Funny tech support transcripts

David Pogue of the NY Times visited a tech suppport center, and they gave him a CD with recordings of their favorite funny phone calls.
Caller: Hey, can you help me? My computer has locked up, and no matter how many times I type eleven, it won’t unfreeze.

Agent: What do you mean, “type eleven?”

Caller: The message on my screen says, “Error Type 11!”

On one call, the caller seemed to be taking an inordinately long time to complete each instruction she was given.

Agent: Ma’am, I can’t help noticing that every time I give you an instruction, it takes a really long time before you get back to me. Is your computer that slow?

Caller: Oh, no, it’s just the stupid, stupid design of this computer. Every time I want to click something, I have to unplug the keyboard to plug in the mouse. And then every time I want to use the keyboard again, I have to unplug the mouse. Because there’s only one jack.

Agent: Ma’am, you do realize that there’s a jack on the keyboard itself? You’re supposed to plug the mouse into the keyboard, and the keyboard into the computer.

Caller: Are YOU KIDDING ME!? Oh, wait a minute–yes, I see it now! Oh, holy cow. That’s going to be so much easier!

Agent: Just out of curiosity, how long have you been using your computer that way?

Caller: Six weeks!

Link (Thanks, Ian!)


  1. haha, these things are alwways fun to read (like the person who had trouble with the cord on their “foot pedal” being too short (yep, that would be the mouse). BUT they also reveal the point that most hardware/software is designed BADLY and it’s little wonder a lot of people have problems. Us geeky types can sit back and chuckle, but we’re to blame in many cases…

  2. These were taken from an apple support center, I’d guess from the early-mid 90s. The error type 11 was a common disk error in the Mac OS, and there was only one ADP port on the computer for the keyboard, and one on the keyboard for the mouse.

  3. As a Canadian I just don’t buy that last one about the “Control-A” vs “Control Eh” confusion. Not because Canadians are especially smart, but because it just doesn’t fit into the way we use the “eh” inflective.

    I’m sure my fellow Canucks would agree. We can always tell when Amercians are misusing the term, it’s like our secret handshake.

  4. Yeah, I agree with JOEKICKASS – that’s just a joke that ended up as a fake tech support story.

  5. Yeah, that last “Canadian” one was either a prank call on the Tech Support person or a fake all together.

  6. I especially hate having to remove my soda from the cup holder when I want to put in a CD.

  7. is a great site for these types of stories. I bet the CTRL-A/CTRL-eh thing is a fake but one time, the guy sitting next to me did get a “power is out and I can’t get my email” call. He said it sounded like an elderly man so it’s possible it wasn’t a prank. I also used to intentionally bug Americans when spelling out a word with a “Z” in it. Most don’t know what the hell you’re talking about when you say “Zed” instead of “Zee”.

  8. I’ve been thinking of doing some data recovery type computer support on the side….

    This puts me off big time.

    Unless I get someone to buffer me from the general public… *looks toward wife*….

  9. All of this is meant to show how stupid people are, I guess, but I don’t see it that way. “Error message type 11”, what is that supposed to mean? How is this useful information? Why even have such an error message? How is this not more stupid than the apparent misinterpretation? Do any Boing Boing readers care to supply the correct interpretation of this cryptic message? We laugh at the fool who takes the message literally, but we don’t question the idiocy of the message so much in the first place.

  10. Zipped #1: I totally agree. As an IT guy I’m supposed to find these funny, but they’re always really sad. Both in the way that other tech people seem to gloat over these experiences and also how they illustrate huge technical design flaws. I see each one of these “funny calls” as a failure of technology to fulfill a promise.

  11. Do any Boing Boing readers care to supply the correct interpretation of this cryptic message?

    Comment #2 did.

  12. Hey, maybe the spam is just a new bb sponsorship campaign. “This story brought to you by Toxic Herbal \/1agra!” It would validate their claim that ad dollars don’t influence content… :-D

  13. Dumb users are not the problem, though it’s fun (for the intellectually discriminate) to read them.

    Designers and programmers should not take all the fault to themselves either, because one should know that it’s impossible to design a perfect software that works for everyone (though it’s a great dream).

    Most technical support I talked to are incredibly polite and efficient people, and I always thanked them when I’m done with a call. I tried to keep my frustration to the minimum. They are usually very professional and would hardly ever treat their callers like newbies (except Best Buy store managers).

    The worst people are the ones who take their anger out of the technical support. Those who wrote in horrible languages, illegible grammar (ALL CAPS), and those who threaten to get their money back, and those who scream on the phone. Tech supp are not there to be screamed at, they were there to help people out.

    It’s sad that people who are “willing” to help are being treated badly.

