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For the last three months, I've been working in an IT department with first- and second-level IT support. This differs from a call center where someone picks up the phone and quickly creates a ticket so they can take the next call. Instead, I am supposed to take ownership of an individual IT issue and try to solve it before moving on to the next issue.

My 700 users are accustomed to the terrible support my predecessor used to provide. A minority of these users - some 20 or 30 - call and call nonstop, until somebody picks up, regardless of the urgency of the request - like needing an HDMI cable.
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I can't pick up immediately, because I am actively working on tickets or projects, or on a support call with another customer.

This harassing behavior damages the relationship. The more often they call, the more unwilling I am to pick up the phone or call back once I am finished with my current task.

I've looked for existing resources to try and figure out how to repair the relationship, but nothing I could find appeared helpful (ITIL - Information Technology Infrastructure Library) because they seem to be built on a perfect world scenario.

How would you deal with those intrusive customers who try to annoy themselves up the queue?

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    Seems like you started figuring out why the previous support was so bad. Being called 3x in two minutes would make anyone crack eventually. – Dirk Oct 18 at 9:59
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    This is similar to a situation I was in not too long ago. I had a user who was trying to subvert the regular support process, so I asked a question here. The answers seem like they might be relevant to your problem: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/110137/… – Lumberjack Oct 18 at 13:07
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    Possible duplicate of Changing priorities too much – Steve Oct 18 at 13:55
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    Are you sure the HDMI cable request (and the other ones) isn't urgent? If they need it to connect their only monitor to their computer, this could very well prevent them from getting any work whatsoever done. It's not always obvious how urgent something is for someone else. – NotThatGuy Oct 18 at 19:52
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    Also you mention tickets but it isn't clear if you actually have a ticketing system. Is there a way for your customers to open tickets themselves? When they attempt to contact you it should automatically generate a ticket, if they aren't getting any response that their request has been received you can't really blame them for calling back. – Jesse_b Oct 18 at 22:20

16 Answers 16

18

I've worked in environments that had similar, poor cultures regarding IT helpdesk/servicedesk. I have personal experience improving those cultures and I'll outline below my advice on the subject.

You:

these 20-30 really make the work unenjoyable...How would you deal with those intrusive customers...?

To answer your question: Don't take it personally. You are an IT professional, a paid employee. Your job is not to be a phone-answering-machine, but to coordinate multiple complex issues across a business.

Importantly, as a service role, it's easy to forget you are not the last-stop. Who does IT call when they have issues? As you experience issues in your job, you need to reach out to your teammates who support you (as appropriate): Management, HR, coworkers, etc.

Ultimately, the right person to resolve this is the person responsible for IT operations. If that person is you, be excited! You get to mold your job into something you enjoy—not everyone has this privilege. If you hate the idea of that, you have the wrong job.


The more often they call, the more unwilling I am to pick up their phone or call back once I am finished with my current task.

Is this an emotional response or are there negative consequences (disciplinary action from management) to them calling a lot? If there are no consequences don't be worried about this. This is simply poor culture and can mostly be resolved. There are always hard-to-work-with people. Once you realize this, you can stop emotionally investing in these people and move on.

The Business:

From what you described, it seems there is a poor helpdesk/servicedesk culture.

The first thing you can do is be consistent. Build a routine that works and stick to it. If a customer has an issue with your routine, realize that you resolved your problem and that the customer is complaining about their problem (their poor culture/expectations of you).

Second, I would identify all the issues you are facing, what attempts you have made to resolve them, and what you suggest the resolution should be (with professional sources). Take this to your management and get their responses (emotional investment) to all the issues.

Finally, with the clear understanding from management, build a plan from their feedback and implement it. Your customers may complain, and management may make changes or change their mind completely. Make the changes to your plan and continue—don't let this discourage you, it's completely normal—but still discouraging.

If management does not invest, or makes changes to the plan that are unsustainable, realize that this problem is un-resolvable. At that point, it becomes about your engagement; are you willing to support management's poor decisions?

