Operating systems

Customer service -- Going from being the doctor to being the patient


I moved to Minnesota early in the Y2K build-up phase. I left a television station in Arizona where I was doing system administration in an effort to get to the next phase of my career. I found work with a medical insurer in system support.

Here I discovered the joy of the "drive by questioning," also known as "end user rapid fire questioning." My desk was located where anyone could walk up to it at any time of the work day and blithely ignore that I had a PC open or was working on something. And they frequently did. The result was that I quit trying to manage to timed task lists and started to do things when I could.

End users don't know everything there is to know about the technology they use. They just use it. The fact that the people I supported were all theoretically IT people didn't change that. At the end of the day, they wanted the system to "just work" so that they could get their work done and go home.

This extended from the guy with the PhD in computational logic to the UNIX admins to the Med-Admin Specialists. There was a computer on every desk and everyone used them but there were a few holes. Like the UNIX admin who was brilliant with Security but could never remember his password. Or the PhD that was confounded by NT any time he used it (his primary machine was Sparc). Or the Med-Admins who were incredible once they got their application open but needed someone to show them how to get there.

I learned that what was a "stupid" question to me was another person's quandary. I learned to respect that.

Fortunately for me, I had had the experience of teaching new computer users how to use them. I discovered that the more I was willing to patiently teach my end-users, the fewer calls for password resets and very general information I got. My calls were more on the lines of "I think something broke" or "Is the network down?" I learned that many end-users had become so accustomed to getting an answer they didn't understand from other techs that they had quit trying to learn anything. I also learned that my end-users were waiting for me to show them a facial reaction that indicated that I thought they were complete idiots.

So why dredge all this up now? Certainly we have had this discussion before- how to treat our end users, understanding that they are our customers. What's the different angle?

Simple. Being on the other side of the desk. And recognizing the value of support people who didn't treat me like an idiot because the system was new to me.

Even though I had used a Mac back in the System 7 days and again in the early OSX days, I still had a learning curve to manage. The toughest thing was recognizing that I was no longer the person with all the answers. That was awful. I often felt like the stupidest person in the world because I was looking things up constantly. The screen was never familiar and even the command line could get me.

Finding help was as easy as going to the Apple store. By using the Genius Bar, I was able to fill my knowledge gaps pretty painlessly. More importantly, I never felt as if my "stupid" questions were going to show up in a Mac forum somewhere or be the highlight of amusement in the back room.

When I have needed more help than the Genius Bar is able to provide, Apple provides a service called One to One that puts you on a computer with a trainer literally at your side, teaching you whatever you came in to learn.

While I can see that offering the services that Apple offers is a revenue builder, it isn't used as a revenue stream. I can go in and ask my questions and not have to defend against a salesman trying to make a quota. In fact, the only time I have ever had someone take me to a machine was to demonstrate the answer to a question I had asked or to show me a product I went to the store to buy. It's just good customer service.

These days, I use my book less and less, I don't need the Genius Bar nearly as often, and if I call Technical Support it will be because "something broke." That sounds oddly familiar.

8 comments
jdclyde
jdclyde

It is something I have been able to hang on to, because I am constantly adding new things I have to know, I don't have the luxury of getting comfortable and lazy with what I already know. It believe that is part of why I can work with the zero level users better than many of my peers, and make a better teacher. I can talk to them on their level, of someone that is not stupid, just new to something. The only people that ever rate as a (l)user are the people that need to be repeatedly walked through the same thing, over and over and over and.... Those people fall way down my priority list. The easier it is to have a mistake fixed, the less concerned people are about making a mistake. This is especially true if they are not the ones that have to clean up the mess. Of course, they always blame it on "the dumb program". Yeah, it is the program that is dumb. go with that...

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

Often enough it is the 'dumb program' that was the issue. Many programs do not offer things in a very intuitive way, which leads to small panics and errors trying to find the solution. Many times, if the writers of the programs sat back and said 'what would make this easier to comprehend' rather than 'just add the friggin features', there would be much less issues for support desks. Many times, SW versions change and many aspects change along with, you need the new app for some reason (or its forced out), and training is less than useful for many. I have actually sat in a taining session before and kept asking questions about a new deployment, where the trainer had no idea, or said s/he was only briefed on the SW a few days before the training began. Often though, it is the end user that did not understand what they were doing. If they understand when I leave, that is great. If they call back, then, as you say, the lower on my list they fall.

Tig2
Tig2

What is your favorite approach to your end users? Or are you in the "Stupid l/user" camp and believe that they are all a pain in the tail? The challenge that IT has had for years has been to teach end users to adapt to the machine on the desk in front of them. And while our end users today have grown up with computers and are more likely to be quite savvy, there will always be a need to teach. Would you intentionally turn back the clock and be the newb?

seanferd
seanferd

I'm always a newb when I'm by myself. I need to keep learning new things, so I guess I put myself in that position. :) The only users I really have trouble with, no matter how little understanding of hardware or software they have, are the ones who won't entertain the merest possibility of thinking, looking at what they're doing, or learning anything.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

that asked me 2x in 1 day and 3x in another day how to copy/paste? LOL -- yes, I love those users -- is it OK to bury them???

seanferd
seanferd

I'ma no too sure about burying them, but sometimes they make me want to take off a shoe and slam it on a table while declaiming, "We will bury you!" Is that close enough? Theres this one guy.... ugh, forget it.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

as in many ways I am. I have to admit that occasionally in my head I fall into that 'stupid user' mindset - usually when a particularly troublesome student or client has been driving me crazy for too long. "I learned that many end-users had become so accustomed to getting an answer they didn?t understand from other techs that they had quit trying to learn anything." But the above quote is my daily, intentional task, and I usually perform it well - at least if student response is any indication. FWIW - the same general concepts apply in education - and a whole host of other fields. It's all about mindset, or so I believe. edit typo