Scott Hanselman

FizzBin - The Technical Support Secret Handshake

March 17, 2009 Comment on this post [84] Posted in Musings
Sponsored By

This is a short post, but I think it's important. Let's make it a movement. Digg it, leave a comment, Reddit it. Start using it.

We need a word that says "I know tech" when you're on the phone with tech support, you'd just say "Fizzbin" and they'd know.

I hate that 5 minute to 5 hour long "ramp up" when I'm on the phone with any kind of technical support as they realize that we both know what we're doing. Or at least, one of us does.

"So, click the start menu...type C M D and press enter. Tell what you see?"

I propose that "Fizzbin" skips that first hour. I don't like feeling like it's an ego thing. I don't want to have to say, "Hey, I kind of know this stuff, can we kick it up a notch?" I don't like explaining that YES, I've checked the cable, and YES, I have tried resetting the modem.

I'd like my tech support experience to go like this:

"Hi, Internet Tech Support...what's your issue?"


"You have an IP?"

"No. Your DHCP isn't passing out IPs. Am I banned?"

"Looks like your MAC is xxxx, you've been running a torrent?"

"Yes, I'll stop."

"Cool. You're un-banned. Fizzbin."

"Sweet. Catch you later."

Fizzbin. It's like pressing "0" at the automated teller prompt, but for geeks.

Technorati Tags:

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

facebook twitter subscribe
About   Newsletter
Hosting By
Hosted in an Azure App Service
March 17, 2009 3:38
Do it the other way round:

"Hi, Internet Tech Support...what's your issue?"
"I am not getting an IP from you anymore. This is not an ID 10 T issue."

(as per at 2:18.
March 17, 2009 3:40
I'll be sure to use it all around Mix, should get some interesting looks.
March 17, 2009 3:47
Love it. Now you just need to inform all the guys over in India so they know wtf people are talking about when they say "fizzbin."
March 17, 2009 3:47
Ha! I love it. Of course, there's always going to be that time you invoke "FizzBin" and it turns out that in fact, you did forget to check if your router was plugged in. ;)
March 17, 2009 3:54
Actually, I think it would more like:


"OK, let me forward you to someone who knows how to do more than just read the support script".
March 17, 2009 4:00
The problem is that everyone will start saying it. So instead, the password should be something like their MAC address, because while anyone can say 'fizzbin', going to a command prompt, typing net config wksta and reading out the mac address is WAY past my grandma's skill level.
March 17, 2009 4:12
This is seriously one of the coolest ideas I have ever heard. I'm definitely going to try it out.
March 17, 2009 4:16
Good idea, though people's technical knowledge is different, so just because they say 'fizzbin' (or whatever the secret handshake word is), a little time would still need to be spent to verify what level the caller is at - though I'd definitely like to see something like this as well.
March 17, 2009 4:26
Nice idea, but it will not work with "support drones" who just read the script.

I once had a friend who spent an hour trying to get the woman on the other side to understand that the modem was NOT WORKING because the LED was solid red, and she kept saying "it's not blinking, so it's OK" (not the default ADSL modem model, not covered in the script...).
He ended up asking "if I hang up and call back, do I have a chance to get someone else?".

Best. Line. Ever.
March 17, 2009 4:27
why that word?
March 17, 2009 4:33
Yeah, I'm curious too... how that word came about. Doesn't really sound catchy (to me).
March 17, 2009 4:35
Yeah, I'm curious too... how that word came about. Doesn't really sound catchy (to me).
March 17, 2009 4:37
Nice idea, but it fails in the real world.
1) Everyone thinks they're above average, so everyone that knows would use the code word even if they have no right to.
1a)Even the people that *are* above average forget stupid things sometimes.
2) Nobody is at the same technical level, so the guy on the other side can easily overshoot or undershoot your proficiency.
3) Unless you've got a support contract of some sort specifying a certain level of support, you'll most likely get non-technical script-following drones to start out with anyway. And these people are typically given a lot of incentive to not escalate the call if they can help it.