If management supports you, make sure to enjoy yourself, you've accomplished something!


The Customer:

On here, there are a lot of good—and bad—answers on what you can do or change. My suggestion is take all three "stakeholders" into account when identifying needed changes. The stakeholders being you, the business, and the customer.

I've seen a lot of IT departments that design things in their (selfish) favor. Making themselves hard to contact, allowances for long turnaround times, etc. These often punish the customer and management allows this because they are clueless and/or helpless.

On the contrary side, I've seen IT departments that have little say in how they operate. Without the ability to improve their department, they are buried in inefficiency.

Here are some suggestions to improve your department:

  • Implement a limited-availability window during a slow time period, such as Friday afternoons, to work on issues affecting your own department. This gives you time to improve your department without worrying about break-fix issues.
  • Identify common issues and implement complete fixes or automate their resolution. Reducing common issues reduces call volume. I went from ~60 calls a day to ~8 over a period of four years by taking time to implement full solutions instead of workarounds.
  • Display your helpdesk procedure at the primary location where your customers interact with you. Such as on the webpage for your ticket system or as a recording on your helpdesk phone, etc. Having your customers know how to contact you, what to expect, and how to appropriately escalate their issues, goes a long way to improving your interactions with the customers—and allows you to clearly show to management when customers aren't following the procedure.
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You're never going to eliminate this behavior entirely - some people always feel the need to be doing something regarding their "need" no matter how pointless or even potentially counter-productive it is (see the people who will sit at the back of a solid traffic jam that clearly isn't moving at all and honk their car's horn)

You're probably having a particularly bad experience though because of your predecessor's terrible responsiveness. They effectively learned that the only way to ever get a response was to call and call until the phone was answered.

One way to try and address this is by talking individually to the nagging users and say something like

I know it's frustrating when you can't get through on the support number but if I'm not answering it's because I'm on another job. I get a log of the calls on my phone so when I'm done with that job I will get back to you, I know [predecessor] wasn't good at getting back to you but I'm not them. I'm not ignoring you and want to give you the best support I can but I'm only one person and can't be everywhere at once so I need you to work with me. If I don't answer straight away leave me a message with some info on why you called and I'll get back to you just as soon as I can.

And then you need to follow through - call people back as soon as you get free and hopefully after a few times of seeing that you do get back to them they'll unlearn the previous behaviors.

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    Or the users learned to nag because the predecessor wouldn't move otherwise. Once they understand that problems will be solved, they may end up toning down their urgency. It may help to have a help queue with counter, or else a fixed contingent of "urgency" points per month which guarantee priority treatment, but only for a fixed number of times. – Captain Emacs Oct 18 at 10:52
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    "I know [predecessor] wasn't good at getting back to you but I'm not them." - Might as well just leave this part out. – Yates Oct 18 at 19:18
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    @Yates I disagree. I work at a place where the IT response is awful, and if somebody told me to quit checking in on my tickets with a promise that they'd definitely respond as soon as they are able, I'd not believe them at all. I certainly wouldn't quit following up, because I know from lots of experience that the ticket will never be fulfilled if I follow that instruction. However, if they gave me a believable reason why things would be different, such as a change in staff, then I would be more willing to back off. Maybe it could be worded more diplomatically though. – Kat Oct 18 at 21:44
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    Asking someone nicely to stop a behavior can work well. But then it really comes down to your own ability to deliver a solution to them. – Nathan Goings Oct 18 at 23:08
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As a person who worked in the first-line IT HelpDesk and helped reduce it need.

Talk with your manager about proper communication of your presence. Remind them about proper procedure of creating tickets (maybe your system need auto-update function to send notifications after each stage, maybe tasks are nor graded and users are not informed on time required to finish certain tickets, maybe all tickets are put in bucket "3-4 weeks").

If your company don't have such policy create one and let everyone know that phone calls should be used only when you have no access to computer/network/etc. So in general, you are unable to create a ticket. To make the support reachable when such cases occur and not block the line. Make people aware that calling to ask "when I will get my mousepad" will be reported to their manager.

