We may not rescue people from burning buildings or fight space robots, but support pros can perform a public service. We can make sure that our clients are not overwhelmed by a fear of screwing something up.


In this article for the OPEN Forum blog, Ramon Ray sets out to share several computing lessons with the site’s audience of small businesspeople. The article offers some sound advice on best practices, like the importance of backups and the advantages of standardization on one platform. Some of Mr. Ray’s other suggestions are less cut-and-dried, though, and some professionals might disagree with his opinions on hosted services. All in all, I thought I was reading a pretty standard article until I came to a real bombshell near the end. After blaming a visit to Windows Update for causing some instability on his machine, Mr. Ray closes his article with this line:

“Don’t update Windows unless you need to — and really think through what you are updating.”

I was shocked at this line, because as all support techs know, keeping your installation of Windows up-to-date with critical patches is absolutely vital, especially when using Windows XP, as Mr. Ray was. What he was advocating in his post bordered almost on negligence, I thought.

I eventually climbed off my high horse, because I realized that Mr. Ray was exhibiting a similar behavior to some people I have had to support. He was taking the usual pose of the frightened computer user. He was so worried that he would break something that his attitude became “better to leave well enough alone.”

I’m sure you’ve come across clients like this in your travels. They are the ones who sit well back from the computer, looking at it with suspicion all the while. I’ve even had clients who seemed hesitant to use the mouse, as if it were something that might break if they held on too tight. Well, friends, I submit that it is our place…nay, our duty!…to help these poor souls wherever we can. Our powers may not result from a close encounter with a radioactive meteor, but we have the ability to help our fellow beings live without fear. Here’s how you can be a support superhero:

Provide a sense of safety. People will feel more like going out on a limb if there’s little chance they’ll hurt themselves. Make sure all your clients have solid backups, and demonstrate the system for them. Use virus protection on their machines. Consider using software like Windows SteadyState or Faronics Deep Freeze. Programs like these return a system to its default state after every reboot, ensuring that a client’s system is resistant to software faults.
Inspire people. A sure-fire way to get hesitant users over their fear is by making them want to use their computer. By finding a way to connect users’ interests to their machine, you will erode their mistrust of the computer. I knew one woman whose aptitude took off when we discovered that there were tons of quilting resources online for her to explore.
Engender confidence. The best way of doing this is by being encouraging. Not knowing how to accomplish something is intimidating enough without having some know-it-all rolling his eyes beside you, sighing with exasperation while you fumble your way through a task. Heroes are humble, and don’t hesitate to help others if they need it.