Wednesday, June 3, 2015

That user is a loser!

This is a true story. The company name has been changed.

Setting up telecommuting

The manager of the research department at Acme Corporation approached management with a request to provide telecommuting capability for research employees. The research staff would need remote access to email, external journal articles, and internal document systems.

Acme executives thought the telecommuting capability would allow improved staff retention and flexibility, while also reducing office rent costs. A pilot project was approved, and an employee chosen to be involved in the pilot.

Set up and immediate failure

Acme set up a home office with company equipment for the employee. Because the employee lived in a rural area where there was no high-speed Internet access, a dial-up service was arranged.

Right away, the employee complained of intermittent service problems; email was failing, and the screen was freezing while he was trying to use internal documents or external journal articles.

The IT help desk suggested that the employee call the Internet service provider about the service problem. The Internet service provider said they had not been experiencing problems in the employee’s area and that the problem must be with the employee’s system or phone line.

The employee continued to call the help desk whenever the problem occurred, which became more frequent, usually more than once a day. Over the next three months, the problem continued and the IT department tried several different ways to identify the problem.
·         A technician was sent to the employee’s home to replace the modem and verify the configuration settings on the employee’s system. The problem was not resolved.
·         The Acme email and document systems were monitored for problems, but none were found that would cause the employee’s problems.
·         The telephone company tested the employee’s phone line, and verified that the line was fine.
·         A technician was sent to the employee’s home to replace the computer.


The research manager complained to management that this pilot was a disaster and that IT wasn’t able to figure out the problem. Several VPs noted that it seemed impossible for the project to have gone so badly.

The IT manager was instructed to make the remote employee’s problem a priority and get it resolved. After reviewing the support desk records, the manager met with one of the support technicians. It was a mystery. The technician was instructed to report to the employee’s home to observe, and to spend every hour of every workday at the employee’s home until the trouble was definitively identified.

Duh user

The technician returned to the office after only a few hours, and could hardly wait to share her findings with the IT manager. The technician and IT manager laughed all the way to the management meeting to explain the problem – the employee had been using the telephone to place outgoing phone calls while the phone line was already engaged for Internet service. Because his phone was often in use for Internet service, his friends, family, and co-workers found the employee hard to reach. As a result, the employee started to make more frequent outgoing calls. He had not realized that the reason he had to click the phone button to get a dial tone was because his computer had the phone line in use for Internet access to email or the remote database.

A second phone line was quickly installed for the employee, the problem did not recur, and the rollout of telecommuting was expanded successfully to other employees.


The IT manager and technician thought the user was extremely stupid and found the whole situation hysterically funny. Unfortunately, the IT manager did not realize he had a serious customer service problem.

Some things were missed in setting up the pilot project for the telecommuting employee. First, although the IT department asked the office services department to make arrangements for the employee to have a second phone line, they didn’t follow up to make sure the line had been installed. This was a critical component of the plan.

Second, when setting up the employee’s home office, assumptions were made about the employee’s technical savvy. No assessment was made of the employee’s capabilities, and no training was provided.

When the employee’s problems started to occur, it took much too long for the IT department to really get serious about solving the employee’s problem. He had service problems more frequently than daily, and yet it took three months and the attention of several VPs to motivate the IT department to go on site and determine the employee’s problem first hand.

An observation – sometimes the only way to assess a problem is to be on site and watch. The issue can occasionally be beyond imagination.

Copyright 2015 Debbie Gallagher