Create a system ( I called it pen and paper) to make a notch each time someone calls with such problem. Yes, it require you to pickup the phone for a week but after that you can go to your manager and raport "I have 30 calls a day with ticket-solvable issues. That translate to 1 hour a day wasted". Then your manager can prepare a table to show to their bosses how much work is not done (so delaying issue-solving) due to phonecalls.

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    +1 for measuring the impact and gathering evidence. I believe, rresenting hard numbers really help in these types of situations. – Helena Oct 18 at 18:24
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    "If your company don't have such policy create one..." I'd suggest working closely with your manage to create policies. Having your leadership personally invested in a better process motivates them to support you. – Nathan Goings Oct 18 at 21:48
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Your predecessor trained people to not follow the rules. You just need to train them to follow the rules.

  • Make sure there's a clear understanding about the proper method of requesting and following up on work. Start with a baseline. Make sure people know what the rules are.
  • When users deviate, seek first to meet their needs, but also reinforce the proper channels - consistently. Make yourself sound like a broken record. Tell them every time they call. Do it with a smile - if you come off as confrontational, you'll do nothing but reinforce the stereotype that IT support staff are rude and unhelpful. That's not the message you want to send.
  • Reinforce good behavior by responding appropriately when people follow the rules. Make sure you are responding according to the rules. Once people see that you will, in fact, actually get them that HDMI cable (if they follow the rules), they won't feel the need to call you. You don't like it when they nag you, but remember - they probably don't like nagging you. If you make it clear that they don't need to nag, they will appreciate that, once they've seen that they can get what they want by following the rules.

Users are like pets, or children. You need to set boundaries, guide them to the boundaries, and then reinforce them with rewards once they're there. You need to train them, not just get upset by them.

And, at the risk of sounding like I'm finger-wagging or scolding, it's worth keeping in mind that end users will have their own sense of priority, which might not map to yours - and you may not have the full context of their problem. To you, it may be a basic, low-priority request for an HDMI cable, but for the end user, it may be incredibly frustrating or even show-stopping that they can't plug in that second monitor, or connect their laptop to the projector for the presentation they're supposed to be giving their boss in 5 minutes. So, as part of your effort to train them, be sure you're allowing them to make high priority requests without incurring a knee-jerk response from you that they're incorrect about the severity of their problem.

  • You're assuming the predecessor didn't ignored calls because of what is currently going on. That's a bold assumption. – Dan Oct 18 at 16:54
  • Sorry, I'm not sure I understand your point - I'm not sure how I'm making any assumption at all, much less a bold one. I mentioned the predecessor based on the OP's statement of, users are used to a terrible support from my predecessor. Tickets were not handled at all anymore, so some of them just call and call nonstop – dwizum Oct 18 at 17:35
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    Yeah but you're assuming the predecessor was giving terrible support and the staff are behaving that way as a result of that terrible support. Instead of perhaps the staff constantly calling/emailing/etc to the predecessor until eventually he/she ignored it completely. – Dan Oct 18 at 18:11
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    @Dan Even if you are correct, I don't see how that changes the validity of dwizium's answer. dwizium hasn't assumed anything, because his advice applies equally well whether this "assumption" is true or not. Regardless of how things got to be the way they are at OP's office, this advice is a solid way to get back to good practice. – Steve-O Oct 18 at 18:26
  • @Dan you're assuming the predecessor was giving terrible support and the staff are behaving that way as a result of that terrible support How can you claim that's an assumption, when the OP literally said, users are used to a terrible support from my predecessor. Tickets were not handled at all anymore, so some of them just call and call nonstop It seems clear that the OP was stating that users called nonstop because of the previously poor support. I appreciate you giving feedback on my answer, but I'm just feeling a bit lost as to how to interpret your feedback. – dwizum Oct 18 at 19:06
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I didn't really see this mentioned in the other answers but the more I read/think about this, the more I believe your department/organization is wrong and not the users.

