IT Policies

Fixing computers or fixing people?

Jeff Dray has been a support specialist for twenty years and has found that even when technical knowledge fails, possessing the right soft skills can help you become a successful help desk analyst.

My speciality is help desk support. I suppose that over the last twenty years I have spent far more time than is good for me taking support calls, and I have found that when my technical knowledge has failed, my soft skills have stood me in good stead.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The truth of the matter is that most problems are relatively easy to deal with if you have the right kind of mind and skills to extract the required information from the caller. When there is something technical I don’t know, I can ask the relevant department and make notes for future reference. This is when we have to examine the true role of the help desk.

Is it intended to keep the users from bothering the busy operational staff by filtering out the trivial questions?

Are they there to provide the first line of support in order to get speedy resolutions to users' problems?

Is their role to collect data from the user base so that future planning decisions can be made from a more knowledgeable point of view?

Maybe they are there to manage bookings for training courses and to operate the password system?

The answer is: all of these and more. The ability to draw an analogy rather than use technical language, the insight to understand how a fault looks from a user’s perspective, the patience to calm down an angry or nervous user, and the knowledge to tell them apart, even understanding how a new product or application will impact the support services and being able to anticipate or predict the kinds of issues that will arise from any new rollout are the kinds of activities that most help desks thrive on. All these skills are routine to the help desk yet few are really technology-based.

They are more about people than machines. It has been said that help desk work is more about fixing people than fixing computers. The truth is that you need to know a bit about both, with more emphasis on people.

These days when teaching children, it is common to use props such as puppets or cartoon characters. On the help desk we can’t resort to such tricks, so you have to create a character who, no matter how bizarre or silly the problem, has done it before, only worse.

I tend to use a made-up person and tell people that it is me -- the one who called in the expert when the plug was out, the one who forgot his password four times each day, the one who put the CD in the drive upside down, and the one who has done whatever you have done but worse, not because I’m a dope, but because the most important thing is to stop the caller from feeling silly.

What kinds of ploys do you use to settle down unhappy users or comfort the befuddled?

20 comments
Juan Ferzara
Juan Ferzara

Well, what I try to do, is simply hearing what the other person in the line, and then, saying that, just for testing, lets try this... sometimes one as a support tech has to behave like the poor guy who is teaching how to drive. Oh and whatever happens and it will, don??t let your face go pale.

BillMlod
BillMlod

Knowing your computers / apps is a very big part of tech support, but people skills are also important. I have a certain knack for making people comfortable and getting them to do things on the computer, their problem is the most important to me when I am on the phone with them. I have been doing tech support for over 20 years and is has been very good to me, I even meet my wife thanks to it (she was in MN and I was in NJ). Bottom line, you have to have skils in both, computers and people. Great topic Bill M

reisen55
reisen55

We have enough angst in this community through the kind world of Micro$oft, for which many of us would not have jobs fixing their own world of hell. But I enjoy people - always have - and as an independent consultant, I find my work most enjoyable when I am live at an office showing staff how things work, discussing their jobs and not mine, providing food (a social networking plus) and learning about their business. This is a forgotten part of our job. I have often wanted to work as part of their company for a day or so, to learn how their company runs from the inside. At least, I appreciate whenever I pick up a bit of such knowledge. Never talk to people in tech talk. Ever. Always be considerate and work through their level of expertise. Train where appropriate. Avoid acronyms wherever possible. My 2 cents

Soozi13
Soozi13

I agree and disagree with this statement (It has been said that help desk work is more about fixing people than fixing computers. The truth is that you need to know a bit about both, with more emphasis on people.) You still need to know more than a bit about PC's applications, and the network, you should be an expert at all of your companies apps and network inner workings if you are going to be sucsessful on a help desk. You should know your network and your apps inside out and have fantastic people skills!!!

gwzap2008
gwzap2008

I started working for the NMCI Network help desk in September. While I am still in training, I have worked with other analyst taking calls and providing assistance. So far, I would say 90% of every call deals with how we treat the customer. Let's face it on large networks, people that call in have deadlines to meet, possible facing issues with their machines not functioning properly, work possibly lost, and they need help. We, as help desk professionals, must get past the emotions, and not only recover the equipment that is malfunctioning, but the customer as well. I must admit, there is far more satisfaction in recovering the customer than recovering fixing the malfunction. When we hear the customer happy at the end of our call, it makes our day. Gary

svasani
svasani

I just tell my users its a very common issue. Makes them feel comfortable that they are not the only ones reporting "silly" issues. Has worked for me.

Marb
Marb

Jeff, I have to agree with the analogy of fixing people. I have worked as Help Desk and Technical Support combined for the past 15 years and find that you help yourself by fixing the people. Helping them to help themselves. They feel better knowing they can handle things on their own and it frees up my time. My favourite line when dealing with stupidity is 'the only stupid question is the one you do not ask'. I tell Users I would rather answer the simple questions than have a bigger problem created by not asking. The other thing I try to do is empathize when they are upset or frustrated. Doing this almost always calms them down and I am then able to get the information I need to fix the problem. Your comment about 'the right kind of mind and skills' really hits home.