What *would* be nice is if companies stopped outsourcing their support, or at least hired support people with some technical and problem-solving skill that are allowed to use their own judgment to fix problems. This sort of person can usually figure out the competence level of the guy on the other end without some special code-word, if they're smart about it. But that's expensive, so big companies will never go for it.
March 17, 2009 4:38
FizzBin is from an old star trek episode (#49 - A Peice of the Action) where Kirk was trying to explain to some mob guys a new card game that had a lot of weird rules.

You can find the rules to the card game here:

March 17, 2009 4:48
Surely "fizzbin" should initiate a challenge response mechanism. The operator at the other end gets to pick a technical question at random and if you can't answer it in a certain amount of time, they transfer your call back to the queue for wasting their time.

"Hi, Internet Tech Support...what's your issue?"


"What's your mac address"


"You are being transfered to the billing help desk."
March 17, 2009 5:00
Ah, but you're allowing the customer to self-segregate. So who wouldn't fizzbin?

In study after study, respondents rate themselves as less racist than average, smarter than average, more generous than average.

View full article @ Seth Godin's blog
March 17, 2009 5:12
hehe...I love it...

I'll start using it at the office tomorrow and watch their faces....they'll probably be wondering what I am on but I'll be this a fizzbin ticket or do I need to train a new user on how to use the office intranet...


March 17, 2009 5:39
I'd like to hear the first few conversations where this takes place unbeknownst to the callee. I wonder how long it would take to propagate around the world. Scott, we need stats on this!
March 17, 2009 5:53
I love the idea. I spent countless hours of tech support with GoDaddy because I couldn't get outbound connections from my ASP.Net code. They would always blame a precompiled DLL even if it was not invoked at all and all the blah blah blah. I had to write a simple .ASPX page to prove the problem and bingo, that was the FizzBin of the situation. Lovely idea, Scott.
March 17, 2009 5:55
Sounds like you and me both had the same conversation yesterday. My router stopped working and I renewed the DHCP lease, and it failed to get an IP address. I called in tech support, and unfortunately, the guy there was a flow-charter, so fizzbin'ing him wouldn't have even worked. First thing I said was I had a router plugged in, and he asked what operating system I was running (Vista), and then proceeded to tell me how to get to the command prompt (which I already had open), and to "not get ahead of him."
March 17, 2009 6:22
I don't think a secret code word will work. I mean if you want a secret code word, that's all fine and good, but as many have already pointed out, pretty soon everyone will be fizzbin'ing and tech support will be forced to set up a knowledge quiz.

We already speak in code that nobody else understands, lets just use that. Just say: "I know what the 'MAC' in MAC address means" or let them know you can tell them which layer of the OSI stack your IP address is part of, and can convert a dotted-ip subnet mask to binary and tell him how many addresses are in it. Any of those things are code enough that your average joe's couldn't even say the sentence straight without a script.
March 17, 2009 6:31
I almost had a chance to use this tonight, but felt the plan was too young... Great idea though!
March 17, 2009 7:05
Good idea.

Will it work for bypassing the "In order to fix the issue, we must first reproduce the issue in our labs. We are unable to reproduce the issue with the steps you provided. It may help if you provide us with a zipped project file"-drones monitoring Microsoft Connect? :)
March 17, 2009 7:08
When I reapply to jobs, I intend to put something similar on my resume, upper right corner.

What exactly is still up in the air, but perhaps something like a[5] == 5[a], More Magic, or 0x5f3759d5.
March 17, 2009 7:10
this has been propposed many times before; problem is, everyone thinks they're experts, everyone thinks they know how to use windows... sigh
March 17, 2009 7:13
Guys, remember that don't be too critical. Once you try such a position even for a day, you will understand the taste. :)
March 17, 2009 7:16
I've been doing this for some time. I call support till I get someone who sounds like a single dude in college/high school. Then I immediately talk about how I can't get on to play <insert newer game here> and that I just got a <newest vid card from anandtech here>. Then just have a conversation about why this or that is better for maybe 10 minutes. Then boom, change subjects back to the problem you need solved.
March 17, 2009 9:53
I usually call and say
"Hi, I'm a sysadmin for <insert large, well known company> we've been hired by Ms. <insert my last name> to fix a problem in her <insert problem>."
That works pretty well.

