The Definitive Guide to Manning An IT Helpline

1. Under no circumstances must you be of any help.

2. Never pick up the phone.

3. If, however, you do mistakenly take a call from a subject needing assistance, then at all times ensure that either:
(a) You have sufficiently tedious bureaucratic processes in place to prevent your caller from being able to convey a succinct diagnosis of the problem and therefore forcing him/her to abandon their request.
(b) You are "extremely stretched" and will have to return their call.

4. Never call back when someone rings from their office at home.

5. If, in the unlikely event of you actually attending the scene of the stricken computer terminal, the following elementary procedures are advised:
(a) Repeat everything your subject says. (When they greet you with "my screen has frozen," you should wait a minute of two and then respond with "it looks like your screen has frozen" etc.)
(b) Pick up their mouse and look at the underside.
(c) Put the mouse back and jiggle it quickly from side to side.

6. Should your subject prove peculiarly persistent, there are two standard questions which help shift the blame and focus it back on to them:
(a) "How many applications have you got running?"
(b) "When was the last time you saved it?"
In both cases the answers are wholly irrelevant but you should nonetheless aim to wait a moment before giving a sharp intake of breath and then nodding your head gravely.

7. The "am I going to lose all my work?" question is always awkward. However, advances IT personnel sometimes risk an extra diversionary procedure here. Make an estimate of how long it is going to take your subject to redo everything they have lost, then offer to "retrieve" it in double this amount of time. Invariably, your subject will say "there's no point, it'll be quicker if I type it all in again" but you will at least have given the appearance of some capability. Be careful of this approach as bluffs can be called.

8. If (and only if) it becomes clear that your subject expects something to be done about their problem, you have two emergency options:
(a) Turn the computer off and on. (NB: you must always refer to this process as "rebooting".)
(b) Unplug the computer completely and then plug it back in again.
(NB: likewise, this is always referred to as "reseating the power

9. This is usually a painful moment, and given the distress of your subjects, it is often helpful to have some ready humour to lighten the mood. For example, if the words "a general protection fault" appear on the screen, you might want to make some amusing reference to condoms. (This can be followed up in the time-honoured tradition with reference to "RAMS" and "floppies" -see The Definitive Guide to IT Helpline Humour.)

10. In desperately extreme cases the failsafe escape route remains: "The server is down." But this is a last resort and should be delivered only when the exact blend of casual resignation and pent-up frustration (as though you are privately furious with the server's IT people) has been mastered.

Above all else, you should make sure that you convey the absolute conviction that nothing can be done to make things any better. is owned and maintained by Phillip McGree
Phone: 0418 922 500
Perth, Western Australia