Windows

Support superheroes won't let users live in fear

We may not rescue people from burning buildings or fight space robots, but support pros can perform a public service. We can make sure that our clients are not overwhelmed by a fear of screwing something up.

We may not rescue people from burning buildings or fight space robots, but support pros can perform a public service. We can make sure that our clients are not overwhelmed by a fear of screwing something up.

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In this article for the OPEN Forum blog, Ramon Ray sets out to share several computing lessons with the site’s audience of small businesspeople. The article offers some sound advice on best practices, like the importance of backups and the advantages of standardization on one platform. Some of Mr. Ray’s other suggestions are less cut-and-dried, though, and some professionals might disagree with his opinions on hosted services. All in all, I thought I was reading a pretty standard article until I came to a real bombshell near the end. After blaming a visit to Windows Update for causing some instability on his machine, Mr. Ray closes his article with this line:

“Don’t update Windows unless you need to — and really think through what you are updating.”

I was shocked at this line, because as all support techs know, keeping your installation of Windows up-to-date with critical patches is absolutely vital, especially when using Windows XP, as Mr. Ray was. What he was advocating in his post bordered almost on negligence, I thought.

I eventually climbed off my high horse, because I realized that Mr. Ray was exhibiting a similar behavior to some people I have had to support. He was taking the usual pose of the frightened computer user. He was so worried that he would break something that his attitude became “better to leave well enough alone.”

I’m sure you’ve come across clients like this in your travels. They are the ones who sit well back from the computer, looking at it with suspicion all the while. I’ve even had clients who seemed hesitant to use the mouse, as if it were something that might break if they held on too tight. Well, friends, I submit that it is our place…nay, our duty!...to help these poor souls wherever we can. Our powers may not result from a close encounter with a radioactive meteor, but we have the ability to help our fellow beings live without fear. Here’s how you can be a support superhero:

Provide a sense of safety. People will feel more like going out on a limb if there’s little chance they’ll hurt themselves. Make sure all your clients have solid backups, and demonstrate the system for them. Use virus protection on their machines. Consider using software like Windows SteadyState or Faronics Deep Freeze. Programs like these return a system to its default state after every reboot, ensuring that a client’s system is resistant to software faults. Inspire people. A sure-fire way to get hesitant users over their fear is by making them want to use their computer. By finding a way to connect users' interests to their machine, you will erode their mistrust of the computer. I knew one woman whose aptitude took off when we discovered that there were tons of quilting resources online for her to explore. Engender confidence. The best way of doing this is by being encouraging. Not knowing how to accomplish something is intimidating enough without having some know-it-all rolling his eyes beside you, sighing with exasperation while you fumble your way through a task. Heroes are humble, and don’t hesitate to help others if they need it.
29 comments
Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

If your environment has tons of custom applications/hardware user utilization of Windows update would be a "Bad Idea" to encourage without some sort of application testing plan. If you use off the shelf packages and WHQL hardware, then you can err on the side of user client security versus productivity.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

can't save some users from their fear. I run into this more than I once would have thought, teaching students how to use certain software. Though they work at a lab with an Instructor present, with computers they need not worry about crashing, a certain few still wallow in their fear of the new. I fear that at some point during elementary/secondary education curiosity is stifled, if not downright 'killed'.

Darryl~
Darryl~

Been there....tried to "hold the hand"....there are some people that just downright resist that "evil" keyboard & monitor staring them in the face. I do find older students (40+) more difficult, as I'm sure you do as well....I think that's the norm....on the otherhand, I find kids (little kids) just suck it up like it's the "latest/greatest". I've observered my kids (5 of them....yeah, I know...I must be insane)...they all learned their "colors", etc on the computer.....they all adjust to new operating systems/programs quite well. My oldest helps out his younger sisters with the "hardware" issues & picks on them when they crash the OS & he has to fix it for them (he has no problem calling me when he crashes his though:))....my 5 yr old has been logging into her own account (username/password) since she was 3....I think it's a "life" thing....if they grow up with it...it's normal.....sort of like me....I had to learn about remote controls for TV's, microwaves, VCR's, DVD's (still haven't got that one), gas BBQ's, cell phones....and so on....if you grow up with it, than it's normal...not a problem....if you're an old fart like me & have to learn it....well it becomes a problem.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