Of course, my ISP doesn't require that. A typical conversation (from last week)

"Hi, I'm having trouble connecting to the internet"
"OK, open up the start menu"
"I'm a sysadmin"
"Great! Open cmd and type ipconfig"
"I don't have an IP. I've tried connecting using my router, which just loops a 'PPPoE sending PADI' message but no response. I've also tried setting up a dialer, which gives me a <don't remember the error number>."
"I see that you are still connected. I'll try resetting your account"

It took me 3 minutes to get my internet working again, including the time waiting for an answer.
March 17, 2009 10:36
what is DCHP? heard of DHCP but I dunno what DCHP is. probably i'm not geek enough ;)
March 17, 2009 11:48
I don't get it. They ban your IP for running torrents?! Call the Americans to bring you democracy and freedom! The people want torrents!
And what if the tech suddenly replies with a binary modem handshake? You call it "you've bin fizzed!".
March 17, 2009 11:50
I think such an idea was long overdue. And because those darn tech support lines charge the hell out of you saving a hours worth of explaining that you know what you are doing will save us a lot of money.
March 17, 2009 12:05
A secret handshake is an excellent idea. Merely explaining your competence (as suggested by some) won't work, since the message will not pass the noise reduction firewall installed in the ears of the IT support people. I should know, way back I was phone support for a local ISP. Support people need that firewall to fend off the randomly generated streams of haphazardly juxtaposed bits of technical parlance emanating from all the wannabes (boasting dads and script kiddies) who try to impress them with their so-called "skills".
March 17, 2009 12:20
"Thanks for calling Initech Technical Support. If you know what you're doing, please bitwise XOR your home IP address with that of our primary DNS server, and enter the result in dotted-quad format using your telephone keypad. If you don't know what you're doing, please hold for the next available script-monkey"
March 17, 2009 12:46
"All of our operators are busy at the moment, but your fizzbin is important to us..."
March 17, 2009 12:47
Nice one Scott,

I do agree with many of the comments that everyone will start using it. Maybe a more complex solution is required, rather than just knowing a word.
What about telnet'ing into a server to get a txt file that contains this weeks secret word (no good if you're calling an ISP to tell them your internet connection is down ;-)

.. KJ
March 17, 2009 13:46
Scott, its a great post, I'm feeling that is a problem accross the world.
I'm from Brazil, and I want ask if I can translate this post to portuguese and post in my blog, of course, the credits is yours.

Thanks you are great!
March 17, 2009 14:28
You're assuming that the helpdesk monkeys know what IP, DHCP and MAC adress are. I think that's very optimistic.
March 17, 2009 14:29
Can you please fix the OpenID comments? :)
March 17, 2009 14:59
awesome, fissbin
March 17, 2009 17:14
I usually answer in technical terms and wait for the technician to get the hint. And I don't believe in skipping the ID10T checks because I do sometimes forget to plug in cables or stuff like that.
March 17, 2009 17:33
Strangely enough, the suggestion of "Fizzbin" as a means to prove technical prowess followed by "DCHP" seems a little ironic... ;-)
March 17, 2009 17:52
Hahahaha. Very amusing :)
March 17, 2009 18:16
um, i think we all can agree it should be foobar (or maybe foobarbaz so as not to confuse it with fubar), not fizzbin
March 17, 2009 18:18
"'ve been running a torrent?"
"Yep. An Ubuntu distro. So what?"
March 17, 2009 19:10
Love that idea, hope people from timewarner will read this too :)
March 17, 2009 19:12
Spelling it DCHP automatically get's your Fizzbin credentials revoked.
March 17, 2009 19:43
More verbose version:
"Thank you for calling <company> tech support/customer service. How can I help you?"
"I'm pretty sure you can't. Please connect me with tier 2 support/your manager."

Generally works well, as long as you're polite. :)
March 17, 2009 19:48
FizzBin has to be the stupidest-sounding word ever.
March 17, 2009 20:04
steve sheldon:

nono, DCHP is to DHCP as pr0n is to porn
March 17, 2009 20:13
No, please don't do this. I've worked on both sides of tech support, and simply saying "FizzBin" or any other silly phrase doesn't give either party any actual information about the other's knowledge.