When a user contacts the service desk, they should walk away with nothing less than a confirmation that their request has been received and a ticket number that they can use to direct blame at a later date if that ticket doesn't get handled appropriately. If they aren't getting a ticket number it's perfectly acceptable for them to keep calling until they do.

You mention that your organization is 700+ users. To me that means the system you currently have in place is completely unacceptable. If a phone system is going to be used for a company that large it has to be answered every single time. Since you said you aren't a call center that seems unreasonable. Your options are:

  1. No longer accept calls as a method of initiating a service request. (believe it or not this is becoming the standard practice for any large organization)
    • A better alternative to this is an email address users can send requests to that will automatically (if it's not automated forget about it) generate a ticket and respond to the user with a confirmation that their request was received and a ticket number they can reference.
    • The above system should also be accessible via a portal so users can log in to check on the status of their tickets.
  2. Outsource tier 1 to a call center.
    • This doesn't alleviate the need to get a proper ticketing system.

Ultimately it sounds like your IT department is failing the company and the users are doing what they should be doing to ensure business continues as usual.

8

Nobody seems to have given the obvious simple answer:

Get a voicemail system.

Use it 100% of the time. NEVER answer the service desk number in person. Ideally, get a system that will display the caller IDs on screen so you can "accidentally reschedule" the people who ring 20 times in an hour to the end of your work queue. But any system is better than none.

If you have to call someone back to get more information and/or fix their problem, that's fine - you are in control of when that situation occurs and, not them.

Of course if you are working in a safety-critical environment, this answer is over-simplified, and you do need a "live hotline" for the problems that really are critical - but most service desk problems are not a matter of life and death.

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    "most service desk problems are not a matter of life and death." No, but many can be a matter of closing a sale, hitting a deadline, preventing a larger issue. For example, fixing a regulatory audit finding as it's found. – Nathan Goings Oct 18 at 21:45
  • Also, if you can get the approval from your manager, use Google Voice. Google Voice transcribes your voice mails and emails you those transcripts in real-time. It's also super configurable and lets you forward those voice mails to others via email should you need to delegate them. – Stephan Branczyk Oct 19 at 5:13
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    I don't agree with pushing people to the end of the line just because they nag. Sure, they are beahivng badly, but spitefulness will not stop that behavior. Be professional and prioritize according to business needs. – Emil Vikström Oct 20 at 10:02
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Working in the same kind of service desk as you do, you have to educate your customers (internal or external).

Every time you pick the phone, kindly tell them that you'd be pleased to help them, but you are not available right now. Could they, please, open a ticket with the detail of their demand?

If they already have a ticket, ask them to post a comment on the ticket if they have additional information to provide, and to log the content of your phone conversation with them as a comment in the ticket.

Most of them will quickly getting bored to have to write the content of your phone conversation in the ticket everytime they call and soon they'll see they do not get anything from calling you.

More important, give a deadline, say

I'll do it by 7 PM today.

So they know when it will be done and can focus on something else.

  • The key here is getting people to realise that you're not just ignoring them, but you have a queue of other tickets to get through first. Theoretically tickets could give them an idea of how long that will take, and help you remember the details of the request. – Robin Bennett Oct 18 at 12:43
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Answer the phone when you're able to and give the user an estimated time to deal with their request. Tell them that you're currently busy with earlier calls.

As long as you're not asking them to wait too long, they'll have an idea of when they'll be dealt with. This should help to stop the constant calls for attention.

If they accept the terms of your first call ("I'll be able to deal with this in x minutes), then you're at liberty to ignore all of those calls up until that point.

Knowing how long they're likely to wait should mitigate these pestering calls.

4

How would you treat with those intrusive customers who try to annoy them self up the queue?

You treat them like any other customer. You answer their call when you are available or if you are using some sort of queue system you add them to the queue and work on their request when it is their turn.

Keep in mind that some customers will be persistent regardless of what you do, but most reasonable people will adjust to the correct way of doing things once they realize that constantly calling is not going to get them a higher level of support than others who abide by the established policy.