or maybe not, middle aged students appear to show the most willingness to 'click around to see what is what'. Younger students are all over the web like ducks in water, but when it comes to effectively using Office Suite programs they choke, as do many of the elderly students. I attribute elderly unwillingness to that mindset I'd call 'stuck in a rut'. I attribute younger student unwillingness to lack of curiosity along with inability to move from 'here's what to do' to 'why to do it'. etu

razumny
razumny

I disagree. Totally and completely. The quote is taken out of context, meaning, you won't understand why he wrote it unless you go to the source: Bonus: Be Careful When Updating Windows The reason I had to reinstall Windows was that after about 3 days with my new computer, I decided to update Windows XP manually. The automatic updates, only install critical files and security patches. I, however, being the explorative geek that I am, went to WindowsUpdate.com to manually update my files. I was presented with a laundry list of things to update and decided to update everything. Once the update was done - my computer started crashing, built in web cam wasn?t working and all sorts of other problems occurred. Lesson learn: Don?t update Windows unless you need to ? and really think through what you are updating. Knowing the context, it all makes a lot more sense, and I agree to what he is saying, although I'll concede he might have taken more care how he said it.

williamjones
williamjones

People who have these kinds of "horror stories" become very risk-averse. Since Windows Update was what caused their problem last time, they avoid updating, and their machine gets owned when the next exploit comes out. The leading cause of system exploitation is unpatched machines. Making readers more hesitant to update their computers is only putting them at risk. I agree that not every update to Windows needs to be installed, but many users are not equipped to judge what they need and what they don't. If you're going to use Windows and connect your machine to the Internet, you should be patched with every Critical Update, and the last thing any technical writer should be doing is discouraging readers from doing so.

williamjones
williamjones

Please look at my original post. How do you help people who are not comfortable computer users? What are some of your success stories? Who has made the biggest turnaround amongst those you know?

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

That question usually gets a laugh when I explain that no one expects us to quote Newtonian physics while hurtling down the freeway in 2 tons of steel. If we can drive a car safely, we can't do anything too serious to the computer, regardless of our level of understanding.

SmartAceW0LF
SmartAceW0LF

Excellent euphemism! Will remember it. Nonetheless, when coming from a person "in the business" of repairing these mistakes it might seem to the listener as though you are pitching in the interest of job security. As a beginning user I threw away all caution and dove in so to speak. Having said that, I know I did so because when all was said and done, I was going to learn what I needed to know to work on these things.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

I just ensur that I set up a backup schedule at night for anyone I support. I then tell them, use SOME common sense, if it is not known or trusted or you are not sure, call me. Anything else, auto updates etc. no problem, let em run. With new users of those that are scared to click, I just tell them to relax and click away. Don't be scared of teh PC kjust use it and get used ot playing with things. If they screw up I can always fix the problem anyway, at worst a reinstall and recovery of a recent backup if needed.

Darryl~
Darryl~

Oz, that can cause you unnecessary work....you don't really want to give them "free reign" just because you know you can "snap" it back to your latest image/backup doesn't stop them from repeating the same thing over & over....it's almost like you're encouraging them to be less responsible because they know you'll fix it for them. Oh, and by the way.....I'm not suggesting you are in any way not capable of troubleshooting a computer.....I'd just like to point out that you should be careful in your comment that seems to imply "oh well, I can always fix it anyway"....sometimes you can't....I know this from my 30+ years experience fixing computer issues.....I learned the hard way. :)

