3 painfully basic help desk requests that haunt IT pros

Marc Thaler

How many office workers does it take to replace the ink toner in a printer?

No, that is not a joke. In my somewhat embarrassing experience, the answer is four.

Forget swapping one cartridge for another. Finding the right one quickly became the bigger problem for me and, ultimately, three of my co-workers. One of them kindly offered to help, but threw her hands up in defeat (or was it disgust?) five minutes later.

PrinterFew things are more maddening than the feeling that your printer is taunting you. Entertaining this thought, which was brilliantly brought to life in the cult hit “Office Space,” wasn’t my proudest moment:

In reality, I was painfully close to pestering IT. If not for the persistence of a colleague, who successfully restored order, I’d have:

  • Become the punchline of a joke.
  • Greatly irritated our help desk heroes for bombing this basic job.

Which fate is worse?

“It depends what kind of day you’re having,” says one IT pro, no doubt speaking from experience.

Rather sadly, I suppose, solving basic printer problems ranks among the most common user requests that reach the help desk. Read this recent thread on Reddit. “I was asked to fix the printer again” is good for a few laughs. But mixed in with the venting are sensible solutions. The thread also includes this comment, which likely describes the life of countless IT admins:

“As an engineer, my knowledge is pretty specialized. If a printer goes wonky ... I've got something better to do then futz with it (and possibly break it). Just as I would want someone to refer to me in times of engineering emergencies (and I know how manufacturing whips up into a frenzy when something doesn't assemble proper or a drawing is too vague), I often refer techie problems to more experienced counterparts.

“Or I would, if I wasn't also head of IT at my job...yay small companies!”
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Here are two more ridiculously common user requests. If you’re an IT pro, the guess here is they probably make you cackle, cringe, cry—or some combination thereof:

“I’m having password problems. Help?!”
The SANS Institute’s 2013 Help Desk Security and Privacy Survey found that a help desk agent is asked to reset a user’s password roughly 65% of the time; initial password generation is requested with even greater regularity (75%).

The report notes that “most survey respondents still rely on live help desk agents to complete password resets, even when self-service provisioning services are offered. One respondent stated, “Most of our users still call the help desk to be led through the self-service protocols.” Another called this issue the ‘chicken and egg’ problem of self-service: “The functionality is complex enough that users still require assistance with the process.”

“How do I (insert task) in Office 365 (insert application)? Help?!”
Requests to help users with basic tasks in business applications must drive you batty, right? The SANS study found that only 20% of users successfully troubleshoot issues involving basic productivity applications without haunting the help desk.

You do the math.

Here are five more popular problems that raise IT pros’ blood pressure (feel free to expand on this list of honorable mentions in the comment section below):

Is your skin sufficiently crawling yet? More importantly, how can you minimize, if not eliminate altogether, the number of tiresome requests and rants you receive from users? Taking an active role in training is an excellent step. Create and circulate informational tips. Periodically offer an in-house class.

Sure, teaching the basics means finding time in your busy schedule. But it’s important to approach user education as an investment. Consider the return—to the company in general and you in particular—that comes with it.

Besides, you already know the alternative: You’re just a phone call away. That’s a blessing for the workforce, if often a curse for you.