Ridiculous Tech Support Calls

In his Circuits column this week, David Pogue shares some of the most absurd calls he listened to when he toured a tech support center.

I learned that when they say, “Your call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes,” that’s only partly true. They also record your calls so they can pass around recordings of the funniest ones.

The agents gave him a CD of their favorite calls, and he transcribes a few of them in his column. We like this one:

A Canadian customer was calling to find out if there was a faster way to trigger menu commands than mousing up to the menus.

Agent: Certainly, sir. There are keyboard shortcuts for many of those commands. For example, suppose you want to trigger the Select All command…

Caller: Yes, I use that one all the time! How do I do it?

Agent: Well, you just press Control-A.

Caller (after a pause): Well, that’s not working for me.

Agent: Do you have a text document open in front of you?

Caller: Yes, I sure do.

Agent: OK, now press Control-A.

Caller: I am, but nothing happens.

Agent: The text isn’t highlighted?

Caller: No, there’s no change at all.

Agent: That’s odd. If you press Control-A, the whole document should be highlighted. Try it again. Press Control-A. Tell me exactly what’s happening.

Caller (nearing his Canadian breaking point): Listen. I’m pressing Control, eh? And nothing’s happening, eh?

“Tech Support Gets a Reprieve While Users Take a Hit “ [New York Times]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Tank says:

    i think i worked with that canadian

  2. deleterious says:

    Phone Losers of America does better tech support calls that make us pee our pants with laughter.

  3. morganlh85 says:

    The one about the mouse and the keyboard is hilarious.

  4. Moosehawk says:

    Someone seriously used a computer for six weeks by plugging and unplugging the keyboard and mouse? Wow.

    Has any other IT tech support guys in an office run into people stacking up their mousepads like 4 at a time? I asked one person why they did that and they said because they heard that the “laser beams” can burn through their desk if they don’t stack the mousepads.

    That’s probably my most “wtf” moment in the IT industry so far.

  5. cwheatley says:

    well just the other day, one of the teachers at the school i work for called me in because a screw fell out of the side of her computer case, and it broke her internet.

    true story =P

  6. Crrusher says:

    damn canucks

  7. Geekybiker says:

    only bad one I personally heard was someone walking into a store and asking for the windows compatible mouse pads….

  8. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @Crrusher: Oh, now I love the Canadians I support, better than almost any other country. I’ll never forget the time a spitfire redheaded French-Canadian engineer got tired of me telling her, “I can’t do that anymore because of this new Sarbanes-Oxley law.” She accused me of making it up so I wouldn’t have to do work, and demanded me to provide her with the parts of the law that affected my ability to provide her with “proper service.” So I faxed her all hundred-odd pages of the statute in question. After that I had her grudging respect (nobody else would stand up to her but me).

  9. evslin says:

    @Moosehawk: lolwut? That might be as good as the legendary cupholder gag.

  10. cde says:

    @speedwell: Spitfire redheaded French-Canadian woman engineer (and since she’s canadian, I’ll assume she likes the sticky-icky). Did you get her number? Is she cute? Tell me you atleast tried! Lie if you must!

  11. mgy says:

    If only I had the time and energy to type out every call I get at my tech support job. They’re ALL like that. My coworker had someone bitching for 10 minutes about how their computer wouldn’t turn on. They only revealed after that amount of time that by “not turning on” they meant “sitting at the login screen”.

  12. azntg says:

    Hahaha, classic!

  13. emax4 says:

    That was actually from http://www.rinkworks.com/stupid/

  14. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    My worst user ever? Now, I want you to know my dad was an engineer and I have tremendous respect for every gray hair on an experienced engineer’s head, but there was this one old cowboy who drove me crazy for three years before he retired.

    I was part of the team that wrote the documentation for and implemented our particular engineering software companywide (we have about 35,000 employees in more than a hundred countries). I live, breathe, eat, sleep, talk, support, and push this engineering software. I am the trainer for the US and South America. You can imagine how I felt when this fellow wrote me an e-mail saying he was just not going to use it. At all, period. We were going to have to make allowances for the way he “always did it.” His boss finally threatened him enough that he came to one of my training classes, in which he sat there glaring at me like a gang enforcer in an interpretive Elizabethan poetry reading.

