My PC is on fire! Can you back it up really, really fast?

Anger and frustration went both ways on an outsourced vendor help desk

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On-Call Welcome again to On-Call, The Register’s weekly reader-contributed column in which we tease out tales from the trenches of tech support.

This week, meet “Rick” who used to work for an outsourced tech support company that worked for several big technology brands.

Rick answered calls for Microsoft, Iomega, 3Com, Dell, Corel “and an interesting smattering of other semi-IT related companies many of whom no longer exist.”

One of Rick’s clients sold consumer SatNav units in the early days of that industry. “You've probably heard all the stories of users who followed their GPS unit’s instructions - including driving off piers, cliffs, onto live firing ranges- and straight into some of the lovely lakes of Baden Wurtemberg.”

“They were all true,” Rick told us. “All the stories, every sodding one. And then some.”

Rick also took calls for storage vendor Iomega.

“One client who rang the helpline in a blind panic because there was smoke coming out of his PC.”

The caller asked Rick what to do and he gave what he thought was obvious advice: “unplug the PC immediately and take whatever action necessary to ensure the issue was brought under control, up to and including calling the fire services.”


Rick said he would terminate the call unless the customer confirmed immediately that he was unplugging live electric equipment during the fire.

And lo, for the call was terminated.

Not all of Rick’s most memorable calls were dangerous … for him, anyway. He told us he once took a “nice call from a BBC reporter in a warzone whose laptop was knackered and he had to file a report urgently.”


Boss sent overpaid IT know-nothings home – until an ON switch proved elusive


Rick managed to sort things out, even though it meant staying back late. His reward was a “a very nice set of wildlife books in the post a few weeks later, signed by the journalist, along with a very nice note from the BBC director-general of the time.”

That letter now lives in a nice frame on Rick’s wall.

So do a series of paintings one customer sent Rick to thank him for his many efforts helping her to deal with a string of broken Iomega products. Little things like that mean a lot to Rick because life on that help desk wasn’t much fun. He told us that annual staff turnover rates topped 200 per cent.

“Most of us who managed to survive any length of time at the coalface were shell shocked to a certain extent. Whenever we moved on we inevitably ended up enrolled on courses to try and unteach us the appalling habits that were the norm in call centre hell.”

Rick now has sympathy for offshore call centre workers, “because I know the mayhem they can wreak on unsuspecting customers who don't treat them in a civil and kind manner.”

“What goes around does come around.”

Has help desk karma come back to bite or bless you? If so, click here to write to On-Call and we might dredge your story out of our mailbag on a future Friday. ®

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