by Alex Papadimoulis

Problematic Problem (from Ben)
Way back when, I was responsible for doing on-site support for a fairly complex ERP solution that our company sold. My support radius was 100 miles, which meant I was on the road a lot and traveled to places I wasn't all that familiar with. My trusty navigation aide was a compass and a Rand McNally map book. Fancy, online mapping services weren't around yet, let alone super-fancy GPS units.

One day, I was assigned to visit a customer on the far end of my region (99.9999999 miles), first thing in the morning. It meant that, not only would I need to battle rush-hour traffic through the city, but then drive another 60 miles once that cleared. I was not a fan of early mornings, and getting that client on that wintry day meant a 5:30A departure with a 2.5 hour commute.

That morning, traffic was even worse than I anticipated. And to make matters worse, I had a terrible time finding the place. Fortunately, a kind fellow at the gas station pointed me in the right direction, and I was able to ring the client from the nearest pay phone to let them know I was running behind.

When I arrived, everything seemed to be downhill from there. I went to the receptionist, tacked on my visitor badge, headed over to the server room, set my briefcase down, and got to work. Before I could even try logging in, someone walked up to me and said, "hey, I know this isn't really your thing, but I'm desperate, and reeeeaaaallly need some help getting this report for our PM meeting."

It certainly wasn't my thing, but given that I was 30 minutes late, a little goodwill towards helping a company executive could only help. So I followed her to her office and helped troubleshoot the problem. An hour-and-a-half later, we had the report running, no problem. She was thrilled, and I headed back to the server room.

For some reason, I couldn't log-in to the server console, but the generous IT guy helped me past that hurdle by logging in with his credentials. But then I had another problem: I couldn't access any of the servers listed on my sheet. In fact, I couldn't even find a server that looked anything like ours.

I called the IT guy over again and asked him where our ERP server was. He shot a confused look to me, and said that he's pretty sure they don't have an ERP server. I assured him that they did, so he went back and looked into things on his end. Thirty minutes later, he assured me that they absolutely, positively, definitely don't have an ERP server.

We were both utterly confused. And then something dawned on me, and I silently prayed it wasn't true. I pulled out my sheet, showed it to the IT guy, and pointed towards the customer address heading. "That's you guys, right?"

As it turned out, not so much. Our actual customer was down the street, in another un-marked office building.



Problem supply (from Brendan)
Working as a coder for a small company that operates worldwide, I was on the team that deployed a project to China. Now I realize that my English is far from perfect, but dealing with Chinese customers in English has been quite the experience. One day, four months after going live with the new system, I received this mail from our Chinese client:

From: Louis Chang
To: Brendan ******
Subject: Problem supply
__________________________________________________ ___

Hi Brendan,

Sorry disturbing you. There is a problem with supply programme on the
button. Please advice?

Regards,

Lou Chang


Ah, the lingo of the busisness... I can imagine that you'd have the faintest idea what he was talking about... but don't worry, neither did I. So I replied to him, hoping to get a better description of his issue:

From: Louis Chang
To: Brendan ******
Subject: RE: Problem supply
__________________________________________________ ___

Hi Lou,

Could you please state your problem more clearly?

Thanks,
Brendan

I didn't have to wait long for his clarification, as his problem seemed to be really urgent.

From: Louis Chang
To: Brendan ******
Subject: RE: Problem supply
__________________________________________________ ___

There is a problem
with supply
programme on
the button.
Please advice?


Yup. Much better. Thanks.



A Text-Destroying Problem (from Esko Tanakka)
Back in 1999, I was just beginning my career and worked at a small store that built and configured computers for the public. Occasionally, I'd have to answer customer calls and help people with general computing problems.

One day, a man called in and immediately started complaining about how we sell utter crap, that we should take responsibility for our problems, and that he was owed money back because of the problems we caused.

I begged him to calm down and explain specifically what was wrong. He told me that our computer is destroying his text, and that something had to be done. At first, I thought his files were disappearing, but after more investigation, I discovered what his actual problem was: typing text in Microsoft Word overwrote previous text.

I told him that he simply had the INSERT key on, but he insisted that he never pressed that key, and that pressing the key did nothing. Running out of phone-support options, I told him hed need to bring in his computer. But first, I needed his warranty information.

Well, it turned out that he bought the computer seven years earlier, then had another company install Windows 95 and the Corel Office Suite. After hearing that, I told him that I obviously couldn't take the machine in. That just made him more angry, and he accused me of working for "Satan and his minions", and threw all sorts of other ridiculous insults at me. But then all of a sudden, he calmed down. Apparently, he actually tried pressing the INSERT key (as I asked him to do before), and his computer stopped destroying his text.