Don't overwhelm users with too much information

It's easy to forget that most users aren't as interested in computers as most support techs are. Here's a quick reminder to minimize the techno-speak, as well as an example that illustrates how overzealous techs sometimes sound to ordinary users.

When working on a help desk, it’s easy to forget that our customers, although IT users, are not necessarily interested in knowing the finer points of their computer system. It’s important for support personnel to remember that most users simply want their equipment to work and only want to know the specific keystrokes to make this happen. The rest is usually of little or no interest to them. If you overwhelm your users with too much information, they are likely to stop listening altogether. Think how you would feel if they were to give you a lengthy explanation of their work and what their department was doing. Only give your users the information that they want.
If you’re interested in reading more on help desk/client communication, check out my article, “Five tips for improving help desk/client communication.”
Only tell them if they ask
If users do ask more involved questions about the inner workings of their computers, answer them in plain terms. Most users dislike being overwhelmed by “techno-speak.” Remember, their focus is not on IT. While some users do want to know about the finer points of the technology, these individuals will usually try to resolve problems on their own and are not likely to be regular callers to the help desk. These techno-savvy users, however, may be worth cultivating as power users. They can be recruited by the help desk to back up the techs and filter out the minor queries. It is even possible to give those users better access rights and offload some of the routine stuff, like resetting passwords for people in their workgroup.

Try to see the situation from their point of view
Keep in mind that most people look at computers in a different way than support techs. IT is our chosen field of expertise, and we are usually interested by new developments in technology. This type of interest is also evident in other professions. Here’s a good example of what I mean.

I once worked on the help desk of a British scientific research institute. Some of the researchers were definitely not from this planet, and several fit the classic mad professor image. One morning, just as I was taking off my coat and taking the first sip of my tea, one of the mad professor types rushed into my office with a piece of paper in his hand. He had obviously not been home the previous night, his lab coat was terribly wrinkled, and his five-o’clock shadow was looking more like a quarter to eight.

He waved the piece of paper enthusiastically at anyone who would listen. On it were some colored blobs that apparently represented two years of hard research. He had, apparently, been trying to photograph a particular protein molecule, in color, using a very powerful microscope. Unfortunately, this type of protein does not take kindly to being bombarded with light and must therefore be photographed very quickly. While I couldn’t help but get caught up in the gentleman’s excitement, I must admit that I found his work only mildly interesting.

It was after he left the room, however, that I realized the similarity between my reaction to this chap and the one I sometimes received from some of the users I had worked with. To me, the researcher’s piece of paper looked like a cleaning page from a very dirty, color inkjet printer. To him, it was the culmination of two years labor and extremely exciting. The event helped me remember that everyone has their own points of view and areas of interest and that we shouldn't judge users just because they don't always get it right or aren’t interested in IT to the degree that we are.
What do you think of Jeff’s article? Give us your thoughts and opinions. What other subjects would you like to see TechRepublic cover? Post a comment or write to Jeff Dray.

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