Collaboration

The best thanks might be no thanks at all

Is providing user support a thankless job, or is the best thanks to hear nothing at all? Joe Rosberg explores that question, and explains how he adheres to the axiom, no news is good news.

Is providing user support a thankless job, or is the best thanks to hear nothing at all? Joe Rosberg explores that question and explains how he adheres to the axiom, no news is good news.

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I had planned to write my blog piece this week about how providing user support can appear to be a thankless job. I almost opted for a different subject, however, because over the past several days there have been other pieces, in both the blogs and the discussions, that touched upon the subject in one way or the other. Patrick Gray wrote a piece that appeared in Toni Bower's IT Leadership blog about how IT professionals sometimes whine about the lack of acknowledgement for what they (we) do; and while I certainly didn't intend to whine about anything, I didn't want anyone to make that assumption or run the risk of coming across that way.

Since I approach providing user support as a sort of customer support role, I was also interested in Tricia Liebert's piece about her experience with customer service. And JamesRL (the voice of reason around the TR water cooler) started another discussion about a bad customer service experience he had.

I didn't want to inundate the site with similar material, but it seems to be a hot topic. Maybe it's something in the summer air (pun intended). Nonetheless, since I planned to write on the subject all along, I just went ahead with it.

I was talking with someone the other day about how I always hear about problems, but I seldom get any feedback when things go right. I often work after hours or over a weekend (so people don't have to suffer through network or computer downtime), and I even coordinate that with the users (since many of them also work after hours), but I can't recall the last time someone came to me on Monday morning to even acknowledge what I'd done. Not that I expect to be showered with accolades day after day, but it seems that about the only time I hear anything at all is when something goes wrong.

This came to light recently when I did some upgrades that significantly increased our Internet connection speed, especially the time it takes to download large files, but no one seemed to notice. I thought about sending a company-wide e-mail asking for feedback, but I decided to say nothing just to see what kind of unsolicited comments I might get. After all, in the past, some people have mentioned how some files take a long time to download, and others have commented about slow Internet connections from time to time, so surely someone would notice the improvement and say something.

As a result of my router and switch upgrades, I measured the increase in download speed to be four times faster than it had been in the past. Surely someone would notice! Nope, not one word -- not from anyone. Thinking back, I could say the same thing with just about any upgrade or user support effort I've made. A couple of months ago, I upgraded half the office to Core2 Quad computers, ones I personally specified to ensure a Vista 5.9 performance rating; I know for certain these computers are incredibly fast, since I gave one to myself, and the performance difference between these and the old computers is very significant. However, not one person has mentioned it.

Oh well, at least I probably won't hear about slow Internet connections any more. Nor will I hear about how long it takes to download a 100 MB file. And no longer will other people mention how slow their computers are. That's just fine with me. I'll not ask for approval or thanks, but instead consider the sound of their silence as golden.

When your work speaks for itself, don't interrupt.

-- Henry J. Kaiser

I like Mr. Kaiser's philosophy. If the people I support aren't complaining about a problem, their silence speaks volumes about how I'm apparently doing most things right. Why should I interrupt?

37 comments
jep0233
jep0233

I seldom read or participate much in these sorts of discussions. However I read this one by Joe Rosberg and was prompted to think of my own experiences over the years. A great part of my life has been dedicated to helping people "upgrade" their lives. Yes, you read right. How often I would hear of the 1% that I did not nail and never hear of the 99% that I did that fulfilled the mission mentioned above. Most of those years I was little compensated for helping peoples marriages, obtaining better jobs, and so on. Often the same people would have a critique of me later, or even before, but I did my job and that was reward for me, usually? Now, considering you probably get compensated fairly well, most people today just think, "Well, you're paid for it and this is what you do, make things better, it's a no brainer." However, your point is taken, it would be nice, but optional to get a thanks for doing what we get paid for. So it's a lesson of life, unfortunately that most people, in this stressed world, will just say, "What have you done for me today?" Revel in your own accomplishments and don't let others diminish what you know in your heart you've done. Peace Out! jack

danl
danl

Like you I usually do not get a thank you unless it is a problem the user knows about when I fix it. Those behind the scenes tweaks go noticed by all but the most irked users. Worst of all is: That new feeling of disappears very quickly. Usually within the first two months.

