Don’t hide your indescretions from us. If you have software on your PC you shouldn’t, don’t expect me to bend over backwards to fix the things you should without first uninstalling what you shouldnt have.

    2 – Usually, we’re on the same team. We both want you to be up and running. Don’t take your frustrations on the lack of a working PC out on me. I don’t have time or patience for your drama.

    3 – Just because you say hi to me from time to time doesn’t me I am going to bend the rules for you. There’s no such thing as a technical buddy. If we’re friends, that’s one thing. If we’re not, go find someone else to get to usurp the rules for you.

    4 – No, you can’t be an admin. You cannot be trusted with that authority. You have already proven you know how to break the device when you don’t have admin rights, so….

    Ok, maybe I sound a bit bitter. Tonight I feel a bit bitter, so you’ll have to excuse me.