  14. Tech supp are not there to be screamed at

    So put somebody behind the phones who is there to be screamed at, like the idiot manager who is responsible for the problem in the first place. There is going to be screaming and somebody deserves it.

    If the only people who will answer your call are tech support, then they’re going to get all that stuff as well.

  15. I’m sure that these are like most stories that get passed around the internet and are 90% fake.

  16. I don’t wish to be the “I work in IT so I’m getting a kick out of these comments” guy, but…

    Point The First – I’ve found more often then not I get phone calls where people try and try and try to explain their problem and I just can’t understand what they’re trying to accomplish. I end up walking over to their desk and as soon as I get there, my mere presence has fixed whatever issue they were having. They don’t pay me any more for this skill, but I use my free time to read Boing Boing.

    Point The Second – I worked help desk for a day trading firm and I was actually told by my boss that if the customers (who were technically staff from offices we owned) started yelling and swearing, I could hang up on them. I never did before, I usually sat there and took it. As soon as he said that, I started doing it. Guess what pisses off customers more than the computers?

    Carry on.

  17. As someone who is moderately computer literate, I have spoken to a few tech support people who were completely illiterate technically. I’m embarrassed to admit that I spent two and a half hours on the phone with HP last month, talking to a support person who really, really didn’t understand the difference between hardware and software. Some of these people are just droids following a script.

    On the other hand, I’m also embarrassed to admit that a friend of mine called me in hysterics this week because her monitor was blank. I asked her if it was turned on and she had no idea how to turn it on or off.

  18. I can neither confirm nor deny anything in relation to that matter or any other, at this point in time, and am not inclined to do so. With respect.

  19. Not that this is related to the article, but I feel compelled to share a tech support story. I did tech support for a living for longer than I care to admit. One of my jobs was internal support for a BIG company often associated with a primary color (‘internal’ means we provided support for the employees of the company, not the end users on the street). I had a confrontation with a caller one day where he was upset that I wouldn’t help him with an issue that my management had clearly instructed us not to assist with- an ‘out of scope’ problem. He felt that since he was working on such a high dollar deal, that I should make an exception and he demanded to speak to the supervisor. The caller knew the supervisor was was another employee of this company, not a lowly contractor like me. The super was nice enough to let me listen in to how he handled it. The first thing the super asked was ‘how much is this deal you’re working on worth?’ When the caller responded with ‘about five million’, the super said- ‘Oh, I see. Well, we only make exceptions if the deal is worth at least ten million. Feel free to give us another call if you can get a deal that’s worth our time.’
    That made my day, and years later still brings a smile to my face when I think about it.

  20. I worked in tech support (for Apple! I think I’ve heard this CD!!!) for a few years, and I have to throw my 2 cents on the pile of pennies here.

    There was always a policy that if someone swore or became abusive, you could end the call if you were offended. 99% of the techs used this as an excuse to dump troublesome callers. See, in my mind, you can’t disconnect a call for someone saying “fuck,” then turn around and say “I disconnected the fucker.” You’re obviously not offended by bad language, and neither am I.

    The other problem is that if you disconnect someone who’s angry, what are they going to do? You’ve just wasted 45 minutes of their time on hold (those were the hold times then–good lord). They still have whatever problem they originally had, plus they are now out 1.5 hours because they have to call again. This, remarkably, does little to assuage their anger.

    Furthermore, when you disconnect people for being upset, or dump them when something is going to take a long time to solve on the phone and tell them to call back, you end up getting longer and longer wait times, because all the people in the queue are calling for their 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 8th times. You’re just making your job harder and their lives worse.

    So here’s what I started doing: Listen. Scan the tirade for useful information, and let the rest (even the abuse!) just roll right off of you. This person doesn’t know you and isn’t really angry at you. They are angry at another tech who screwed them up, or a design flaw, or the fact they didn’t back up their dissertation and it’s gone, or at their husband, or at who knows what. They’re just angry, and who hasn’t been there? Just let them go!

    When they calm down (and they will, and it actually won’t be that long–5 min tops), let go of the mute button (that you were using so you could chat with your cube neighbor while the customer got all this off their chest), and recap: “Okay, so let me see if I’ve got this right…” Just having the tech list back the essence of the problem (usually like one or two things–just time and frustration blew them our of proportion) calms most people right down. Someone has done the human thing and listened to them, and has also showed them that the problem is totally surmountable and that we can handle this together.

    You do that, and you find that the angriest callers turn into the sweetest callers, because you have given them what they really wanted: a sympathetic ear from someone who can help. You have shared a personal moment, and are now socially connected, and regular rules of social engagements apply. Politeness, courtesy, and — for North Americans, anyway — no power distance. You are two people, on the phone, working to solve the same problem. Together.