htmapes
htmapes

If you don't design a mechanism to measure quantitative improvements in metrics before you begin an initiative and then communicate those improvements to upper management, then you and your team will not receive credit. You might as well just hide in the basement and let them throw you scraps.

Snak
Snak

I am currently looking at a box of chocolates given to me by a grateful user (who dropped her portable HDD into the sink) for whom I rescued her Thesis. Last week, I recieved a bottle of wine as thanks for reinstalling Windows on a researchers home PC (he brought it in). I do not solicit these gifts and it can be embarrassing when presented with them because after all, fix things is what I do. A few years ago after a re-organisation, it was suggested that I have a monthly meeting with the Head of School to discuss IT Support issues. At the first (and last) such meeting, we agreed that if he never saw me at all, then I was obviously doing my job, and he (and I) was happy with that. I do save the occasional 'Thank you' emails, in a folder called 'Trumpet Blowing'. I slide these into a Word document each year and present it during my Performance Review. Whilst it's not necessary to get thanks (after all, you're doing what you get paid for), it is very nice. Everyone deserves a pat on the back occasionally. And the feelgood factor is immeasurable.

Ray Collazo
Ray Collazo

What you are noticing is actually something that has run in the human fabric for decades: Jobs done Right are not acknowledged, Quickly forgotten in the short term but fondly remembered in the long term. Jobs done Badly will be remembered for quite a long time to come. IT is just another thankless job: Those who come in this industry looking for validation are in it for the wrong reason.

elangomatt
elangomatt

The users at the college I work for are actually very thankful when we fix things on their machine. Like most of you though, we rarely get thanks when we upgrade things behind the scenes. We recently tripled our internet bandwidth and I don't know that we have gotten a single thanks. We have not gotten any of the slow internet speed calls since the upgrade though. Our biggest thanks comes every year when they do a general employee survey and the IT department always is the highest rated department of the college. Too bad this doesn't equate to a better raise in pay though.

WoW > Work
WoW > Work

I can imagine a ton of other jobs that are just as thankless as IT work. tbh, I get more pissed if someone doesn't thank me when I hold the door for them at a store. I actually sarcastically say "you're welcome" (sometimes with some explicatives in the middle.) I'm just fortunate that where I work, we are thanked constantly. Being appreciated is very helpful in a job. But, if you're feeling frustrated because you don't feel appreciated, take it out on the unsuspecting population of places like Liberty City, Vice City or Azeroth. That usually helps at the end of a bad day.

user support
user support

Policemen, firemen, doctors, nurses, customer service reps, tech support personnel, etc, are all human beings that need recognition even if it is a simple "Thank You". No news is good news is not necessarily a good thing. Early in my career of being a helpdesk analyst, the shop that I worked for was reactive. The shop supported 400 plus users in 7 offices. I found out later that if I did not resolve an issue, the user did not tell me and the user would ask for an another analyst. When you are starting out and making mistakes, any word of encouragement helps but you have to be focused and perservere to make it through. I looked at some articles on TechRepublic Helpdesk Support by Jeff Davis that explained the benefits of being proactive and to follow-up with the customer. Following-up does make a difference with most customers but my co-workers told me I was creating more work for myself. After 6 years in that environment, I took a promotion to a smaller shop in the company that supports 80 users in 2 offices. I find myself being complimented on resolving simple issues, complex projects and training classes I give. I feel humbled by all this thanks. I thank the users in return and tell them that is part of my job and without customers, I wouldn't have a job.

