How to help a user who can't find the Start button or the keyboard?

There are times when even asking the user to turn it off and on again just won't do

On-Call Welcome again to On-Call, our regular look at the things readers have been asked to do on duty as paid fixer-uppers.

This week, reader “Raoul” writes from Germany, where in the early 1990s he worked as a customer support guy at a commercial bank. Raoul's lot included on-site support as well as picking up help desk calls, one of which came in from a customer with a fresh install of some brand-new electronic banking software.

The caller was a middle-aged manager who said he “could not get the payment orders to work”. As this call took place in the days before easily-arranged remote sessions, Raoul set about talking him through the application and says the ensuing dialog went a little something like this:

Raoul: Please click on the menu bar entry 'payment orders'.

Manager: It's not there.

Raoul: It should be at the top of the screen.

Manager: It's not there.

Raoul: Maybe the application is not running. Do you see the application's icon on the desktop?

Manager: No.

“This went on for a while,” Raoul says, and he began to suspect that “someone had removed any trace of our software from the customer's computer.”

“Eventually, I asked him to click on the Windows Start button, then on Applications/Electronic Banking.”

Let's resume the dialog:

Manager: It's not there.

Raoul: It should be in the bottom left corner of your computer screen.

Manager: No.

At this point Raoul says “that sinking 'something's seriously wrong' feeling started to creep up on me.”

How right he was. Back to the dialog.

Raoul: If you move the mouse pointer ...

Manager: It's not there.

Raoul says all attempts to locate the application were unsuccessful. Nor could the manager find the "Start" button, the physical mouse the Windows key on the keyboard or even the keyboard. Having exhausted all options, Raoul says “I took a deep breath and summoned all my courage” to ask the following question:

Raoul: Do you have a computer on your desk?

Manager: No. I don't trust computers.

Here's what Raoul says happened next:

*Awkward silence*

And fair enough, too, because fixing a computer that's not there is tough, even for Reg readers. Not even turning it off and on again will do the trick!

Have you encountered users as odd as Raoul's? Write to me to let me know and you could end up in a future edition of On-Call. ®

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