‘Deskside’ manner is incredibly important when dealing with a problem in the user’s workplace. There is definitely a right way and a wrong way to approach your clients. The wrong way usually ends up with a lot of unpleasantness, but the right way can lead to a lot of fun and a good rapport between the IT department and the end users.

The way you deal with a problem at the user’s desk will color not only their perception of you as a technician, but also their opinion of the IT team as a whole. The direct user visit is the prime example of where you can create or destroy the rapport between users and the support team. The following example will show you both the right and wrong ways to deal with your end users.

The faulty floppy scenario
Here’s a scenario to illustrate my point. A user calls the help desk and reports that their floppy drive is not working.

Method 1—The right way
You could try to mend the broken drive. However, a new one is only $20 and replacing the drive may be easier than fixing the broken one. Arrive at the office, at the agreed time, with a tool case, new floppy drive, and a spare floppy cable. Just wandering in with a screwdriver in your back pocket creates a very casual image and makes the task at hand appear to be very simple. (Yes, I know it is, but the user doesn’t!) Introduce yourself and invite the user to show you the problem.
This is most important. Allowing the user to explain the problem gives them the feeling that they’re a part of the problem-solving effort.
Most of the clues will reveal themselves from the caller’s own words. Maybe the drive needs cleaning, maybe the cable is loose, maybe they are simply using a worn out disk. Just listening and watching will often show you what the problem is. If you establish that the fault lies within the drive, you can then decide whether to clean it or replace it. Cleaning will often suffice, but you can score huge brownie points by replacing it. Clean the old one when you can, and keep it as a spare.

Assuming that the drive does need to be replaced, ask the user where the most convenient place to do the job is, give a realistic estimate of how long it will take (my personal best is 4 minutes), and get on with it.
Get the user to close the system down. If you do it and lose a file, you will never hear the end of it.
Remember to have a disk with you that you can use to test the drive, show that it is working, and check with the user to make sure that they are happy with the work done.

Method 2—The wrong way
The wrong way is to barge into the office, shut down the system, swap the drive, and disappear without a word. There are (at least) four reasons for not handling the situation this way.

  1. It involves relying on the user’s diagnosis, which may not be 100 percent reliable.
  2. You may be held responsible for any data the user loses. I was once accused of deleting files when all I had done was replace a keyboard. My protestations that it simply isn’t possible to delete files by replacing a keyboard fell on deaf ears.
  3. You’ll annoy the user and if they want someone to blame, the IT guy is always an easy choice. Don’t give them the opportunity.
  4. The user may never know you were there and that the problem was ever resolved. They may have been waiting to save something to disk and not have been able to progress in their work. Waiting for several hours for no reason can really upset a user.

The results
Method 1 usually results in a few pleasant moments, coffee and doughnuts, and a useful ally. You will develop a link with a fellow worker and widen your circle of acquaintances. You will also build the user’s confidence, which in turn will reduce their dependency on the help desk.

Method 2 will usually result in a hard time being had by all, especially if something goes wrong. It will take a long time for the IT department to live down an extremely poor user support experience. Remember, users talk to each other and bad news travels fast. A poor deskside manner will reinforce the “us and them” attitude that prevails in most organizations between the IT department and the other workers.

Keep the user informed and comfortable
The user should know what you are doing. Explain that the drive is possibly faulty, that it needs to be replaced, and what that involves. Don’t let anything come as a surprise. The PC itself is not the problem. It can be fixed, usually without any complication. It’s the user who needs to be reassured. It is not unusual for them to be anxious about their computer, in the same way that they would worry about a sick pet.

The screen may have photos stuck to it. There may be soft toys or plants around it. If this is the case, it is very likely that user may have formed an attachment to their computer, no matter how bizarre that may sound. Handle the user well and your job will be easy. Their relief when finding that the system is OK will make you a friend for life. At the end of the day, it’s all about building bridges.

Adding value
After the user’s problem is solved, try to add some value to the call. For example, check to see when the system was last defragged. If it was a long time ago, defrag it and show the improvement. Better still, show the user how to do it. Empowering users, even at a simple level, improves their confidence out of all proportion to the effort involved.

And finally, before you leave…
Cleaning the screen and keyboard as a matter of routine before leaving the office is a very good customer service gesture. Make sure that you also put everything back neatly and leave the office tidy. Remember how you felt the last time a gas station attendant cleaned your windscreen for you—a small touch, but one that would make you want to buy gas from him another time.

Leaving a mess is definitely a no-no. Any good that you do by fixing the problem efficiently will be destroyed by one adverse comment. Conversely, there is no greater compliment a user can pay you than asking for you by name the next time they have a fault or problem with their computer.
What steps do you take when offering tech support that ensure the end user goes away happy? Have you ever felt the backlash of a bad support call and grumbling end users? We want to know. Post a comment or send us an e-mail.