Are you a great communicator, or when you explain things, do your customers glaze over and nod knowingly, hoping that you will stop soon and let them get back to their preconceptions?


I try not to treat my customers as though they are foolish, but sometimes I realize that I am going into too much detail when they ask what has gone wrong with their equipment. I try to involve the customer, particularly when the fault they have reported is intermittent or obscure. There is a hard and fast law that states that any intermittent error or failure will not occur when a tech wants to see it but will invariably happen as soon as his or her back is turned. This can make a diagnosis quite difficult, and any fix can be a bit of a hit-and-miss affair.

Today, I was asked to investigate a mailing machine that was freezing up mid-cycle. I got the operator to show me the fault and, unsurprisingly, it performed perfectly. I looked at the system error log and looked up some of the more frequent error codes.

I found and fixed a couple of minor faults, but I can’t be confident that any of them were responsible for the customer’s experience. I tried to get her to demonstrate what happens when the fault occurs and determine if she had seen any error codes displayed on the machine. After a while, I realized that the problem may have been related to the way she was using the machine, so I suggested a better way of operating it. This was fine, but there was still something on her mind.

“Jeff, it makes a funny noise sometimes.”

“What sort of noise, Wendy?”

“Well, it’s a kind of screech-plonk noise.”

I wondered what kind of “screech-plonk” noise it was, and what could it mean. Fortunately, the machine went into a maintenance cycle and Wendy cried out:

“That’s the noise! What is it?”

“That’s the print carriage wiping and capping itself. It does that if it hasn’t run for a while.”

“So it’s quite normal then?”

“Yes, because you are normally using the machine continuously, you wouldn’t get to hear it very often. There’s nothing to worry about.”

This seemed to give her confidence, and she asked about other features of the machine. Although she had been using it for a while, I got the impression that she hadn’t had a very good training session from her boss when she had started the job.

The upshot of this was that I spent an hour there going through the features of the machine and how to get the best out of it. I felt sure that I should have done this long ago, but I had never noticed that she had any problems. She started to communicate with me when her boss wasn’t there, and I realized that she was quite a nervous kind of person.

We had a light-hearted couple of moments doing impressions of other strange noises that the machine makes, and I took my leave before the madness rubbed off. It got me thinking that there was probably a training need with this customer, and there are probably many more in a similar situation.

How do you handle support situations when you can see there’s a need for user training? Can you take the time to do it yourself, or do you alert someone else to the problem?