Have you ever explained something to users only to have that glassy-eyed look tell you that they had no idea what you just said? What do you do? What are some of the things you’ve tried to explain that fly above the understanding of some users?


I’m sure we all support users with varying degrees of computer savvy, and we’ve probably all dealt with that occasional user (hopefully not too often) who simply can’t understand some simple concept or another, regardless of how you try to explain it. Here are a few of the issues that most of us would consider simple, but I’ve run across some users who have trouble grasping the concept.

The confused home user that I reluctantly tried to help on the phone who, when asked which application she was using when experiencing a printing issue, didn’t know any more than just Windows. “Well,” I asked, “is it Microsoft Word, or Excel, or some other application?” “It’s just Windows,” she replied. Oooookay. At this point an attempt to help someone (for free) over the phone just turned into a house call (for free) – or, in my case, a decision to simply pass the buck. “Maybe that’s something your son can help you with the next time he’s over,” I suggested.
The default program which opens a file is something I’ve tried to explain once, only to see that confused look. From time to time, for whatever reason, the default program that opens a file gets changed. Who knows how? It could be any number of things. “These files used to all be Adobe files,” I was told by a user, “but now they’re some other kind of file.” I explained that they’re actually PDF files, and Adobe is the program used to open them. You do have another program installed that can open PDF files, and somehow the default setting was changed. If you right click on the file, you can choose which program will be used to open those types of files. “But why aren’t they Adobe files anymore?” In this case, let me just set it for you, and let me know if it happens again.
The flow of e-mail from an e-mail host’s server to a user’s client inbox is something I’ve actually had to diagram for some people to understand. E-mail just doesn’t go from the sender’s computer to the receiver’s computer. There may be any number of stops along the way, and it sits on the host’s server until it’s actually downloaded. And even then, I might get asked the same question a second time, or third…….
Memory versus hard drive space is a pet peeve of mine. “This computer has 500GB of memory,” I was told. “No,” I might say, “it has a 500 GB hard drive – or storage capacity – and probably 2GB to 4GB of RAM – or memory.” I know, I know. Back in the early days of computing, the distinction was sometimes less clear – but that was then, this is now. Memory and storage space should not be confused, but some people still do it. (Then have some fun and throw virtual memory into the conversation!)

I’m actually pretty fortunate in that most of the users I support on a daily basis are pretty savvy users, but over the years, with people coming and going, and on that rare occasion when I try to help a home user, I have seen that confused daze telling me that the concept I just explained wasn’t fully understood. Deciding whether to explain a concept, of just fix the problem and move on is a decision most user support professionals have been faced with, I suppose.

Share some of the stories from the trenches. I suspect that the Help Desk people will probably have the best ones. Or how far do you go to explain a concept?