July 2016

Three support phone operators at workplace

As soon as I sat down today, the helpline phone was ringing. Our server usually runs fine, and I checked it as I was answering the call. Yes, the server was fine. The caller started to say something so I asked if I could put him on hold. Caller huffed but said fine. I pressed the hold button and then checked our connections. Both internet and intranet were on line.

Great. That left two possibilities: either a computer problem or a user problem.

I picked the line back up, apologized for keeping the guy waiting, and asked what his trouble was. He said the internet was down. “No, sir, I just checked it. That is what I did while you were on hold. Everything is running ok.” I walked him through how to check his desktop for a connection and sure enough, he had knocked a cable loose in the back of his CPU. Problem solved. He thanked me like I did something special and hung up.

First call of the day down, only about 60 more to go.

There were a few printer problems that I actually had to go over to check out and one where somebody’s monitor had mysteriously stopped working. It certainly looked like the monitor had taken a face plant at some point and the LED screen was shot but I just pretended to look puzzled. Then I went back to the office to get her another one. I don’t make the damage claims or have to pay for the new equipment so it is not my job to say something.  I just tag whatever is broken, put it on the repairs desk, and install the new one.

Toward the end of the day, we did have the intranet go down. It actually had nothing to do with us, it was the other office. They were updating something and just installed it in the wrong place. I called over there and asked them how long it would take to get up and running.  They said 15 minutes, but we told everyone here that it would be about a half hour. It didn’t take nearly that long, but my boss likes to be dramatic about wait times. He thinks that if we tell people it will take longer than it doeswe will be in the clear. If it takes that long, fine, but if not, we look like heroes for getting it done early. A lot of workers had left by the time it went back up, claiming that they couldn’t do their jobs with the intranet down. That was fine by us. Everyone is always grumbling at the IT department so we get on everyone’s good side a little this way. People like to leave early.

We operated with a skeleton crew for the last hour or so because all we needed was for someone to answer the phone once the intranet was back up. Guess who got to stay? Yup, me. It didn’t matter because I was on call for the next shift anyway so I had no plans. Luckily nobody needed anything else and the rest of my shift went just fine.

I had to walk away from a project for the first time ever, folks. That’s right, I jumped in the escape pod and plotted a course directly back to Planet Limux. I just couldn’t handle it.

Considering I deal with crabby, IT challenged people on a daily basis, not being able to handle one client will tell you something about the way this guy acted. I am always telling friends that if programming ever feels like it is becoming a chore, I will quit doing it in a second. And honestly, up til this guy, it really hasn’t. Sometimes things can be frustrating or tedious, but it is my passion and even the boring bits aren’t so bad. At least not to me.

Then I met this client.

He contacted me through my website, asking for a simple modification to an open source program that I am very familiar with. I gave him a quote and a timeframe, and he agreed to my terms. I turned it in on schedule, customization made and bug free. I expected the client to be satisfied, as I had completed the work successfully and promptly. Instead, I got an angry email that requested a bunch more work, which would take at least another day or two to complete. I chose my words carefully when I replied so that I would maintain my professional demeanor, but I clearly stated in my response that I did all the work I was hired to do and that any changes made at this point would be an additional project with an additional cost.

All of a sudden, my work was acceptable.

I tried to let that one go and not worry about it again, but the client contacted me again two weeks later for something else. Things were kind of slow and I had a gift I needed to purchase for a friend’s birthday, so I figured what would the harm be in accepting one more assignment? I could use the money and I thought it meant something that the client came back, that maybe they were happy with my work after all. I asked the client even more questions about what he wanted to try and avoid the same situation. We discussed what functionality he was looking for in the specific program he chose. I talked to him about small details and thought we were on the same page. I didn’t think there was any way we couldn’t be after all that back and forth.

Once again, however, after everything was completed, he found a bunch of things he wanted to change.

I went back through every discussion we had and saw that some of it was even stuff I had brought up and he had glossed over. It seemed that this was the way the client operated: he would ask for something small so that I would charge him something small, and then would try to get me to do more extensive coding free of charge by making it look like I didn’t complete the assignment to his specifications. However, everything was written down in our email exchange, so I knew I was not at fault. At that point, I felt ill just sitting down at my computer. I knew that no matter what I did, the client would find fault so that he could try and manipulate me into putting in more work for free.

I just wanted to be rid of this terrible feeling.

So I emailed him back and very politely said that I did not feel that I was the right programmer for him and that although I had tried my best, clearly we had communication problems and he would likely be happier with someone else. I wished him the best of luck and then blocked his email and IP address so that he can’t contact me anymore. It instantly made me feel a million times better.

What about you? Have you ever had a client like this? What did you do in the situation?