Working in customer support means relying on a variety of skills. But at the root of it all, my job is to solve problems. Sometimes a problem has a simple solution and other times the solution is far more complex. Then there are those times where the journey to get to a solution is far longer than the solution itself. This week was a good example of that. Twice, I took a long road to a simple fix.

No Network. No problem.

The first time was a customer had a problem accessing anything on the network from his laptop. The customer called in to the help desk and saying this is a critical issue because he had meetings to attend later in the morning and couldn’t access anything on the network.

This meant no internet. No email. No shared network drives. The customer could log-in only due to the laptop caching his credentials.

I opened up the network connections and saw the laptop had a valid IP address for our wired network. And I also saw an active VPN connection. This was strange since I had just booted the computer and had not connected to the VPN yet.

I attempted to close the connection. Access is Denied. I attempted to disable the connection. Access is Denied. I tried to launch the VPN client and got an error stating it was already open and running. It was not.

I could not access either my network account nor my administrative network account due to the computer not being able to access network servers to authenticate me.

I could not access the local administrator account because the password is scrambled for security and the laptop is encrypted so none of the password reset tools work without decrypting the laptop. Decryption takes 6+ hours and encryption takes the same. Not an option for my customer.

I did have access to a program called Privilege Manager which enables my customer to run most applications with administrator rights. This was my way in.

I had the customer enter their password and opened a command prompt. From there, I typed explorer /separate to open a new Windows Explorer window.

I then opened network connections and disabled the VPN connection. As soon as I did that, network connectivity was restored. I opened Outlook and new mail flowed in. I opened Firefox and the start page loaded.

My customer was thrilled. I had fixed his problem in time for his meeting.

But I didn’t stop there. I noticed the VPN client was out of date so I took a few moments to download and install an updated VPN client. I ran an automated tool called PatchMyPC and updated Java, Flash and other common applications automatically.

I resolved my customer’s problem in the time he needed it done and I proactively upgraded Java and Flash to close security holes. The tool also upgraded Acrobat Reader which was a couple of versions old.

A bit of prevention goes a long way and prevents possible calls in the future which means my customer can keep working and not have to call me in the future for something I could have prevented.

Part of my job is to limit the number of times my customers need to call me for help.

Virtual Private Networking.

The second time was a customer needed to use the company’s VPN connection from home. This story has a great moral to it and is a clear case of making a Rookie Mistake and an example of thinking outside the box to find a creative solution.

I installed the VPN client for the customer and tested its interaction with the ID cards we’re required to use for accessing the VPN off-site and everything worked beautifully. The two-factor authentication was authenticating. The PIN card was being read and authenticated with the VPN servers.

The customer took the computer home to test and was still experiencing problems. The computer in question is a 1st Generation MacBook Air. This computer has one USB port.

This would not be a problem in most cases. However, in our environment the wireless on site does not work with the offsite VPN because it’s redundant. In order to test the offsite connection from on site, I needed to plug into our network. Again, not a problem most of the time but the MacBook Air has no network port.

In order to test this computer with the customer I would need to connect the USB ID card reader and a USB network dongle to plug into the network. I needed to plug these two devices into a computer with only one USB port.

I did not have a USB hub to connect to the computer. Nor does it have any other ports to plug into. The computer has only 1 USB, 1 Micro-DVI and 1 headphone port on it.

I tried a variety of keyboards with USB ports on them but they didn’t have enough power for either the network dongle or the card reader so while one would work, the other would fail.

As a last resort, I tried an aluminum Apple keyboard. I didn’t hold much hope as I had tried older Apple keyboards and been unsuccessful each time.

However, this time it worked. I plugged the keyboard into the MacBook Air with a network dongle plugged into one USB port and an ID reader on the other USB port. It all worked.

I wired into the network and got a connection. Then I inserted the customer’s ID card and it read the card and requested the PIN which the customer entered and the VPN client connected.

Then I explained to the customer to connect at home she would only need to connect to her wireless network and open the VPN client then insert her card into the reader.

And this is where my Rookie Mistake occurred. After we had done all of this, she mentioned she was trying to get access to the Remote Desktop environment from the laptop.

This requires a network connection and then launching the Mac version of Remote Desktop to a virtual Window environment with her username and password. She had no need for the VPN client, the ID card to log-in or anything of the elaborate testing setup.

I thought I understood what she wanted. But as it turns out, I did not. Just because a customer asks for something such as “I can’t access the VPN from home.” Be sure to clarify and make sure you’re fixing the problem the customer is actually having instead of fixing a separate problem that the customer wasn’t even aware existed.