When the support shoe is on the other foot

How will the users - our customers - reply when asked what kind of service they received from us? Here's a story about how to do get a good review - and how to get a bad one.

How will the users — our customers — reply when asked what kind of service they received from us? Here's a story about how to get a good review — and how to get a bad one.


This isn't a story of tech support for a computer user, but rather an example of end-user support in general. Nonetheless, it's one that certainly could be applied to how we provide end-user support in our own IT environment.

I was in the "other person's shoes" recently when I visited my local home improvement superstore on a mission to find a solution to a home plumbing project. Without going into a lot of detail, in the process of completing a major kitchen remodel, I discovered that I lacked all the plumbing parts necessary to complete my project. I knew what I needed (or so I thought), so I ventured off to roam the plumbing aisles looking for the pieces I needed to complete my plumbing puzzle.

After spending about five minutes searching through the myriad of different types, sizes, and shapes of potential solutions, I started looking around for an expert to steer me in the right direction. I kept my eye on a guy who was helping a woman at the end of the aisle, doing my best to look lost and confused so I might be his next "support ticket." He spent about another five or ten minutes with this woman before he finally finished with her. It was my lucky day, or so I thought, when he started walking in my direction with no other customer between us. To my dismay, however, he didn't even attempt to stop and offer assistance, but rather kept going past me — until, that is, I actually reached out and touched his shoulder asking if he could help me find what I needed.

After I briefly attempted to describe my needs, he said, "You need to know the size and type on one side, the size and type on the other side, and that's what you need. Nothing is standard." And with that very short and curt answer, he briskly walked away. (As to not digress, see my comments in the discussion below with the title, "The Rest of the Story.")

A second person became available, and I described to him, just as I did to the first guy, what I was trying to do. However, knowing what I needed (or what I thought I needed) was one thing, but knowing what it was called or how to explain it was another. To him it might have sounded like, "I need a thing to go between this and that." Oh my, I thought, how many computer users have challenged me with something that started in such a way? It was easy enough to imagine, but not so easy to explain — or in my case, to find.

Nonetheless, he was extremely patient and engaged, and he asked me questions about my this and that. In the end, he retrieved some plumbing supplies from different aisles, and he actually recreated what I had so we could see what was needed and fit the correct parts. It actually didn't take much longer than a few minutes, but his attention and focus made all the difference.

On a scale of 1-10, the first guy was an easy 1. The second guy, however, was a 10+. We're seen the same way. As computer support professionals, if we put ourselves in the shoes of those people for whom we provide answers and support, where do we fall on that scale?

Please share your thoughts and opinions — and your own user-support stories, whether they happened to be related to IT or otherwise.

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