    When he got back to his desk, he started having strange problems with his installation. We figured out pretty quick he was partially disabling the program. Then after another talk with his manager, he agreed to take it on trial. Next he printed out all his daily work in hard copy, thousands of pages a day. That didn’t last too long either because other people occasionally needed the printer, gee. After that, he started to “forget” how to do everything as soon as it was explained to him. They moved my cubicle next to his so I could keep an eye on him. For months I basically got nothing done but holding his hand and walking him through how to do everything, every damn time he did it.

    So finally they let me go do my other work, figuring he couldn’t get us into too much trouble. Wrong-oh. We’re still finding crap in the system he did wrong on purpose.

  15. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @cde: Try? (blush) Well, some woman are a good argument for making a straight chick bend a bit, but my fiancé would have killed me.

  16. mgy says:

    @mgy: I should also mention that I work the night shift at a big state University, so we get a lot of students and professors who call just to “chat”. I had one girl open up to me about her ordeals with domestic abuse. Asked me things like “Do you think your life can change in a second?” and “If your sister beats the shit out of you, can she get in trouble?”. My job goes WAY beyond the bounds of stupid computer questions.

  17. cde says:

    @speedwell: Or he might have encouraged it :D

    Wishful thinking on my part. Spitfire, redheaded, and french all trigger thoughts in my head alone. Together, omfg.

  18. Syrus28 says:

    Wow. Can these be real? Especially the one about control-A. Hilarious

  19. Moosehawk says:

    @evslin: I swear like 75% of the office had at least 3 mousepads stacked on top of each other. One started doing it and the others followed because they figure they didn’t want to be the only person to get in trouble if there was a gaping hole in their desk from an optical laser lol. It was bizarre.

  20. cde says:

    @Moosehawk: I would pick one out and drill a hole through one or two mouse pads and then sit back and watch the panic set in.

  21. attackgypsy says:

    Used to do support for a large jewelry company.

    One of the security guys had a laptop that was struck by lightning. Well, his house was, and the laptop got fried.

    We gave him a new one. And about every 2 months, he kept having to send it back because of problems. And he’d get mad when we’d delete AOL from the machine.

    Well, after a year, he called and said he had another lightning strike. So, he sent it in. I had it sent to me personally, because I was sick of this guy.

    Got the box, and carried it into the DIT’s (IT Director) office. Opened the box. It looked like it had been dropped down a flight of stairs. Screen cracked, hinge broken, etc.

    He got fired that day.

  22. mojowen says:

    That is amazing. Goodness a horrible day and there’s a ray of sunshine from Canada. Goodness. Thank you Consumerist.

  23. Ghede says:

    I want that CD. I need a good laugh. I wonder if there are any broken cupholder questions.

  24. cde says:

    @Ghede: Or people who can’t find the Any key.

  25. Moosehawk says:

    @cde: Haha I could only imagine the sheer panic that would have ensued.

  26. tosser says:

    My personal favorite caller from my hitch as a CSR for Ameritech(obviously, this was a number of years ago)was a Chicagoan who was trying to get some charges on her bill explained and manage her apparently pretty wild household at the same time. She split her time between yelling at me and yelling at her kids. I can still hear her voice to this day.

    “Girl, what are you wearing? No, those ain’t shorts, that’s a #%@!’in thong!”

  27. madanthony says:

    The two that stick in my mind from my days at a college helpdesk:

    A student calls that she can’t get online. I ask her what version of Windows she’s running. She starts naming dorms near her bulding. I couldn’t figure out what she was talking about for a while – then I realized and had to tell her that I needed to know what version of the Windows operating system she was running, not what she could see out her dorm-room window.

    I also had an employee call up and say that CD-ROMS kept falling out of her drive. Kept telling her that there should be an inset that it rests in, ect. Finally put in a ticket. She called back a few minutes later and informed us that she had figured out the problem – her PC was upside down. She had a small form factor that was set up on it’s side and she had decided to lay it flat – with the wrong side down.

  28. clevershark says:

    I love the “this call may be recorded” message. I make sure to take advantage of the privilege it grants me.