Darryl~
Darryl~

I see you understand what I was saying....I think that is the same "track" I took over the years. The only thing I would like to point out is this.....there is always a problem that you can not fix....I don't care how good you (or whoever) is ...there is that brick wall that you can't fix....it sucks when you're there....backups are your friend but they're not a lifeboat. Back on topic though....from your responses it would appear you are treating your users well.....let them help you learn as much as you're trying to help them....you'll develop a lot of good working relationships.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Time I don't care about, I don't do it for a living anymore, I just support all teh guys at work (yeah I know) and friends and family as always. I always educate people as to what is normally safe and what to watch out for, red flags. If they have issues after that and screw it up, I don' tjust fix it and run, I worok with them to show them what went wrong and how to avoid it. I find education, and no fear of ending teh world, helps people adapt to using computers easily and without teh fears they hear of all over. There are so many scary comments in teh media about PC destruction, that many users become scared to try anything new out of fear of losing their lives.

Darryl~
Darryl~

Now I'm not at all saying I don't help them, what I like to do is take the time to explain how to do the task they are having a problem with and instead of me taking the mouse from them and saying "you click here for that" and "the menu for that is on this toolbar" (you know what I mean.....going too fast for them to understand)...I get "THEM" to click the dropdown menus, etc....I think they retain it better and it gets them using a tool they may be a little uncomfortable with. It seems to work quite well for me as I don't often get callbacks for the same question but frequently get calls with more & more complex problems, which means they are using their computer more and are becoming more comfortable using it.

AmishCake
AmishCake

I keep telling my fearful users, "You can do it!" "Of course you can!" and I give out "geek points" when they are successful. I tell them they are the topic of discussion at our department meetings as examples of progress. I always praise them when they accomplish anything on their own and never give them any "eyerolls" when they can't. It seems to be working very well!

izzy_again
izzy_again

I recommend to clients they do not allow windows to automatically update itself. Since xp the windows update advisor is useful for this since a yellow shield appears signaling updates are ready. When I have less critical things to do I allow the updates to take place. In March this year I had several client computers that would lockup shortly after login. I found a windows update was causing the problem. It was a quick fix but most user don't know where to look. There are some clients however that I place on automatic updates because they ignore the signal and never update. In the past I have seen an update or two render a computer useless. This is a problem when some critical business process has to be done.

SilverBullet
SilverBullet

to the user is dangerous. Being proactive with the management of automatic updates with Microsoft can result in less of IT's time spent on fixing a user supported computer. Exceptions can be made for the advanced/power users.

SilverBullet
SilverBullet

My experience is to identify the type of user you are supporting. I put most "non technical" users into one of two catagories. ONE: the user who uses the computer as a tool. They use the installed programs and can organize their files and know where the printer is located. They most often take pride in their work and share computer skills with coworkers. TWO: the user who is more interested in the machanical workings of the computer and devices attached. They like making personal settings for cosmedic reasons such as family pictures on the background and other useless things. Production is a second priority to these users and always are seeking the latest, greatest, fastest computer to tweek into corruption. The "technical" users are more likely to collaborate and gain knowledge using Q&A.

izzy_again
izzy_again

#3 I have run into users who just use programs but will not install them or even change options. I get calls even for minor changes to program configurations. I am nice to all clients no matter how ridiculous I think the question is. I simply explain that time can be saved by learning the application and using the online help.

rfolden
rfolden

I had to get out of telephone tech support. The PC has been out since 1982 and is nothing more than a tool. If you're a secretary OR a department head OR the director of an agency: LEARN TO USE THAT TOOL! The next time someone asks me for help and prefaces it with "I'm computer illiterate..." I'm going to smack them. Hear me on this: I'm not saying they need to know how to repair/fix/do every little thing, and I'm not saying they need to learn how to program in VBA or C++ or whatever. I'm not even saying they need to become subject matter experts. I'm just looking for a little personal initiative from the users... It is not IT's job to retype the MS Word document that the secretary (oops, excuse me... administrative assistant) lost because they "don't know where I put it". Got a car? Learned to drive it? Got a computer? Learn to use it...