I use Firefox -> FizzBin
I am a Firefox developer -> FizzBin

I know what an ethernet card is -> FizzBin
I advised IEEE on ethernet communications -> FizzBin

I am a brilliant electrical engineer -> FizzBin
I am a brilliant electrical engineer that doesn't understand software at all and I have a huge chip on my shoulder too -> FizzBin


The "geek handshake" is far simpler, and more informative. When calling, tell the technician everything you've already done to diagnose / troubleshoot the problem, using whatever terminology you're comfortable with:

"Hi, I'm having a weird problem with this DSL connection, it's a new connection and I've got a sync/no-surf on the modem. The VCI and VPI settings look like they're correct, they're 0/35. The computer can connect to the modem just fine. I have no DNS and no ping to a known good IP."

If the technician then says, "OK sir, and have you tried restarting the computer?", then you know you're dealing with an idiot. Escalate it.

If the technician says, "OK, well I can get an ATM ping to your line so it looks like a faulty unit, we'll ship you another one", then you're done.

I've used this for years.
March 17, 2009 20:23
I like your proposal.
But we need to pick a new 'secret phrase' every few weeks and disseminate it to IT and Support staff through secure channels to prevent ID10Ts from catching on and causing the same 'send me to level 2' bullcrap they do already.
March 17, 2009 21:13
If you're that techie, would you really need to be calling support for any other reason than networking / communication issues that can't be resolved locally, thus negating the need for any secret buzzword?
March 17, 2009 21:15
This all assumes that the people on the phone are geeks as well, which they usually aren't until you get to the level up from them at which point the guy usually cuts to the chase.
March 17, 2009 21:57
Rob Sheldon has it nailed.

Explaining what you have already done does 2 things...
1. it lets the tech know what level you're at
2. (based on the tech's responses and follow-up questions) lets you know what level the tech is at

Your troubleshooting info is your Fizzbin

and please... make sure you do the id10t tests before you pick up the phone. I was tech support years ago, and I have bad memories of having to trace through some "super awesome" programmer's code just to give them the line number of their typo. No one thinks their an idiot.

+1 for Configurator's comment, too
March 17, 2009 22:09
"No one thinks their an idiot."

I love it.
March 17, 2009 23:02
I would like to say that I will definitely try this. Rarely do you get someone that understands what you mean when you say you know IT (I am guessing everyone "thinks" they always know what is going on when they contact IT). Would need to ask support person to verify that.
March 17, 2009 23:45
Yes, "Fizzbin" is an interesting idea. I wonder what the the opposite would be. Fizzbout? Maybe something non-techies can understand would work better, like geekin/geekout?
March 18, 2009 0:12
Isn't posting the FizzBin secret "handshake" akin to it no longer being secret? Just a thought from the pragmatist.
March 18, 2009 0:51
If you manage to get Dell onboard with this then you will be a hero among geeks. :-)
March 18, 2009 1:17
Great idea!

I think you need to come up with appropriate words in different languages, as well :)
March 18, 2009 2:38
There *is* a "fizzbin". Try asking an answerable question, rather than just saying "it dont work can you guess how".

"Are there any known issues with a JPEG displaying upside-down?"
"What's the best troubleshooting guide to addressing my router problem?"
"Is it intended behavior that a session cannot last more than 40 minutes?"
"Do you have a known-to-be-good test file using Feature X so I can see whether it's my scripting or my configuration that's fouling things up?"

The rep wants to get onto the next call, but also wants a satisfactory resolution for the customer. He doesn't want to send you a laundry list of steps, just like s/he doesn't want to hear some long confused story of things you did. Figure out the question you need answered, and just ask it.

The first step in any support call, after qualification, is to get agreement on the core question. You can speed things up a lot if you first figure out what you're asking, that someone else may be able to answer.
March 18, 2009 3:00
Years ago when Packard Bell was still in business in the US I recall the occasionally odious task of calling their tech support department.
First words out of my mouth every time I finally got a human, "Let me speak with a senior tech."
The conversation usually went like this:

ME: "Let me speak with a senior tech please."