    I am going to go out on a limb and say that 100% of the people I treated like this left the call satisfied and happy to be Apple customers. Maybe they were still upset about losing data, or about their laptop dying a week out of warranty, but now they saw that that was the entirety of the problem. A giant, faceless corporation did not have it in for them.

    Treat customers like people and you will make your job easier, more satisfying, and will make your company more successful.

  21. Hilarious….I used to work in a call center for a credit card company that shall remain nameless. But, I have definitely had my run in of similar types of calls. One person wanted to know why he had a credit card late fee charged to his account. I explained clearly to him that it was because we received his credit card payment on time. He said he mailed it to us on the due date. I replied we have to receive by the due date. He argued that it was postmarked on the due date. I explained again that we have to receive it on the due date. And that’s when he began to nasty. Some people just don’t listen.

  22. I work in IT too. One of the funniest one’s I’ve gotten was a phone message saying, “My computer is baulking like a chicken”. And in the background, I can hear it. I go to their computer, and sure enough. It was the audio player playing in the background.

    Another time, someone’s computer ate the CD from the cd-rom drive. Literally, it swallowed it. I had to open the case, because the CD fell inside.

    Just tonight, we were doing a major server change, so we emailed everyone multiple times to get out of the main application before 5pm. 5pm comes around, and this girl asks my co-worker if it is OK to get into the application and he tells her no. A little while later she calls me saying she tried opening the application and it isn’t working right. Umm… yeah no kidding. How many warnings do we need to give you!

  23. @voalse,
    Wow, I didn’t even know that Unicef sold prescription meds! The worst part is that I went to report the spam to Unicef, but all of the feedback forms were broken.

    And where the hell are the BB moderators?

    (At least I know that I won’t be moded for swearing)

  24. #22 xadrian says … as soon as I get there, my mere presence has fixed whatever issue they were having …

    Hey, I just realized. I too have this power to cause technical problems to fix themselves by my mere proximity. And here we were, thinking that superpowers only existed in comics. We must give this power a name. :-)

  25. I also worked for a support center where we were allowed to hang up on customers who became abusive. I only had to do it a couple of times. Usually, just warning the customer that we *could* do it as they were starting to get abusive was enough to get them to settle down.

  26. “I’m sure that these are like most stories that get passed around the internet and are 90% fake.”

    …Sadly, this is not the case. Probably only 10% are potentially fake, or at least hyped up. Having worked phone tech support, I can personally confirm that a lot of these stories are true, and more than one idiot user makes the same mistake(s). From my own experience, the worst callers are as follows:

    * The over-50 rural farmer, who bought the computer because someone told him it would help him run his farm better. The problem is that he’ll memorize every spec about his system and insist on reciting it to you over the phone even though you stress that you’ve got that data already by pulling up his purchase order. If you let him finish, every single time it ends with the following question: “Well, I don’t know how to use this hear thing, and I need you to tell me how to do what I need to do with it.” That’s *NOT* what tech support is for, and when you explain that to the sodbuster, he demands your manager and promises to have you fired. The sad part? The managers are usually such spineless poofs that they’ll do just that no matter how diplomatically you handled the matter.

    * The freshwoman college bimbo. These are the ones who call up with a really minor problem that requires a part replacement, but are insistant that because their “boyfriend/fucktoy” told them it was “just a driver problem”, they INSIST that you walk them through a driver reinstall. If there’s no driver applicable – especially in the case of, say, a Keyboard molex issue – then they file a complaint that you wouldn’t help them. If you humor them and try anyway, they still file a complaint because you just made them look like an idiot for having listened to their studmuffin in the first place.

    * The warranty violator. These are the ones who’ve spilled coffee in their notebooks, and spend weeks going from tech to tech trying to find someone who’ll believe their case – that they didn’t spill *anything*, and that the tech who came onsite was either wrong or lying so he didn’t have to replace the system. The problem here is that 1 out of 1000 times, there *wasn’t* a spill, and that the tech mistook rosin flux that wasn’t properly cleaned off in the Fab plant for dried coffee – they look about the same. The worse problem is that when you recall the system and prove it’s flux and not coffee, you get a lot of people in trouble, and in turn they start going after your ass. It’s almost to your best benefit to just fake an accidental disconnect and let the next tech take the call.

    * The Speaker Phone caller. Speaker phones cause a lot of problems during tech calls because they’re not usually duplex – whoever talks first has priority. So if Joe Customer is making a mistake in a procedure, by the time he hears you yelling “NOOO! DON’T DO THAT!!!”, it’s usually too late, and then he’ll blame you for his own idiocy. The sadder part is that if you try to explain why they need to be off the speaker phone, they’ll file a complaint on you.

