We're sure you've heard the classic tech support story about the customer who says their computer's coffee holder broke and demands a replacement. After several minutes of bewildered back-and-forth, the support tech realizes the customer is talking about the tray of the CD drive!
That story has been around so long, it's gained the status of an urban legend. It perfectly illustrates the fact that technology can be confusing for anyone, that problems aren't always what they seem at first, and that finding the solution can leave you shaking your head in disbelief, or shaking with laughter.
For a bit of fun, we've rounded up several tech support stories for your enjoyment. And they're all true. In fact, the first one happened to this author.
The Great Disconnect
Travel back with me a number of years and I'm working phone tech support for a company that manufactures specialized printers. Most of our support calls deal with mechanical malfunctions, questions about our custom software or help with operating the machine.
The brain of the unit is from an Epson printer and it even uses the stock Epson driver, so the basic connection between printer and computer is fairly bulletproof. One day, however, a female customer calls and says that every time she tries to print, she gets a message saying "Printer Not Available."
"Printer Not Available" is the standard Windows message when the printer isn't turned on or plugged into the computer. Following the important tech support rule to take nothing for granted, I first confirm that the printer is, in fact, turned on, which it is. Obviously, then, the printer cable has somehow become disconnected from the computer. An easy fix.
I have the customer check the back of the printer and she reports that the USB cable is plugged in. Just to be sure it's properly seated, I have her unplug it and plug it back in. Then I ask her to make sure the cable is plugged into the back of the computer.
After several moments of scrambling sounds over the phone, she manages to get behind the computer and reports the USB cable is plugged in there, too. After a quick check, the computer still says the printer doesn't exist. OK, I think, maybe this isn't going to be so easy.
My instincts still say that somehow the printer isn't connected to the computer, and I tell the customer as much. But she's already checked the cable, and USB cables very rarely go bad, so I move on.
For the next 20 minutes, I walk her through the standard tech support procedures, such as restarting the printer, restarting the computer, moving the USB cable to a different port, refreshing the printer driver, and so on. Nothing works and the only explanation left is that the printer's motherboard could be defective. But I still can't shake the feeling that the problem is a lot more basic.
Finally, as a last ditch effort before shipping her a new motherboard, I'm going to tell the customer she needs to test the printer with a different USB cable and a different computer.
Suddenly, over the phone I hear the loud exclamation, "SON OF A ..." Then there's silence.
"Is everything OK, ma'am?"
After a few more seconds, in a voice tinged with embarrassment, she says, "I was checking the printer cord again ... and there are two cords."
"Two cords?" I ask carefully, sensing where this is going.
"There are two identical cords," she says. "One is plugged into the printer, and one is plugged into the computer. But they don't connect up anywhere."
After taking a second to digest this, and mentally kick myself for overlooking that possibility, I have the customer plug the cord from the computer into the printer. Sure enough, in seconds everything is working perfectly.
The customer then remembers that her husband was doing something on the computer earlier, and reasons that he didn't plug everything back in correctly. Because the ends of the cables were in a rat's nest behind the computer, she hadn't spotted it when I asked her to check the cable the first time.
We had a chuckle about the whole thing, and I learned two valuable lessons. The first was to put more trust in my instincts. The second was that whenever I tell customers to "check that the cable is plugged in," I need to add "and make sure it's the same cable."
"But my son works for Microsoft!"
This tech support story comes courtesy of user CaptainFresh35 over at a reddit thread called Tales from Tech Support.
I spent a few years on Help Desk for an airline before becoming a software dev. I’ll never forget my first call from $PILOT.
ME: "Thanks for calling help desk, how can I help you?"
PILOT: "You guys keep breaking everything!"
ME: "What's wrong?"
PILOT: "Nothing is working! Maybe if you did your job this wouldn't happen!"
I don’t let people treat me like that but I was more interested in his problem - because if a critical system was down we need to know. He finally calmed down a little. My co-workers started looking at me.
ME: "... So what's not working?"
PILOT: "I can't login to my e-mail. Why did you break it?!"
ME: "We didn't break anything. I just pulled up your account. It got locked out due to bad password attempts."
PILOT: "Listen! If you want it fixed, just say the word and I'll call my son. He works for Microsoft. I’ll have him drive over there so this won’t happen again! He'll get everything fixed for good."
ME: "That's not necessary. All we need to do is change your password."
PILOT: "But my son works for Microsoft!"
I give him his new password and he promptly hangs up. Fast-forward two months. Payroll gets new software that only works on Windows. $PILOT calls in wanting us to install it but only has Apple devices and complains about the compatibility. You don’t know how bad I wanted to say “But your son works for Microsoft!”
Second monitor mix-up
Everyone can have an off day when it comes to computers. That's the case a user named zer0mavrick over at Tales from Tech Support found when helping his friend with a perplexing computer problem.
I had a friend contact me about their software not opening when they double click the application.
Me: Have you restarted the computer since this occurred?
Friend: Yes. I did it all.
Me: I'll just remote in since it's a slow day...
Me: OK, so I see your software is currently open. What exactly is wrong with it?
Friend: No it's not! Look! I'm clicking the icon and nothing is happening!
Me: Are you currently using two monitors?
Friend: Yes I am. Why?
Friend takes a moment and looks over at the other screen..
Friend: OH there it is! Thanks!
Be honest; we've all had moments like this, on both sides of the phone.
This short bit of problem-solving comes from user Allen B C in an Apple support forum about Apple keyboard malfunctions.
Last night I started to have a problem of symbols appearing and other odd things happening when I typed on my keyboard. I first changed the USB keyboard, to no avail. Then I went to my wife's MAC BOOK PRO, same problem.
I tried all of the suggestions I could find on forums like this. Then my wife came in and she typed on both computers with no problems. My wife who is not all that computer savvy said it was my hands. I was skeptical but pursued it further. I found out that it only happened when I typed characters with my left hand.
She was right. Come to find out I had had surgery on my left hand earlier in the day and the bulky bandage was hitting the option and control keys inadvertently. She had had the same problem in the past when she let her hands relax and rest on the keyboard.
Needless to say I sighed a great sigh of relief and gave my intuitive wife a humble thanks. Sometimes intuitiveness trumps technical savvy.
As you can see, a lot of tech support problems really are just about taking a second to step back and re-examine the situation. That's why before you call a tech, read this article on common PC problems you can often fix yourself.
We're sure that you have some great tech support stories that match or beat these. Go ahead and share your favorites in the comments for everyone to enjoy.