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The issue of complaints and their resolution is a perennially
hot topic in the virtual world of TechRepublic, with views expressed about the peeves of an IT manager and a support tech and complaints about CIOs. But nowhere in all these discussions
have the most important people in our universe–our users–been given a voice.

In an attempt to redress this imbalance and put our own complaints
in perspective, I took the liberty of asking my users to provide me with their
complaints about us, the IT professionals. So here, in no particular order, are
my users’ grievances, together with a few thoughts about how they might be
addressed and/or how they could have been avoided.

#1: Applications and hardware that don’t work

Several users raised this issue, expressing frustration at
features of their applications they knew to be available but that didn’t appear
to work. Upon investigation of a few specific complaints, it became apparent
that although the issues were genuine, the cause of the problems was being
misrepresented. In most cases, the apparent application or hardware failure was
actually due to lack of knowledge on behalf of the user.

This is not to say that the complaints weren’t justifiable–quite
the contrary, as my department had been guilty of giving the users new
applications and peripherals without providing them with the knowledge to use
them. It was interesting that this issue came up most frequently in reference
to digital cameras and scanners, raising the further question of whose
responsibility it is to provide training for such devices. As more and more
devices become available, the issue of who in the company should be responsible
for managing the required training needs to be addressed to avoid both
frustrated users and overburdened IT departments.

#2: Inconsistency of WiFi configurations

With the
exception of a handful of the more computer literate users, this is a common
complaint among the road warriors. We strive to make the process of
establishing a remote connection with the corporate network as straightforward
as the necessary security measures will permit, but our users still routinely
encounter WiFi configurations we’ve neglected to prepare them for. Many late
nights are spent talking to the techs responsible for a hotel’s installation,
persuading them to add our VPN software to their permitted list or make other
modifications to their configuration. Although we rarely encounter resistance,
this is a time-consuming and frustrating process for both us and the user.

#3: Slow computer/network

Dealing with this complaint is an occupational hazard. Every
place I’ve worked, users have constantly complained about how long it takes
their computer to boot, load a page, open Word, copy a file, etc. I’m not sure
that such complaints can ever be completely eliminated, but a few steps can help
reduce them. For instance, we can ensure that users who frequently interact
and/or perform the same job function have identical, or very similar, computers.
This will prevent direct comparisons: “Fred’s computer runs the same report
five seconds faster than mine!” Computer performance complaints occur so
frequently, it’s tempting to dismiss them as unimportant. I would advocate a
different approach. Sometimes, simply showing users that you take them
seriously and acknowledge that their computer’s performance is less than
desirable will cut down on complaints, even if nothing is done to actually
improve the situation.

Of course, this is not to say that every complaint should be
dismissed as the user’s perception, particularly if the user reports a sudden
slowdown or a slowdown following a specific event. Performing the usual
procedures to check for spyware, adware, viruses, and other potential issues
not only lets users know that you are taking them seriously–it might unearth a
real problem. We had one user who absolutely refused to reboot his computer. Months
would go by without a reboot, while we would watch in fascination as he
struggled with steadily degrading system. In the end, it took a power outage to
cure him of his phobia.

#4: Frequently required password changes

Just when everyone has finally adapted to their new passwords,
the dreaded message pops up announcing the impending password change. For
several days, we reset passwords and remove the ubiquitous post-it notes that
start sprouting from monitors: “No, I’m sorry, it’s against company policy to
write your password down. No, sorry again, I’m afraid it really does require a
numeral or a nonalphabetic character, and yes, it really does have to be that

Having to remember a whole herd of passwords myself, I can
genuinely sympathize with the users’ distress over this issue and recognize it
to be a real problem. Even when a user can be made to understand the importance
of the policy, it doesn’t help them conjure up and remember new, sufficiently
complex, nonrepeating passwords every 90 days. The more we try to secure our
environment, the less convenient it is to use. Apart from sympathizing with
users and listening while they tell me just how much I’m increasing the stress
in their lives, I really can’t think of an appropriate solution to this very
real problem.

#5: Not being administrators of their machines

A primary goal of almost any IT department is to maximize
the availability of all computer systems, including personal computers. Unfortunately,
whether it’s through inadvertently changing settings or deliberately installing
unauthorized applications, the users themselves can present a major obstacle to
the attainment of this goal. For this reason, it makes perfect sense to give
users the minimum level of privilege necessary to perform their job function on
their personal computers. For obvious reasons, this approach is not generally
well-received–Big Brother is at it again.

educating the users can go a long way toward increasing their acceptance of
such restrictions, perhaps a more creative approach is required. What if users,
through attending training, could earn the right for increased privilege? Perhaps
they should start out as an administrator of their computer and lose that
privilege only if they violate clearly stated corporate policies?