AtCollege
AtCollege

Thoroughly agree with Jeff and Marb. Users call because they have tried and tried and still cannot figure something out. Their job is not to become thoroughly computer proficient, their job is to do their job. The computer is just a tool. Our job is to be computer proficient and people proficient too. That means understanding when you talk to a very frustrated customer that they are not mad at you, just themselves and the computer. If a helpdesk person is calm and patient and lets the caller talk through the problem before jumping in, 50% of the caller's anger goes away. Because I didn't start my teenage years using a computer, but rather in my 40's, I have a good understanding of how hard it is to understand tech talk and how intimidating it is too. So I always use common words. Impatience and demeaning attitude comes across loud and clear to an embarrased caller. They can't learn anything then because they are so tense. Feed them information at their pace not yours. They retain the solution much better.

Mick_obrien685
Mick_obrien685

Yes, it's sometimes hard to talk "TLA techo info" to the field engineers on one phone and "rest of the world english" on another to a user. On top of this, I was the only one able to translate heavy Glaswegian into English! "See you Jimmy".

ITCompGuy
ITCompGuy

I think that sometimes we have to re-evaluate ourselves. It is easy to forget why WE (in the IT field) get paid. We are in the business of customer service. There are internal customers and external customers. A lot of people use computers in the performance of their jobs that may not have used a computer a decade ago. This does not mean that because you USE a product on a daily basis you are an expert at the operation of the equipment. There are drivers on the road that have been driving over 20 years that quite frankly, should not have a license or operate an automobile. Seeing repetitive problems on a daily basis can sometimes make helpdesk technicians cynical in the same way that some police officers get cynical from dealing with criminals on a daily basis. I have several years of working level 1, 2, and level 3 helpdesk. The think to remember is that even the "so-called stupid user" is the reason why WE are employed. We may be more knowledgeable about technology because we have been trained/have aptitude for/enjoy/fell into this field. Even WE run across problems that we have trouble with and have to stay current with new trends. Granted, some problems are pretty funny, but funny in a way that should motivate us or make a slow day go by faster. Users are NOT stupid or dopey, some are just not technology inclined in the same way that I am not Medically inclined. If I have a broken bone...I go to the doctor. If I THINK I have a broken bone and it turns out to be nothing but a buise...I STILL go to the doctor because making THAT diagnosis is in HIS field of expertise

sbmknight
sbmknight

I tell people how common and easy it is to make the mistake they've made. Dragged all your headings out of Outlook? "it's very easy to do that..." Forgot your password? "people forget all the time..." I try to focus the call more on giving them a solution for the future than making them feel bad for it. In my experience, most people don't make the same *stupid* mistake twice.

datdof
datdof

An often negelected way of dealing with users is to simply tell the truth. Whatever may be the cause of the problem - or if you don't know - just say so. Allow/demand that the user understand the simple reality. Most often, it makes things easier by eliminating uncertainty and suspicion on the part of the user/client. The client will then know the score and have a better idea of what to expect as the resolution of the problem proceeds.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

should be the way to go. We will start with the crack whores who have 4 or 5 kids that they cant take care of. We'll move on to those who have many abortions, or kids that cannot be taken care of. Then, we will just 'fix' everyone and start a cloning machine for reproduction.. :D

Roc Riz
Roc Riz

How about both. However the part that fails most often, is the loose nut between the keyboard and the chair! ;-)

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

The role of the Help Desk is to be the front line to fix anything related to the computing environment, including end-users. The problem as I see it is that most of those in this position do not put a lot of effort into it; they just collect data to put in the ticket. Unfortunately, this does little to justify the existance of the help desk, as I could enter my own tickets into the system.

gorman.mi
gorman.mi

User-written tickets are usually well beyond the mark-the qualified and experienced 'Servicedesk' engineer has to translate the perceptions of the user into what the situation actually is...and should then commence resolving it if a problem. The modern IT support desk should be a one-stop-shop. The better the quality of the 1st-line support, the less work over-flows into the so-called 2nd level-because the 1st line employs 2nd level techniques, with remote tools and sys admin skills etc.

datdof
datdof

A lot of great and sensible responses have already been posted. One point: why are we doing what we do? Help - not ridicule the user. If the answer to the problem is simple, enjoy feeling like a hero over nothing. Above all, take satisfaction in making the user feel better and relieved with the problem solved.

chuck
chuck

I use the anecdote of the user complaining to a major software vendor that the program doesn't work. The screen went blank. When did it happen when the power went off. Is the power back on? NO! then put the computer back in the box and return it to the store. Reason for the return. "The user is to stupid to own a computer." By this time my user is laughing and realizing there are people lower on the scale that him.

durbs15227
durbs15227

It's like I live in the world of Charles Shultz. Psychiatrist = 5 cents. To be a calming influence in the face of genuine stupidity is the trait I've found most effective. Granted, sometimes it's oversight on the users part but honestly aren't we expected as help desk techs to be detail oriented? Why then are the users not held to the same standard? I would like to see my review if I forgot such simple things as th ON button.

Roc Riz
Roc Riz

...as many people are using laptops, this may have held true in the past, but not so much today.

Editor's Picks