3

Assuming Jacky is an inhouse customer and not an external customer:

  1. Contact Jacky directly and tell them to stop that behavior. A common threat is "the more you call, the longer it will take until I can get to your request, because while I am handling your messages I am unable to get any work done".
  2. If that doesn't work, escalate the problem to Jacky's boss. Explain how many work-hours get taken up by unnecessary followup calls and quantify the business cost of that behavior.

If Jacky is an external customer: People like this are the reason why many companies have a call center. The call center agents act as a line of defense between customers and specialists. It's their responsibility to appease these people, distill down their requests to the essentials and forward it to the specialists.

  • Tell her where she is in the queue too, so she knows that you're not just ignoring her. – Robin Bennett Oct 18 at 12:40
3

The first step is to analyze the organizational structure. There is a customer who calls the agent. And at the same time, the agent has a supervisor who explains to the agent what he should do next. Most descriptions how a callcenter works assume, this organizational structure is fixed and the idea is to find the optimal behavior for the agent. If the search for a strategy fails, the agents feels overwhelmed by the caller and deals with lots of open tickets in the queue.

The answer to the problem is surprisingly easy. There is a need to question which kind of organizational structure a call center really has. The good news is, that the theoretical description is already available in the literature under the term total customer orientation (TCO). TCO defines the organizational structure in a help desk from a certain perspective. The idea is, that the supervisor in the callcenter is not the supervisor, but becomes a minor position. That means, the agent is allowed to criticize the supervisor, but not the other way around.

Understanding this principle in theory and use it in reality will solve all the problems which are there. What is important to know for a single agent is, that he can't become polite in 360 degrees. He can only become friendly into one direction which is to the customer. The other direction which leads to the supervisor is reserved for the mechanical conversation. This strategy helps to blame the right person for unsolved problems. What i want to explain is, that the supervisor in the helpdesk but not the agent is responsible for all the unsolved issue. He has to find an answer for the HDMI cable problem and give feedback back to the agent.

2

Visibility but not accessibility may be the answer. It all depends on your company and the systems in place, but ideally, you would not be accessible by telephone, but have a ticketing system which users can access.

At the moment, it's easier to ring you (or IM) to get a status update than to log into the ticketing system. You need to turn that around - with your managers agreement. Ideally you would not take phone calls at all, but as an interim, maybe just answer calls between 8-9am in the morning. But even if you do take phone calls; your answer should always be 'Please refer to the ticket. I'll check the current status and update in there'. Hopefully people would then get into the habit of checking the ticket status first.

Of course, some people will even bypass the phone, and come and see you in person. We call those 'shoulder taps'. A little harder to deal with, but a good method is to pull the ticket up, and read it to them while they stand next to you. When they ask 'Anything else?', you can say 'No, it's all in the ticket'...

To get management support on this, your approach would be 'scalability'. If the users are used to ringing you or turning up at your desk for immediate help, then you can't increase throughput; there's only one 'you', and only 8 hours in a day. By using a ticketing system correctly, you can bring in other qualified techs and distribute work without the clients being any the wiser.

2

This is more an addition to a lot of these other answers which are all pretty valid;

For common issues you should have scripted answers you can point user to. Document anything you've been asked more then 3 times. Shove it somewhere the user can access, have the links in notepad.exe with a form email close at hand. Deal with common questions and requests in the minimum time. This is also the kind of support work that the intern/work experience person can help with.

Learn the power of status emails, once again cutting and pasting is your friend. Send a "We've received your request and will be looking at it as soon as possible" within an hour. Send a "This issue requires further investigation/escalation and we will get back to you shortly" if it requires work. Send a "We believe we've resolved your issue, can you please get back to us and confirm if it works as expected". In my own experience a slew of emails (no matter how formulaic) makes a certain type of person happy; they have done their duty, their inbox is fat, and all is well with the world.