ginmemphis
ginmemphis

When I show someone how to print a photo of their grandchild they sing my praises, but upgrading the switches is not noticed. That's fine by me. They do other work that I don't. Anyway, it's wonderful when THE WHINING STOPS!

reisen55
reisen55

Whenever my clients retain my services for another year, and listen to my advice during the year and I have a harmonious relationship with them .... and they pay promptly ... then that is THANKS ENOUGH. To expect a THANK YOU or, rare still, an APOLOGY from a client when they are WRONG, is expecting too much these days. Forget about it entirely so when it DOES COME about ... gee, ain't life grand indeed!!!!!!

llsr
llsr

I think you are making THE tech error. You must market your success. Your failures market themselves. So you have to gently but noticably market what you do. Otherwise you run the risk of some snake oil salesman, dismissing your efforts as too costly and they can do it 50% cheaper, blah blah. Tell your story, if you don't no one else will.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

One part of my annual evaluation is a customer survey. The best thanks I've ever received were from one store manager who wrote: "We work around broken equipment when he is on vacation because none of the other people you send out are as effective as he is." Most of the time, though, it's a simple "Thanks" as the end user of the equipment I've just repaired goes back to work.

JamesRL
JamesRL

And frankly it makes little difference in how I perform a task. One of the big thanks I got was a President's award for work I did on a big year long project. I hope they weren't rewarding me for doing my job, but for the extra effort I put in. The plaque probably meant more than the $500. But neither of those was as important as my internal satisfaction in knowing myself that I had done well. My company had an internal recognition system, where you could nominate someone for an award, and they would automatically get it- copy to the manager, and points in a reward system. I found myself seeing people pad their rewards points by giving each other points for doing their job, and it was very disheartening (thanks for sending that email kinda thing). The comnpany discontinued the points but still has the recognition and guess what, no one uses it anymore. My boss is kinda shy about personal stuff. He doesn't say thanks, rarely says good job. Yet his evaluations are always generous, and he keeps promoting me. I don't need any more thanks than that. James

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

My thanks comes in a direct deposit slip every other Friday. I actually dislike being thanked 'for making an effort' when I haven't solved the problem (yet). I haven't accomplished anything but someone's thanking me for wasting his time. He may be satisfied with the job I did, but I'm not if the problem still exists. I absolutely hate opening an e-mail reply to find it says nothing except, "Thanks!".

WTRTHS
WTRTHS

We sometimes work hard to keep everything running smoothly, and sometimes the users complain about the tiniest bit of "trouble". It seems indeed a thankless job sometimes. But we don't walk over to accountancy to thank them for that monthly paycheck do we? When we order a printer or some other hardware, and it doesn't work, we call the company if we have a warranty or support of some kind. However, we never call them to state the other printers do work fine, and nobody exspects that either. So in a way, sometimes we get the feeling those we support aren't grateful to us, but we just do our job, and they do theirs. Their might always be some exceptions though, but in general, if there are no complaints, we know we're doing great!

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

In providing support for almost 800 users in three physical locations, I meet with an average of eight users a day and greet another 60 or so as I make my rounds. I can't say that I've had any negative remarks or feedback passed back to me, but I've not gotten any positive ones either except when I take a vacation and the users express that they're glad to see me back. I have had a number of customers who wish to sign contracts with the company but won't consider any lead person but me, that I feel to be very positive. Yes, No news is good news, and silence is golden but may also be the result of a broken communication chain.

Altiris_Grunt
Altiris_Grunt

You wrote, "That new feeling of disappears very quickly. Usually within the first two months." In the music industry, there was a saying,"You're only as good as your last record"! This concept applies everywhere; one gaffe can quickly erase a string of successes...

uberg33k50
uberg33k50

"I get more pissed if someone doesn't thank me when I hold the door for them..." Even worse than this is the fact that evidently employers do not teach their employees to thank the customer. I RARELY hear a Thank you from a clerk. Often I will take the time to explain to them that it is because of me and others like me that they get paid.

