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When customers see red, sometimes the obvious solution will only fan the flames

Howz ur spelan?

On Call Friday has arrived, and with it the promise of a weekend free of workplace distractions. It also brings another tale from one of the unfortunates who will be spending their Saturday and Sunday awaiting the dreaded phone call. Welcome to On Call.

Today's story comes from "Harry", who, at some point in the last decade, was tasked with running the IT operations of an online financial outfit. This, of course, meant dealing with internal and external-facing sites and dealing with issues as they came in.

Harry was enjoying a quiet morning when the shenanigans began. A ticket was raised by a team leader within the company complaining that "random lines were appearing on the website for a customer".

A borked customer-facing website is never a good thing so Harry quickly navigated to the site to take a look.

"No issue."

Keen to avoid the whole "works on my system, guv" that users love so much, Harry conscientiously hopped off the internal network to try through an external port.

"Again, nothing."

Having run out of ideas, Harry wandered off to find a coffee. After all, he "was the only person who worked office hours and also on call (averaging about 4-5 nights disturbed a week)" so a bit of a caffeinated pick-me-up would do no harm.

Unfortunately, he returned to his workstation to see the "team leader" had been able to recreate the customer's problem and had updated the ticket to say that they too could see the same "random red lines" splattered over that all-important customer-facing site.


Could you just pop into the network room and check- hello? The Away Team. They're... gone


This time the team leader had also helpfully included a link to the afflicted page. Harry told us it was "the page where users can 'Message our team!' with a basic web form and it generates an email".

The page included a handy text box for the customer to enter their thoughts, and the same page is then shown to users, such as the team leader.

"I investigate. Check for errors, or alerts, or anything really that I can think of. Still nothing."

A game of increasingly angry "ticket tennis" ensued – something that will be familiar to anyone charged with dealing with helpdesk requests as the Team Leader insisted that those pesky red lines were definitely there and, significantly, were "squiggly".

Harry told us: "I think what that could be, and immediately think of the obvious. I shake my head.

"There's no way someone is reporting a spellchecker as a fault."

After a careful suggestion to the effect that perhaps, just maybe, the customer might be making spelling mistakes, the team leader hit the nuclear button.

Harry's manager was emailed, the general manager was emailed and the board of directors was emailed as the user shrieked: "Can't be that, as I get the same errors."

Harry took the full force of managerial rage. "Now I'm getting very irate calls from directors and the GM yelling about things like 'Why aren't you helping?', 'What are you even for?', and the old classic, 'JUST FIX IT!'"

It took Harry going to the team leader's desk and dictating a message for the user to type out to confirm his diagnosis. The whole debacle ended with a Reply To All to the effect that "the customer couldn't spell simple words, and neither could the staff member".

Harry sighed: "In all, the back-and-forth lasted six-and-a-half hours."

Ever faced a PICNIC (Problem In Chair Not In Computer) when dealing with a call out or seen a game of ticketing tennis escalate into hand grenade volleyball? Pull up a pew and tell On Call all about it. ®

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