1

Think about what you want to demonstrate for users. I'd suggest these as a target:

  1. I will answer your communications if at all possible, in case your issue is urgent.
  2. If I miss your communication I will reach out immediately, again in case your issue was urgent.
  3. I want to understand the urgency and impact of your request. If I'm not sure, I may ask you or my manager for help.
  4. I will help set your expectations around when I can handle your request.
    • If I have more urgent requests, or existing ones of the same priority, I will give you an estimate based on that information.
    • If something threatens that deadline I will reach out to you immediately.
    • I would rather finish sooner than promised than risk being late.
  5. If your request is not urgent, I will ask you to follow a specific process to keep it on my agenda.
    • The process helps me to remember and prioritize.
    • If don't follow the process, I may assume that it's not important enough for me to remember and/or prioritize.
  6. When accepting the work, I will tell you when to expect a status update.
    • This is the latest time you should expect to hear from me. If there's a noteworthy update I may send one sooner.
    • If there's no update when this time arrives, I will still send you a note to say that there's no change.
    • Each status update will tell you when to expect the next one.
  7. Since I will send you status updates, there's no need to interrupt my other work.
  8. If you interrupt my other work unreasonably, I may contact impacted users to discuss the situation. If they agree that your request is more important than theirs I will give it priority.

What does this mean?

For this user, it means answering the phone immediately. If the request isn't urgent, ask them to file a ticket (or send you an email, whatever you like) to help you remember it. Next time they reach out, ask if they've filed a ticket. If they haven't then remind them that you are already working on something, that a ticket will keep it on your radar, and that tickets are generally first-in, first-out. If they have, let them know when to expect a status update and then stick to it.

0

After getting permission from senior staff, send out a company-wide email explaining that you will block the phone numbers of staff who are abusing the system. Describe the problems this causes. Explain they must use the ticketing system. You could also detail the changes that have occurred in recent months that make the new system more effective.

EDIT

If people are calling to request an HDMI cable, there must be things you can do so they don't need to.

  • This is a great way to get your boss's (negative) attention. I've never even dreamed about blocking numbers let alone blocking numbers at the service desk. – Nathan Goings Oct 18 at 21:38
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    This "service desk" is one person, and the current disaster needs dealing with as a disaster. Several good references (including The Visible Ops handbook) emphasize the need for triage first. Blocking the calls of those who clearly abuse the system is exactly the right answer. This is not an end point, but a tool to restore some functionality to a deeply dysfunctional system. --- I wouldn't even ask permission. Just inform your supervisor to expect some incoming calls, and of course, why. This way your supv can handle the exceptions while you handle the bulk. – user51273 Oct 19 at 3:51
  • This shouldn't get negative attention from the boss as they have already agreed to the plan. – David Oct 19 at 5:44
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    Beople can always come to the servicedesk office to get the Hardware they require. – Julian Bechtold Oct 21 at 7:57
  • That's good. Anything that makes it easy for people to get the hardware they need ASAP will help reduce frustration. You may even want to just buy a bunch of cables and leave them in a designated area near different offices / floors etc (as long as the office is generally secure). – David Oct 21 at 15:26
0

This harassing behavior damages the relationship. The more often they call, the more unwilling I am to pick up the phone or call back once I am finished with my current task.

Completely understandable. Personally, when someone honks at me, I start driving more slowly.

Problem is, that just makes them honk more. If they were well adjusted human beings, they wouldn't be honking in the first place. I drive more slowly, they honk more, so I drive more slowly, and I hope that they go home more frustrated than I do.

In the city, I'm never going to see that person again, but if it was the workplace, I would need to take a different approach:

Jacky has a need that he feels is not being met. You're being paid to meet that need and he doesn't trust you to meet it. You have to build trust with him and the company as a whole.

In my experience, the best way to do this is a little face to face support, even if it isn't required. Go over to his desk and solve the problem from his chair. This will encourage the perception that you care about his problems. Non-techincal people don't have the techincal knowlege to jude your IT skills, they can only judge how much you care about their problems and how fast you make them go away.

Once he thinks you care, tell him that you will always get back to him if he calls. Hopefully, he will start calling you less.

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