  29. andr3y says:

    that was a lame joke

  30. junkmail says:

    Sadly, the stories mentioned in the article are way tamer than most of them I got working for a dial-up tech support call center.

    “I can’t get the internet to work.”
    -“You can’t get online at all? Okay, when you attempt to connect, do you see an error message?”
    “Whaddya mean?”
    (Here we go)
    -“What happens when you try to connect to the internet?”
    “Huh? Nothing, I put the CD in and nothing happened.”
    -“Oh, okay, so you’re having trouble installing the *redacted* software? The installation won’t start?”
    -“That’s okay, I’ll walk you through it. Are you sitting at the computer now?”
    “I don’t have a computer.”
    -“You don’t have computer?”
    “No, do I need one?”
    -“uuhh… yes. You do.”
    “I can’t afford a computer. A friend gave me the CD so I could get on the internet.”
    -“What were you… ummm… ‘playing’ the CD on?”
    “In my car. I have a CD player.”

    And it went downhill from there. Honestly. Swear on my gramma’s grave.

  31. wackyvorlon says:

    I worked tech support at one point. I think the weirdest I had was lady who was trying to use three keyboards at the same time. I was trying to get her into the BIOS, and her keyboard wasn’t working.

    By the way she was describing the situation, I become suspicious. I asked her outright how many keyboards were hooked up to the computer. It was a total of three – one PS/2, and two USB. She had had keyboard problems at first, and the tech asked her to try *another* keyboard. She didn’t realize this meant disconnecting the first.

  32. ExtraCelestial says:

    These sound like those ridiculously fake chain letters that end up in your inbox from time to time.

  33. rabiddachshund says:

    I’ve been working internet tech support for 2 years (In America. A rare occurrance, I know). My favorite is when the installer is just as incompetent as the customer.
    “Ma’am what are the lights on your modem doing?”
    “Hold on, let me get a ladder.”
    “The modem is on the roof with the satellite.”
    “uh…uh…hold please.”
    *Put customer on hold, asked my manager if this is even possible, he freaks and says don’t let her go on the roof because of liability issues*
    “Ma’am are you still there?”
    “Yes, the power light is on but the rest are off. Is that bad?”
    “……..yes, that’s bad. Get off the roof.”

    Sadly, this is pretty accurate:

    + Watch video

  34. clientcopia.com

    Good site for stories like these.

  35. Benny Gesserit says:

    Take off, eh? Ya hosers. :)

  36. rpm773 says:

    I think this post is the 2008 equivalent of the “which one is the any key?” bit.

  37. thetango says:


    These sound like those ridiculously fake chain letters that end up in your inbox from time to time.

    Yeah … that was exactly my feeling. And then I went back and re-read the story and noticed this:

    They actually gave me one of those “Best Of” disks at the end of my day in the call center. Herewith: a few actual calls from that disk or that I heard about from the agents themselves.

    The NY Times is now reprinting chain letters. Great …

  38. Trailboss says:

    That was hilarious! I work tech support 9-5 and it can be HELL!

    Go to http://www.techcomedy.com for lots of hilarity!

  39. The Pogue will be at the Wilton Library in Wilton, CT on March 27th. Any Connecticois who want to attend, register online. I’ll be in the front row!

  40. sabrinad says:

    I used to do tech support for an ISP years ago. I think my favorite call to this date was some woman who called and absolutely screamed her head off at me about my company imposing our religious beliefs on her — our zealotry was not welcome, we were not getting paid to proselytize, et cetera, on and on and on.

    It took me several minutes to calm her down and figure out what she was upset about. We had named our servers after late-night infomercials, like the Flowbee or the Psychic Friends Network, and so on. The one she was angry about was named after Suzanne Somers’ product: “thymaster.”

  41. BadBadKitty says:

    True story :
    My friend calls me up asking if i have an old computer she can use, i tell her i dont have an extra thats working and she tells me that she doesnt need the whole computer , just the monitor and keyboard cause she just needs to practice some typing !!!

  42. badgeman46 says:

    For entertainment purposes, I’ve been signing up my rarely used fax line on mailing lists under the names Harry Bagina, Moe Schitt, and A. Nalinvader. If I need a good laugh, I’ll just plug in a phone and let the fun begin!

