In her article “Teach users to help themselves,” Michelle Hutchinson reminds techs not to do too much for users. One way to promote user independence, and cut down on your overall workload, is to let your users be in charge of their keyboards when you are helping them.

By having your users make their own changes and by explaining each solution, you increase their confidence and knowledge. Plus, by being more involved, they are more likely to remember the fix—saving you time down the road. Here is some more information on making your users better by keeping them in control.

What not to do
Several years ago, I was working for The Scene, a training company in Bracknell, Berkshire, United Kingdom. My state-of-the-art 486 machine, running Windows for Workgroups 3.11, had just locked up for the umpteenth time so I called network support.

A tech arrived soon after, and I explained what was happening, demonstrating the problem for her benefit. Halfway through my explanation, she gave me a very impatient sigh and grabbed the keyboard. She closed down Windows and started typing furiously at the C: prompt, making the keyboard sound like a machine gun.

I didn’t catch it all, but she used ATTRIB a couple of times and EDIT, and altered some values in a file that I didn’t have time to identify. It might have been the files and buffers values in CONFIG.SYS, but I can’t be sure. Giving credit where it’s due, she was one of the fastest typists I have ever seen.

All through this, she didn’t say one single word. No explanation of what she was doing, no advice, and no indication of whether I had caused the problem or it was a fault with the system. In the end, she rebooted the PC and finally grunted, “That should sort it out.” In the end, she also wasted a valuable opportunity to show me how to fix the problem if it ever happened again, which it did.

Keep the user in control and explain yourself
The first step toward creating better users is to always have users make any changes to their systems. Avoid taking over the keyboard and blasting in a load of commands. Yes, I know it takes longer, but it can save you from having to do it again. By physically making the changes, users are more likely to remember the process and be able to repeat it.

Second, always explain the solution. For example, if you have a user add a command to a modem initialization string, explain why you are suggesting it and what the command does. I can always tell a modem initialization string that was merely typed in verbatim because it often doesn’t work. If a caller doesn’t understand AT commands, they will invariably write 80s34=zero instead of ATS34=0.

The payoff
Explaining the process and keeping users in control not only educates them but also involves them in the problem-solving process. This involvement can improve help desk/user relations and increase the user’s confidence. Knowledgeable and confident users will be more likely to pass on their knowledge to their colleagues. This user interaction can lessen the help desk’s workload by reducing the number of repeat calls for recurring problems. A little extra effort during each desktop visit or support call can pay off down the line.
Does your IT support organization try to create better users? We want to know if your organization is proactive or simply reactionary. Post a comment below or write to Jeff Dray and share your experience.