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

"Policemen, firemen, doctors, nurses, customer service reps, tech support personnel, etc, are all human beings that need recognition even if it is a simple "Thank You"." How 'bout the TSA folks at the airports? On the rare occasions that I fly, I always thank them - that's one job I *NEVER* want.

reisen55
reisen55

One client at an insurance company, a highly placed female executive who said I could enter her office to fix issues at ANY TIME OF THE DAY WITHOUT CHECKING WITH HER SECRETARY ..... well.... She wanted to say THANK YOU and asked what Broadway show I wanted to see. Got tickets to THE PRODUCERS from her as thanks. Not bad.

jdclyde
jdclyde

[i]~walks away wondering if you will know that reference.....

oconnb
oconnb

This is probably the closest to a true response of this subject. Most people only complain, but never praise. They have an expectation that things should work, and they are correct. After all, that is why we get paid. However, the ones that we should be complaining about are our upper management types that really are the guilty parties of making us feel unappreciated. It is there job to stimulate morale to keep us more productive and to make us feel like we are working towards the Better Good.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

TRUE STORY: My boss, and his colleague went to IT central and commended the actions of an individual. That individual was terminated the following week. Yes, it was due to the fact that his boss didn't like the fact that he made the rest of that team look bad.

Techic
Techic

Having appreciative users is fine but once I've fixed a problem for a user, NOT HEARING from them again is the best thanks!!

danl
danl

SPEED. Okay I can't H&P as fast as I think.

Altiris_Grunt
Altiris_Grunt

Or just slaps your change into your hand AND fails to say, "Thank You". Back in the day, there was an expectation your change would be counted back to you. Them young whipper-snappers!

elangomatt
elangomatt

I worked in retail for too long before I got my current IT gig, and I thanked every customer. Even now, I find myself thanking the cashier and wishing them a nice day, oftentimes I do this before they thank me (or maybe they weren't even going to thank me at all). I would never go so far as to tell the cashier they should thank me and other customers, but the cashiers should be thanking everyone. I would be very surprised if there were any big box retailers that did not have a rule where cashiers are required to at least say thank you. The cashier either refuses to thank people or the management at that store is not making sure that policy is being followed.

seanferd
seanferd

Lenny Bruce? "I like it. Say it again."

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

share the credit. In my last job, I always tried to share the credit with other people - most of the time, fixing things really is a team effort. "Liz, you really got the network back up in record time!" "Thanks, but I couldn't have done it without Bill's help." It might help you CYA...

methos7997
methos7997

One guys solves a issue that been constantly recurring for months. Next thing I find out he no longer works here. Its a shame that some individuals are so petty.

Arcturus909
Arcturus909

Sometimes users quit calling because they lose faith in the ability of the Help Desk to solve their issues in a timely fashion. I thought we had licked a problem that took quite awhile to figure out. We followed up, but were too soon (the problem had not manifested again by follow-up). Then, when it popped up again, the user didn't want another 2 hours of downtime, so they never called. By the time they tired of their self-designed work-arounds and mucked up their system nicely trying to fix it themselves (shudder) the silence had taken on a distinctive brown color instead. :)

brudab
brudab

I function as an outsourced IT department for most of my customers. I've made it a habit of telling them that if they see me often, then it means I'm not doing a good job. Thus, when they don't have to call on me for weeks on end, they don't even miss me. However, the next time I'm needed, they show their appreciation by being extra cooperative or in some other way... Rarely do I actually hear words of gratitude. It almost always comes in the form of actions (and those actions DO speak louder than words)

jdclyde
jdclyde

look up "gay lone ranger" on youtube sometime and you will understand.... :D

JamesRL
JamesRL

was raised just about 8 miles from the house I grew up in, and went to the same high school I did. Of course, you smart buggers, that was decades before my time. James