  43. bonzombiekitty says:

    My favorite one comes from a couple years ago when I working internal tech support for a very large pharma company. A lot of users had docking stations for their laptops, a coworker was on the phone with someone and I heard his part of the conversation.

    -OK, now I just need you to try turning the computer on again.
    *abnormally long pause*
    -Didn’t work? Ok. Well try *instructuctions*. Now try to turn it on again.
    *abnormally long pause*
    -Still not working? Huh… Ok, well we’ll try one last thing. Try doing *instructions*. Ok? Now try turning it on again.
    *abnormally long pause*
    -Still not working? If I may ask, what is taking you so long to try and turn on your laptop? …. And where is the docking station? …. Down the hall? …. Are you taking the laptop with you when you do this? …. Ma’am that’s your problem. The power button on the docking station is not going to turn on the laptop if they’re 100 feet away from each other.

    yes, the lady was using her laptop in one office, and trying to turn it on by leaving her laptop in the office and walking down the hall to her docking station and trying to turn it on from there.

  44. stanfrombrooklyn says:

    I own a software company; here are the favorite calls we have received:

    1. Customer: Do you need a computer to use this program?

    2. Customer: I’m having problems. Support: Are you using Windows or Macintosh? Customer: Neither. I use a Dell (or HP or Acer or whatever)

    3. Customer: This software won’t run on my computer. Support: What is your OS? Customer: What’s an OS? Support: What version of Windows are you running? Support: Windows 95 (note call was taken in 2008).

    These may not seem so weird but our software runs upwards of $700. It’s not $30 cheapo software. It’s amazing to me we get customers spending $700 and don’t know what OS they’re running.

  45. stanfrombrooklyn says:

    We also got a call from someone. She said it took her computer almost 10 minutes to turn on. So one of our tech guys had her type in MSCONFIG and look at her startup items. She had over 100 items in her startup menu.

  46. evslin says:

    @rabiddachshund: That video is the best. When I got my first tech support job, on day one the trainer comes in and says… ok, everyone pay attention to this video, because this is what your job is going to be like.

    He sure wasn’t kidding.

  47. bravo369 says:

    i got a call from someone who’s PC was frozen. I instructed her to hold down the power button on the PC for 5 seconds and then turn the pc back on. She did so but said she’s back at the frozen screen. i asked her what button she pressed and she replied ‘the one on the tv’

    i also had another lady frantic because she couldn’t get on the internet at home. I start helping her and she replied that i didn’t understand…she left her docking station at work. turns out that she was bringing not only her laptop but her entire docking station home each night.

  48. Hanke says:

    @cwheatley: I work with people who complain that their internet doesn’t work because the default IE7 home page does not come up when they open the browser. They call before they even try a different page. Worst part of this? Repeat offenders.

  49. Hanke says:

    @Geekybiker: That is not as uncommon as you would think.

  50. KJones says:

    The worst I ever saw was nothing compared to some of these stories. He was a guy in the office who knew he was an inexperienced user and was honest about that. He was most definitely not an idiot, so the incident turned out to be a good laugh for both of us, not an insult to him.

    It was back in 1991, and I was doing computer support in the office, as well as other things. A new system written in dBase IV had come in and the user asked me for help. He had managed to figure out the menus via the manuals and produced a report screen, a summary of the data he was working on. The problem?

    “How do you print this report? There’s no menu option for it.”

    The authors of the manuals neglected to tell users to hit the “Print Screen” button. The user and I both had a laugh when he saw the simple solution.

    – – – – –

    The funniest I heard about was in the mid-1990s (remember that). Whether it’s true or apocryphal, I don’t know, but it certainly sounds believable:

    A lUser called into tech support and said, “The computer is working great, but the coffee holder broke.” (“luser” is slang for a user that is a loser.)

    The tech support guy said, “Excuse me, what broke?”

    Again, the lUser said, “You know, the coffee holder that pops out of the computer.”

    The tech support guy couldn’t finish the call for laughing so hard.

