Technical people are often accused of being either condescending or incomprehensible. Make sure your message hits home by knowing your audience.


We spend a lot of time on the User Support blog emphasizing soft skills, and I think that is time well spent. In my view, help desk techs aren’t employed to fix computers; our role is to help people accomplish their computing goals. Helping people requires situational awareness, sensitivity, and the ability to relate to others. Any effort spent honing those competencies is a good investment.

But what if your team is still building its people skills? Or what if you support too many users to get to know them all personally? How can you make sure you’re connecting with your clients when they call and are communicating with them effectively? Consider conducting a diagnostic assessment of your clients to learn more about their skills.

You may think it’s funny to suggest using a pop quiz to get more personal, but hear me out on this. Students are frequently assessed so that teachers can get a sense for the class’s foundations, and thus adapt the curriculum appropriately. The motive of a computing skills assessment is similar. By understanding the technical competencies of your client base, you and your team can more effectively communicate with individual customers at a level they can understand.

Using a simple assessment can help you learn how comfortable your users are with technology. The skills questionnaire that I’ve employed was neither long, nor threatening, but I’ve found it a useful resource. I would consult a user’s skills assessment before proceeding to answer that user’s support call, and I found that doing so quickly improved the effectiveness of my interactions. Not only was I communicating better, but I also had an insight into how much I could rely on the client to accomplish any future technical tasks that might come up.

Here are some questions I have used in previous skills assessments. Feel free to use them to start developing your own…

Have you ever installed operating system software on a computer? If so, what version?
Do you have a home network? If so, who set it up? What company provides your home Internet service?
Have you ever helped anyone else with his or her computer? If so, what was the situation?

What was the last computer-related activity you performed on your own time?
What computer program do you feel most competent using?
Where do you feel your computer skills could stand to improve?