Software Development

Providing the right kind of help

In the world of supporting end users, sometimes the solution is clear. Sometimes the best solution is to take a bit of time and teach the end user how to solve their own problems. You don't want them taking a screwdriver to the pc, but they can make small adjustments that result in improved user experience over all.

In the world of supporting end users, sometimes the solution is clear. Sometimes the best solution is to take a bit of time and teach the end user how to solve the problem. You don't want the end users taking a screwdriver to the PC, but they can make small adjustments that result in improved user experience over all.

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We have all taken calls in which the end user's problem is less than clearly defined. A crashed hard drive is generally definitive, but “There is something funny on my screen” is not. My experience is that these less-defined calls are the ones where I will spend the lion's share of my time and effort.

Wherever possible, I make a trip to the PC and ask the user to show me the problem. I still recall the “something funny on my screen” issue. The poor end user had been targeted for a joke. Someone had flipped her desktop image and set the upside-down image as her wallpaper. The poor thing was terrified to do anything. I reset her wallpaper and deleted the image. Easy solution, right?

In this case, I thought some user education was really needed. I explained to my user what and how it had happened and showed her step by step how to fix it herself if it happened again. I took screen shots of each step and printed them for her. I had her go through the process by herself following the document I had just created for her. And we discussed at length how she could avoid someone playing the same kind of prank in the future. This was effective because the user walked away from the experience having learned something that she would be able to apply to her computing experience both at her job and on her home computer. I rarely heard from that user after that. In a check back with her, I asked if she was having any issues. “Oh, no!” she replied. “I don't have any problems anymore that I can't figure out.”

I walked away from that experience wondering if I had done the right thing by encouraging my user to learn something new about her computer. What if, given her newfound confidence, she decided to try to fix something on her own and screwed up her system?

For the rest of my time at that company, I heard from that user only when there was something that was really wrong. Perhaps my fears were unfounded.

In a recent and similar situation, I had a friend call with an issue. She wanted to uninstall her current firewall and replace it with the one recommended by her ISP. Anyone familiar with firewall software knows that this can be a difficult task. Even with the firewall shut off, it can balk at being completely removed by running the uninstall routine from the Add/Remove applet in Control Panel. There is generally something left behind. Since my friend is in California, it wasn't practical for me to get in front of her machine. So I got the system information from her and started talking her through the process.

The solution was to run the uninstall routine and reboot. Then I had her go to Program Files on the C: drive and delete the folder. Finally, she ran CCleaner to clear out registry entries that weren't needed any longer. Through the process, I had her take screen shots of every step we took and save them to a file on her desktop. Along the way, I discovered that not everyone takes the step of user education.

When I told my friend to delete the folder from her C: drive, she replied that she couldn't do that because she had been told to NEVER delete anything from her C: drive. She was actually quite astonished when I told her that it was not only safe but a necessary step. At that moment, I had visions of getting on a plane to California, just in case.

We were on the phone for about 45 minutes. I talked her through the steps and calmed her fears about doing something new and different on her computer. Later events proved that it was a useful 45 minutes.

About two hours after her initial call, I got a call back. She sounded very pleased with herself and told me why. Evidently, her ISP's firewall was bundled with anti-virus and anti-spyware software along with spam protection for her e-mail. Her ISP told her that she had to clear off all these things before she could download and install her new software. Using the steps that she had screen shots for, she was able to do this without any problem. In fact, she told me that the hardest part was getting her new software in place. But she did it, and she did it by herself.

This was a great reminder to me to take that little extra time to teach my end user, even if what I am teaching is stuff I can do in my sleep. While my taking that step was a bit more time consuming, it can virtually eliminate rote tasks from my work orders and results in a happier, more informed, and more confident end user.

Do you find that teaching end users some basic tasks is a good thing? Or do you think that there is too much power in knowledge and that there are things that they just don't need to know? Join the discussion!

9 comments
Jeff Dray
Jeff Dray

It can be very satisfying to think that you have done more than just deal with the immediate problem, it also helps to get users on your side and they will trust you more. It might be useful to download crossloop as well.

GSG
GSG

I try to teach, but it depends on the audience. I've had the user who honestly wanted to learn, and by being patient and teaching that person, they ended up being a super-user. Now, everyone in her area goes to her first, and we know that we have fewer calls from them. On the other hand, there's someone who learned WAY too much, and we actually had to start removing her ability to touch anything. She thought that with a little knowledge, she was the queen of anything IT. She would delete stuff left and right. My favorite was that she deleted a bunch of files out of a shared folder. What she didn't realize is that her job duties required that she have a share that pointed to a server, and she had to have read/write/delete access to that share. It was just all done through a gui. She decided that she didn't recognize those files, and deleted them all. We had to restore an entire day from backup. We learned a valuable lesson that day.

bboyd
bboyd

Fundamentally most people given a bit of confidence and a reason why something should occur can figure out all the other W's. My biggest worry is the people who have the wrong why.

jean.pawlak
jean.pawlak

It's always been my mantra. User friendly documentation is the second. One of the first things I teach in any basic apps class is "How to use Help". Not everyone can learn from reading, but they can be taught to learn from reading. I'm constantly amazed at IT Professionals who are afraid to "give away their secrets". My experience is most folks just want to get their work done, not go mucking around in the registry! "The greatest sign of success for a teacher... is to be able to say, "The children are now working as if I did not exist."? --- Maria Montessori

Tig2
Tig2

End users come in every shape and size with skill levels that vary widely across the board. Because of that, the calls we get are just as variable. Do you take the time to teach your end users to do basic tasks that don't endanger their machine? Or do you prefer to have them operate slightly in the dark for fear that they will make matters worse? Read the blog and join the discussion!

rbogar
rbogar

I find that in most cases, if the user wants to be taught, doing so will pay off later. Yes, there are always those who "know enough to be dangerous", the problem is that those types go and learn on their own anyway, whether they learn it right or wrong.

jeremial-21966916363912016372987921703527
jeremial-21966916363912016372987921703527

I work for a medium size company of about 800 employees, as well as some consulting on the side. I am always amazed at the difference in end users when you attempt to teach them something. For my secular work, the culture is unfortunately very much one of entitlement. The users don't want to learn anything, because they have learned that there will always be someone to call who will drop what they're doing and come running. This culture has been fostered (or is that festering) since long before I came on board, and I am finding it difficult to change. On the consulting side, I work with a lot of home users, and find difficulties there too. I have had to ensure that I charge for the full hour, at my normal rate, no matter how nice they are. Me being "Mr. Nice Guy" and not charging full price because it was on my way home leads to never having any time to myself. Unfortunately, it has to hurt the pocketbook to entice them to think and learn for themselves. I wish I could charge my other end users :)

Daniel.Muzrall
Daniel.Muzrall

A little education can go a long way. I make it a point to show people what I'm doing, and why when I work on their machines. Of course you can't always do that based on time constraints, problem complexity, etc., but I always let the user know what I did, and what, if anything will be different after my fixes. I still have people who call me for any problem they may have, but now they at least write down what the error messages are for me instead of saying "I got an error message, but I just clicked OK to make it go away!" Sometimes it's the small victories! : )

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