PBScreenreader: "I'm sorry sir there is no such thing as a senior tech, I'm here to help you diagnose your problem..."

ME: "I wouldn't be calling if you could help me, you can't help me I know more about your computer than you do, let me speak with a senior tech."

PBScreenreader: "Sir you'll have to follow the protocols we have in place here now if you'll let me begin we can escalate your case if it's necessary...."

ME: "Before you continue let me tell you what I've done and why I'm calling {whereupon I would divulge my work to this point}"

PBScreenreader: "{A moment of benumbed silence} One moment sir, I'm going to transfer you to a senior tech."

ME: "Thank you"

Yes I was rude, but I'd been on hold for an hour or two by this point already.

Ah, memories.
March 18, 2009 5:17
I am not advanced enough for "Fizzbin", but I have definitely unplugged / re-plugged and rebooted everything before I decided to spend an hour on hold waiting for tech support. Strangely, when calling Dell about my laptop, for which we have "onsite" tech support, the tech told me to go get a screw driver -- HELLO! They don't think I have sense enough to figure out how to reboot it, but they are going to encourage me to take it apart - CRAZINESS!
March 18, 2009 5:39
I think having a keyword can in fact work. First of all it is not true that everyone thinks he knows about computers. I know a what of people that will happily admit they need ID 10 T explanations. What is more people who think they know about computers will soon discover that they don't in fact know about computers and they will downgrade. We will have problems with them until things settle down. Probably these people will blame the higher level support that they are incompetent and will prefer the lower level support.

On the other hand having different levels of Fizzbin is a good idea. Maybe we can create a Fizzbin certification program. You take a certificate for some level then just give your Fizzbin certificate number to the support. He checks it and knows the level of competence he's dealing with. He may then switch to more appropriate language or escalate you. Hell, support can even have flowcharts for different Fizzbin levels so support drones could help you without understanding the issue. If there is a single database we can get just one certificate and use it with every possible support center.
March 18, 2009 17:27
I'm not sure this would work for me. I always fail the female test. Technical help desk operators appear to believe that no female can possible know anything technical. I've spent half an hour on a call trying to explain the problem and being told completely irrelevant things, only to put my other half on the line and have him state the same problem in pretty much identical terms and get an immediate resolution. I've even been told that the components that I'm using and are currently holding don't exist.

Female callers need a different word, one that means 'Yes, I know I'm a girl, that doesn't mean I'm an idiot who can't even operate a TV remote control. I KNOW TECH'.
March 18, 2009 17:45
Love this idea :) There should be a guerilla link-seeding campaign to get this on every major company support forum. Some support people I've spoken do actually do know what they are talking about and I'm sure they'd appreciate skipping the basics and getting straight to the problem too!
March 18, 2009 18:20
Anyone who needs to ask on the origin of the word is automatically excluded from the club :)
March 18, 2009 18:45

Maybe there could be a secret place on html forms that you submit to tech support where you can type 'FizzBin', and get a technical response back...
March 19, 2009 1:15
So "FizzBin" needs to be added to all of the L1 tech manuals... if you hear this phrase.. send to L3.

and to Phll's point, I have missed the "check the cable" in the past.. that's when you feel WAY dumber than you should. Great idea Scott!
March 19, 2009 1:17
This is something I go back and forth on. I understand the need to keep costs down and hire non-technical staff to read scripts, but at the same time I hate wasting that obligatory hour at the start of the call too.

More often than not I find that the script-monkey is absolutely intent on sticking to the script no matter what technical knowledge I present to them. I usually just suck it up and try to be patient, as I'm afraid showing any level of competence and giving them "clues" as to what I think the problem is will just confuse them and cause the fix to take even longer.

My favorite wasted hour went along the lines of:
(prior to call) - ComCast van pulls up outside, presumably to install service to a neighboring apartment.
- As ComCast van pulls away, internet connection is dead. (This had happened before)
...quick checks lets me know that router and modem can see each other, but that the modem can't see anything on the line at all. It's basically singing "I'm ronery, so ronery" and rocking in a corner, crying...
...I dial tech support...
<operator>: "Can I help you sir?"
<me>: "Yes, I'm an existing customer with high-speed internet. My connection stopped functioning recently and I think it might be connected to a change that a service representative just made to the cabinet outside our apartment. Would you please connect me to a manager or local representative to help diagnose the problem? I don't think this is related to settings or configuration as it looks like the problem is on the line itself."
<operator>: "Ok sir. Is your computer turned on right now?"
<me>: "Errr...yeah"
.... the hour ensues ....