  51. cockeyed says:

    Once I had trouble with the internet on my computer, I accidentally clicked something on the setup page that made it so I couldn’t connect, period.
    So, I am not a moron about this stuff, but I needed help reseting it, so i called the linksys customer help. Some gentlemen with a french accent would chuckle or act a bit patronizing any time I just didn’t understand what he wanted me to do. He acted as if this is stuff I would have known by heart.
    I always have a problem with places like this laughing at their customers. I know I did it when I worked in customer service because it’s a way to blow off stress, but recording it and giving it out on a cd? come on.

  52. AMetamorphosis says:

    I work in Tech support and I can ASSURE you that we DO pass around the funniest calls. Its kinda like a sport to us.

    My favorite was a kindly old man that got our # mixed up with Haines underwear and it took me 10 minutes to explain that he reached technical support for XXXX instead of his intended target.

    I felt so sorry for him I googled Haines underwear and transferred him directly to their number.

  53. Quintus says:

    When I worked for Echostar troubleshooting I had some funny calls.

    I got one call from a lady in Florida during Hurricane Hugo. We get used to checking where the person is and have a running memory of how the basic weather is across the country at that time. So she calls in and is getting: “Aquiring Satallite Signal” which basically means she has no signal. I see where she lives, in Florida I forget where. I have a sneaking suspesion she’s in the path of the Hurricane so I ask: “How’s the weather outside?” “What do you mean? We’re in the middle of a Hurricane.” “Can you see the Dish from the window?” “Let me see…yea, um, it’s not there, let me see, um, wait, I see it, it’s up in the neighbor’s tree now…Can you send someone out to fix it?”

    I get another caller trying to reconnect his receiver to the satallite and his TV after moving it. The satellite receiver has two main inputs, “Satllite In” this is for the feed from the Dish, and “TV-Ant In” this is for the feed from an off-air Ant.” So this man calls in swearing and cussing. You F’n dickheads you screwed up my F’n service, I moved my TV and can’t get the F’n signal back. I try to troubleshoot a little with the man, but I swear to this day I havn’t met a more stubborn haughty man. (I learned from working here, the more humble the man the eaiser to slove the problem, when they are egotistical that impeeds their learning, because they already think they know it all). Anyway I ask “Where do you have the signal from the Satellite connected on the back. “Don’t you dare ask me where it’s connected like I don’t know what I’m doing? Don’t you know I’m an engineer, I’ve been to college, you dimwit, how dare you insinuate I’m stupid. I ought to talk with your sup and have you fired, you no-good good for nothing, piece of S***. Why you people at technical support are worthless. I just want my signal back on, send me the signal and shut up, you moron brick, who just reads scripts.” This goes on for about, no kidding a half an hour. I’m getting a little-annoyed at this point and figure out a strategy to help the customer, for I figured out for pretty sure what was wrong the first two minutes of his ranting. I say: “You know what, to show me just show stupid I am, can you look on the back and prove to me that I’m dumb and tell me where you have the feed from the Satellite plugged in.” “Yep, just to prove to you how wrong and dumb you are I’ll look in the back and tell you you little chicken-S***”. (Finally, I think, we’re going to get to some troubleshooting.) So he’s says, the signal from the satallite is connected to where it says TV-Ant In, “I say, switch that over to “Sattlite In” he cusses me out for being ignorant again, switches it over gets signal, and all the sudden he becomes quiet and disconnects the call. I just love the know-it-alls.

  54. dewsipper says:

    I got a frantic phone call late at night from my father. “The computer is making a high pitched screech! I think it’s going to blow up!” So, I dropped what I was doing and I race across town to see what the heck he did. Now I’m fairly certain the PC wasn’t going to blow up, but then again, it’s my father we’re talking about. I arrive at the scene, go over to the computer….. and remove his glasses from the keyboard. Ya, I charged him for gas.

  55. mthrndr says:

    @TinkishDelight: Yeah. These sound suspiciously apocryphal. Did he actually HEAR these stories recorded or were they typed up like you see in a million forwards? The Control-A one especially.

  56. Starfury says:

    Just a note for all of you out there that don’t do tech support/helpdesk/desktop support/IT work in general:

    The crazy stories you hear: They’re all true.

