The 5 users you meet in hell (and one you'll find in heaven)

Recognize any of these people -- the Know-It-All? The Finger-Pointer? The Whiz Kid? We thought so ...

Ah, end users. We sure do love them. Why, most of us wouldn't have jobs without them. But that doesn't mean users don't drive IT crazy sometimes, or maybe most of the time.

Just as a zookeeper cares for his monkeys one way and his rhinos another (we kid -- sort of), so too should IT tailor its responses to fit the individual styles of its end users, support managers say.

One thing's for certain: Cordial or otherwise, interaction between support staff and end users is only expected to rise. Demand for IT support services continues to increase as new systems and applications are implemented, according to a 2006 survey by, which provides research and trend data to the customer support and help desk industries.

At the same time, some 43% of survey respondents said their budgets were either being cut or staying put -- meaning it's a fair assumption that IT help desks are stretched pretty thin these days. And that pressure only adds to an already demanding, difficult and sometimes thankless job.


It's a job where customer service and people skills are just as important as technical know-how. After all, your customers -- everyone from an administrative assistant to the CEO -- represent a broad spectrum of personalities.

Dealing with these personalities can be a delicate balancing act, but always remember, these are your co-workers. If you lose your cool or have an otherwise unpleasant encounter with one of your users, you will have to see that person, or at least talk with him, tomorrow and the next day, and the day after that.

The truth is, user behavior tends to follow certain patterns regardless of industry. "I don't care what the business is," says Anthony McCloud, IS help desk technician at Mac Equipment, an air-filtration manufacturer in Kansas City, Mo. "Users are always the same."

So what are these user archetypes, and what's the best way to handle them? Here we present five of the most common user types, gleaned from IT pros in the field, and throw in one of the angelic variety for good measure.

1. The Know-It-All


You know this user. He knows a little HTML, and he defragged his hard drive once, so now he thinks he's an engineer who knows more than you. He often refuses to follow policies and instructions and has been known to poke his head in the server room "just to see what you're up to."

Know-It-Alls often insist on doing things their own way. They change options and settings on their computers just because they can, and they have a tendency to connect devices and download software to their computers that IT does not support.

And, predictably, they're arrogant enough to think they can't possibly be wrong about any of this.

How to handle: "Sometimes I'll get really technical on them to see if they know what I'm talking about," says Dan Olson, IT director at Farstad Oil Inc., a subsidiary of SPF Energy Inc. "If it's false bravado, they'll catch on pretty quick that they don't know what I'm talking about and have to concede that I do know more than they do."

Other IT help desk pros have locked down Know-It-Alls' computers so they can't do extensive damage, and still others say empathizing with the Know-It-All actually does the trick. After all, perhaps they're just trying to expand their knowledge. Whatever path you choose, IT managers advise, don't lose your temper -- which can be easier said than done with this type of user.

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