#6: Spam filtering

This complaint is another one that falls into the Big
Brother category. The degree to which my company watches and controls the
users’ interactions with their computers has dramatically increased in recent
years. Until approximately two years ago, we had no company policies governing
the use of the corporate e-mail system. Users became accustomed to using their
SMTP addresses for personal contacts, Boy Scout mailing lists, Shakespeare
Sonnet of the Day, exchanging movies and pictures with friends, and so on. Before
long, spam accounted for more than 90 percent of inbound mail, mailboxes grew
to unmanageable sizes, and files you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see were
being backed up to tape and archived. Something clearly had to be done.

We purchased
and implemented an antispam solution and established a corporate policy banning
the storage of personal mail. Mail identified as spam was held for seven days
and then eradicated. Users were told to send an e-mail to the help desk if they
did not receive mail they were expecting, so that the sender’s address could be
white-listed. The users were not happy, to say the least. The complaints and
general discontent were completely understandable, as the users’ e-mail
environment had been radically restricted without obtaining their buy-in.
Although it wasn’t inappropriate for the IT department to recommend spam
filtering, management should have been given the opportunity to first understand
the problem and–more important–participate in the solution. Now we’re left
dealing with discontented users who feel as though they’re being punished by
having a privilege revoked and are being watched by the prying eyes of the IT

#7: Restricted Web access

This is probably the most frequently heard complaint. Cries
of “Why can’t I order from Victoria’s Secret?”; “Why should you get to decide what’s ‘tasteless’?”; “A
site I order parts from has suddenly been restricted”; and “Why can I use e-bay
for only 30 minutes a day? How do you know that I’m not using it for business
purposes?” echo throughout the building.

situation parallels the problem with spam filtering. Both e-mail and Web access
were introduced at the same time with no thought given to how they should be
used. After a few years of completely unrestricted use, the IT department made
the decision to implement certain restrictions because of the understandable
burden this freedom placed on IT resources. Once again, the IT department was
compelled to act unilaterally, and as a result, now has to deal with an unhappy,
confused, and threatened user population. Although I don’t question the need to
exercise some controls over Internet access, the IT department should be in the
role of an advisor, implementer, and administrator and not the sole policy
maker and enforcer.

#8: Not being allowed to use company computers for personal use

This is a common complaint of the notebook users, especially
those who spend days at a time living out of hotels and sitting in airports and
on planes. We do not have a clearly defined policy on this issue, but in
general, although we don’t mind the computers being used to watch movies while
on the road or to create the occasional personal document, we do have a
complete ban on installing unauthorized applications, storing personal
documents, or attaching personal devices. This is probably our most abused
policy. Even those users who don’t abuse it aren’t hesitant to express their
discontent, frequently citing the example of other companies that allow their
employees to install games or any other applications they desire.

I understand
the users’ point of view, but having spent hours rebuilding systems due to user
abuse, I would be reluctant to completely relax the policy. Perhaps instead of
declaring war on the users, it might be possible to reach a compromise by
providing certain games, allocating an amount of disk space for personal use,
and supplying a list of approved devices that may be attached. But I don’t know
whether this approach would resolve the issue or merely open the door for more

#9: Unresponsiveness of the IT department

I can run reports until I’m blue in the face to prove to
users that 99 percent of their problems are resolved within an hour of being
reported, but it is always the 1 percent
they remember. What accounts for this difference in perception? To a certain
extent it’s just human nature. The time the doctor kept us waiting for half a
day will always figure more dominantly in our memory than the 27 times we were
seen on or before our appointed time.

tendency probably can’t be changed, but we can do a few things to improve matters:
(1) Communicate with users, acknowledging that their problem has been received
and immediately issuing an ETA; (2) Ask users to sign off on a completed work
order; (3) Send users a follow-up e-mail to solicit their feedback after a work
order has been completed. Constantly communicating with users and keeping them
informed lets them know their problem is important to us, so they’ll have less
reason to accuse us of being unresponsive.

#10: Arrogance of the IT department

We don’t have to directly tell a user he or she is stupid to
be guilty of this. Less overt signs, such as rolling our eyes, tutting under
our breath, or a taking on a certain look still tells the user that we think he
or she is stupid. This can also be a problem with the wording of our memos. If we
send out memos written in Geeklish instead of the user’s native tongue, it
alienates them and makes them feel ignorant. The memo becomes useless because
nothing meaningful is communicated.

We do this
in more subtle ways, too, such as impatiently fixing a simple computer problem
instead of teaching users how to do it for themselves. In effect, we’re saying,
“You are too stupid to perform this simple task, which takes me about 20 seconds.” For a look at these and other miscommunication problems, see “The 10 worst ways to communicate with end users.”

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