The problem was that a neighbor of ours had signed up for service. When the service rep connected our neighbor, they disconnected our line in the cabinet in order to get to the neighbors jack. The rep forgot to reconnect our line. This took two phone calls and an in-person rep visit to fix. The frustration was with having to go through the hour of pointless diagnosis before being able to schedule an appointment with a representative. Time wasted: approx 2 hours. Connection down for 3 days.
March 19, 2009 10:50
gtfo! oh wait.. this is your place..
March 19, 2009 12:54
I just remembered a funny story:

Once when I was working tech support, a client called me about our (crappy) software not working.
Since I was out to lunch with the other tech support guy (small company), they left a message at the receptionist... Who forgot to mail it.
He called again the next day, and got through immediately. I asked "have you tried rebooting the computer"? He rebooted the computer and the problem was fixed.
Too bad he had to wait 24 hours for me to tell him to do that!
March 19, 2009 14:29
All your Fizzbin are belong to us...
March 19, 2009 17:20
> "You have an IP?"

correct reply: "Yes, my computer speaks the Internet Protocol. It is, however, having trouble receiving an Internet Protocol ADDRESS from your server. Now please transfer me to someone who understands both networking and the English language."

March 19, 2009 17:44
Fizzbin - Now in the urban dictionary. Nice. :)
March 19, 2009 17:50
You may be a genius...
March 20, 2009 7:47
An solution that solves the problem of everyone knowing the word comes from "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones". It's one of my favorite short stories of all time. From the wikipedia entry:

In the underworld the Word is a kind of global password. Used properly, two criminals who may never have met can use it to communicate many shades of meaning, from a greeting to a warning. The Word changes every thirty days, and is always the name of a semi-precious stone.

Of course, we wouldn't want to use semi-precious stones, but I'm not sure what it would be. Any ideas?
March 20, 2009 18:26
Instead of gemstones, use elements from the Periodic Table, of course, or to up the level, chemical formulae (then you COULD include gemstones (i.e. their formulae...)...quite unlimited really!
March 22, 2009 10:32
Love it! We're going to implement it at Powershop. We run an online electricity store and we'll interpret it as "I am not a dumb arse!" in relation to both technology and electricity!
March 25, 2009 13:53
Too late for my call with HP today. :(

I spent 70 minutes on the phone with them to request a new optical drive for a computer under warranty. I think buying a new optical drive would have been cheaper.

I tried to play along nicely as the support stooge went through his script, even the first time he said to type "R as in Robert, E as in Edward, G as Gold, E as in Edward, D as in David, I as in India, T as in Tango."

When his script instructed me to "backup up your data and initiate a System Recovery," I kind of lost it and let him know that I wasn't going to play any more.

As an added bonus, Fizzbin should also re-route your call back to your home country.

My next computer will be a Mac. At least then I can roll into an Apple Store and demand good service in person.

March 26, 2009 0:21
Yes, it is frustrating working your way up through technical levels until you get somebody who can actually help you.

The first company to really address this problem is going to be a hero.

And it seems like it is possible to address this problem with CRM software.

Just have the software keep track of how often the person has been credible. How many times had the person called and reported a verifiable bug? It seems like social network techniques could be applied. Have the support folks vote on customer technical credibility and then store the answers for futures call.

"Hi, tech support, Gads, you have a 5 star rating, I will put right through to level 3".

“Hi, tech support, Wow, you have called 10 before each submitted a real bug. I will transfer you strait to software development.”

April 24, 2009 17:43
This is a nice idea, my favorite is when I'm on the line and they want me to look up something on my end, and I get the, "What version of Windows are you running?" Hmmm...Debian Lenny? No, wait, OSX - or are we talking about the FreeBSD storage box? Grrrrr, just give me an IP, I'll take care of the rest!

Comments are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.