darpoke
darpoke

I think we do need to take a step towards the more timid and less knowledgeable users. It's not always easy to pick up technology that can appear overwhelmingly complicated. I myself was a clueless user until well into my degree, in fact I didn't learn most of what I know now until after I had graduated! I know the feeling of staring at a box and not having the first idea how it does what it does, even having stared at its innards. It's rather disquieting. But to scoff at those with no tech know-how is unproductive for two good reasons. Firstly, whose who lack the mastery of all things tech may very well be highly adept at things that exceed your abilities. My networking kung-fu gets stronger every day but I couldn't play a musical instrument to save my life. Nor could I paint a masterpiece or identify the markers for a particular gene. Secondly, to deride those with less knowledge than yours on a subject is to diminish the value of you own knowledge. It implies that an understanding like yours is trivially achievable. 'A monkey could do this', could they? Then I guess that makes you a monkey. I worked hard to achieve what I've learned (in *everything*) and I recognise the commitment I've made every time I'm in a position to help someone less capable. However, those who purport not to get computers at all do need to take a step closer toward us 'tecxperts' (spelling, anyone?) as well. It's simply not good enough to shrug and claim ignorance when unable to do something critical. If you only view a computer as a tool then there's no excuse for not being able to use it to do your job. If you took your car to a mechanic (people just love the computer/car analogy) and he shrugged and said 'I don't know how this lifty thing works so I can't work underneath it' - you'd expect him to go out of business before too long. Surely? If you applied for a job requiring fluent French and MS Office skills, you should know how to conjugate avoir and etre (accents omitted, TR eats them) AND use spreadsheets and spellcheckers, send email etc.

darpoke
darpoke

for the eye-rolling is the sheer gamut of issues with which one has to deal in a technical support environment. If a user can't get on the internet because their network cable isn't plugged in... Well, there might be a case for questioning their intelligence. It's just a box until you hook it up, right? If, however, the reason they can't browse the web is because the DHCP server quit supplying DNS addresses to be queried - well, not only is that issue not in their 'jurisdiction', but it's safely out of the realm of knowledge they might be expected to have, if you ask me. That one actually happened here yesterday. Only after a phonecall later that afternoon did I find out our ISP had dialled into our router (as requested) while I was away on holiday, to re-establish a VPN, and had played with the DHCP settings. If you put a bunch of 5-year-olds in a highschool class, you'd quickly find the teacher had difficulty in not rolling their eyes to questions about handwriting or macaroni art while they were trying to teach trigonometry to the older kids...

ottersmoo
ottersmoo

As others have pointed out, it's important from a service standpoint to fight the eye-roll reflex. And that it is also important to remember that just because they aren't experts in computers or consider themselves "computer-illiterate" doesn't mean they aren't experts in another field. Musician? Lawyer? Doctor? And who knows...someday you might need someone to play at your wedding, give you legal advice or take a look at that mole on your back. And they're likely to want to repay the services of a support superhero who helped them overcome their fear of the delete key.

chris-b
chris-b

I too value craftsmanship and using well the right tools for the right jobs. But I'm never going to play guitar like Eric Clapton or play golf like Tiger Woods. The best leaders and the best teachers meet their subordinates and students where they are and help them to rise to a higher level. If you have pets or kids, I feel sorry for them, and I'm glad you got out of phone support.

pdr5407
pdr5407

I liked the statement in this article about sparking an interest in using your computer on the internet to get around a fear of technology. This is a great suggestion for the on-site tech support person, that can ask what the customer wants to learn about or explore online and show them the website to learn new stuff.

santeewelding
santeewelding

You will be reined in hard one day for lack of that personal initiative you mention; the initiative necessary to investigate and understand the structure of your own intellect.

SmartAceW0LF
SmartAceW0LF

The proliferance of this sort of attitude within the IT field makes me plenty of money. I had a client the other day who answered a question I had asked him with another. He asked me, "How much do you know about embalming the dead?" (He owns a funeral home) Of course my reply was, "Not a thing" "But you do know computers, that is why I call you", was his exiting statement. Takes all kinds in this world. Different people are wired differently. Further, if they knew half of what some techs would seem to expect, we would all be out of jobs!