    …So yeah, there’s a few more, but those few were enough to dissuade me from doing phone tech support ever again. I’ll manage a phone bank, but I won’t work in the trenches again. Not until they start requiring computer users be trained and licensed like motor vehicle drivers, and tech support lines include the notice of “Don’t argue with the tech, do what he/she says, any arguments = voided warranty, no exceptions!”

  27. Hmm… they gave him an CD of actual recordings? Doesn’t anyone see a privacy problem there, no matter how funny the recordings might be? I surely wouldn’t want any of my calls to any tech support ending up by any newspaper…

  28. There’s a hilarious recording of an actual service desk log from MS Brazil where a customer complains about the “MS Original Software Advantage” messages that started to flow in her computer screen.

    After the second question, the service desk clerk guesses that she has a pirated copy and says that she must purchase an original license and explains how it can be done on-line.

    But the “customer” keeps insisting (sometimes with bizarre language) that she purchased the copy. That she payed for that.

    It is impossible to transcribe with all the fun, but it can be heard at youtube:

    Well, it is in Portuguese… guess that Spanish speaking people will be able to understand all.

  29. @ #28 – I’m 100% with you.

    I worked in internal tech support, so I didn’t get as many screaming irates as you do dealing with commercial customers, but I did deal with highly strung, hysterical employees on tight deadlines.
    And once, memorably, with an executive who’d lost all faith in all tech support – he wanted to tell us about his problem, but he didn’t want us to touch his computer. It needed to be fixed, but we “couldn’t” touch his computer because he’d had so many problems with techs before.

    Most people respond very well to a confident, sympathetic, no-nonsense voice on the other end of the line. But it helps to back up your “aura of competence” with actually knowing how to do the job!

    The frazzled executive turned out to be a fairly simple call to handle – “Well sir, if we aren’t allowed to fix your problem, what can I do for you?” We eventually negotiated that I’d fix his computer while he was far far far away so he wouldn’t have to hover over me stressing out over the possibility of everything being broken.

    Sometimes there’s absolutely nothing you can do to help the situation – but if you’re internal to the company, you might be able to find the person who can help and get the issue to them. Or at least give the customer some numbers to call, and explain to them what kind of information the other guy will want.

  30. My favorite Tech-support call was one that a customer left on the answering machine over the weekend. It went something like:
    Saturday 5pm
    “What the f#$% did you do to my system? I sent it in for repairs and when you brought it back the screen was all blue! I spent the entire day trying to re-install the video card drivers, and I’m calling you from a pay phone because I just threw my office phone through a wall trying to call you!”
    Sunday 6pm
    “Um… hey guys, it’s me again. Listen, i’m sorry about the message I left yesterday, the system is all running fine now… um… sorry… bai”

    Turns out he didn’t plug the monitor in all the way and the loose cable was turning his screen blue.

  31. My personal favorite was the lady who had a question about time zones and e-mail. The conversation went something like this:

    Her: “We’re two hours time difference from California, right?”

    Me: “Right.”

    Her: “So if someone in California sends me an e-mail at 10:00 California time, will I receive it at 10:00 our time?”

    Me: “You mean will the e-mail travel back in time and arrive before it was sent? No.”

    Her: “Oh.”

    It may LOOK like it, but it’s really not magic, folks. The laws of physics still apply.

  32. Nah, in order Lawyers, Doctors and Teachers are the worst.

    Funny warranty violator call: Working for AST computers, customer calls, wants to know what ram he has in his pc. His particular model and serial number range had two possibilities: one of which was that the ram was soldered in place. Only way to check was to pop the hood. First thing I did was ask him to turn off the pc and unplug the power cord. “I’m not stupid.” was his reply. Ok. Walked him through unscrewing the case, gettting a flashlight and checking, and sure enough, he has the soldered-in, ie un-removable kind. “Just a second…random odd crunching noises…Zorch!” He decided to rip the RAM out with his needlenose pliers, and since the pc was still on at the time…

    But my favorite “calls” were when I worked for SWBell Internet Services on the email team. We’d get, daily, emails that said “Hi, I can not send or receive email. Please fix!!!! -Jim” Or something like that, but rarely, insanely rarely, would anyone ever give us their full name, or their username, so we had no way of knowing who they were to call them back to fix the problem. I always emailed them back a short note that said “Yes, you can.” Which would then generate nasty emails about how no, they really couldn’t send OR receive emails…

    Now I just deal with oil field workers who literally have mice living in their computers out in the field, and tell me that they just have a “problem with the mouse” never specifying that it’s an actual live-blooded mouse that they are having a problem with. Gah!

  33. Oh, and don’t forget the infamous Claris Works tech support call. It sounds like one of the Jerky Boys, and is definitely a prank call, but is soooo funny. One of my managers had us all listen to it, as an example of how not to laugh or whatever even when the customer on the phone is spouting off inane gibberish.

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