    I’ve done external and internal support and both groups call in for things they could figure out/fix if they weren’t dumber than drunken lemurs. IT support is stressful, mostly because we’re not allowed to say EXACTLY what we’re thinking or track the caller down and beat them with a bat.

  57. stacye says:

    Wow, it’s like alt.tech-support.recovery in here. And no one has to wave dead chickens to talk about it. Fantastic.

  58. firesign says:

    i would just like to also add my comment to those of you who don’t believe these stories are true:
    clearly you have never worked tech support, and let me tell you, you are wrong. i work tech support at a university campus and have since 1996, and some of these stories are tame compared to some of the stuff i’ve encountered here.

  59. mthrndr says:

    @firesign: Uh,
    I worked in Tech Support for two years. Yes, there are people out there who are dumb as rocks, but the succinct, punchline-perfect stories recounted by Pogue and those email forwards almost never happen (at least to me). They were much more drawn out, and not as funny. The stories recounted by commenters on this page strike me as true to life. The ones recounted by Pogue do not.

  60. Tonguetied says:

    I thought the “My coffee cup holder story was mildly amusing the first time I read oh about 10 years ago or so. Since then I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read it on websites where the writer swears up and down that it happened to him or he overheard a co-worker on the call.

    That one really needs to be put to rest.

  61. bbbici says:

    The control-A story is fake. In canada, “eh” is used at the end of a question. Nice weather, eh? Questions end with an inflection change (i.e. a rise in the voice’s pitch).

    If the CSR said “press control A”, there would be no rise in inflection, and the caller would not think the CSR was saying “eh?”.


  62. reddingofish says:

    One of my recent favorites was a user, fresh out of college that acted like they knew all about computers. They would try and talk to me about computers and one day they asked me if I liked Macs. I said I owned one but it was not my main computer at that time. The user said, “A friend just gave me a copy of Leopard but I haven’t put it in my PC yet to see if it works.” I had to turn around so I wouldn’t start laughing.

  63. cde says:

    @bbbici: You forget not everyone has the same accent.

  64. cde says:

    @reddingofish: Ever hear of OSx86? Hell, now you can just patch the real cd and install it.

  65. Firstborn Dragon says:

    Oh there were a few good ones when I had the displeasure of working tech support.

    Best one? Woman called in for tech support, had the tech on the phone for over half an hour, going on about how this city in Britain had it’s name pronounced wrong, aliens were invading her neighborhood and what not. All kinds of strange things.

    Finally the tech asked her to look at the modem.
    Woman said she couldn’t.
    Tech asked why not.
    Woman said it was in the basement, and she never went down there, it was haunted.

  66. clank-o-tron says:

    @Firstborn Dragon: lol @ the haunted basement… I’ve got to find a way to work that into daily conversations.

  67. Snakeophelia says:

    An old boyfriend of mine once worked for the Social Sciences computer lab at my graduate school. He swore that he had to help one undergraduate who couldn’t seem to make the pointer go where she wanted it to on the screen. It turned out she had the mouse upside down. Yep, she would move it right, and the pointer would go left, she would move it up and the pointer would go down, and she was not able to fix this problem BY HERSELF. She actually went up to the Help Desk and requested assistance. This was in 1996, if anyone was wondering.

  68. Benny Gesserit says:

    @bbbici: I think they all get that. But it’s good to have a (fake) laugh at us from time to time. I called them all “hosers” and we’re good. It’s what we do.

    Wikipedia explains it all. Don’t get me talking about the “about = aboot” nonsense.

  69. KJones says:

    @Jim (The Canuck One):

    The difference between Canadians and others?

    The Germans tell jokes about the Russians. The Russians tell jokes about the Poles.

    The English tell jokes about the Germans. The Yanks tell jokes about the French. Etc.

    Canadians tell jokes about Canadians, that’s the difference.

  70. Duches77 says:

    @cockeye – Frankly, until you’ve been on the receiving end of those calls, you will never understand. I admit that I have had my moments where I get frustrated with the CSR/TSR on the other end of the phone. But, being a TSR myself (and American, yes), I deal with people screaming and cursing at me for something that’s not even my fault. Give us a break, huh? If we didn’t have the occasional laugh at a situation, we’d probably hang up on you.