Lesson 1: Respond to end-user bloopers with professionalism

If you spend any time in IT, odds are you're going to run across a few shocking examples of computer mistreatment. Successfully handling end-user bloopers requires technical know-how, finesse, and above all professionalism.

If you spend any time in IT, odds are you're going to run across a few shocking examples of computer mistreatment. End users, even well-intentioned ones, can do some pretty wacky things when trying to "fix" their computers.

Need a few examples? Check out our, "Computer bloopers and blunders from the technically clueless," gallery with pictures and captions from Rod Shelly. In his eight years as a retail computer technician, he collected a litany of computer maltreatment.

Computer bloopers and blunders from the technically clueless

Work retail PC repair and you'll see some pretty wacky end-user "fixes".

Successfully handling end-user bloopers requires technical know-how, finesse, and above all professionalism. It's also a key quality for IT support leaders.

Note: Your approach to customer bloopers may change depending on the support environment. Corporate IT equipment is company property. Employees should not be allowed to repeatedly damage company equipment without consequences. You can usually take a stronger tone with internal customers who frequently cause trouble.

Regardless of the environment you're operating in, the following 10 tips can help you turn your next customer mistake into a positive experience.

1. Gather all the facts. Before you try to fix the problem or pass judgment on the end user, get the facts. What corrective action, if any, has the customer taken? What was the outcome? It can even be beneficial to know why the customer took the action as it may help you understand their level of technical expertise, which can be helpful when implementing Tip 3. 2. Don't assume the customer knows any better. Sure, you know the difference between Outlook and Gmail, but to many customers these applications are just e-mail. Many customers still have a hard time understanding RAM and hard drive memory. 3. Don't overuse technical jargon. Spouting off a flurry of technical terms doesn't make you look smart. Instead, you'll likely annoy the customer and leave a negative impression. How would you like your doctor to diagnose a loved one with acute ischemic cerebrovascular syndrome and not explain the condition any further? The customer wants someone who can fix their problem and explain the solution in clear, easy-to-understand terms. 4. Fix the problem, but don't go overboard. This may sound obvious but, too many techs apply temporary solutions that fail to resolve the real issue. If a hard drive is starting to fail, a defrag and error check is just prolonging the inevitable. When recommending a solution, make an honest assessment, present available options, and let the customer decide. 5. Ask for help if necessary. You may be an expert tech with certifications galore, but it's highly unlikely that you've seen EVERY computer problem or customer's complaint. Don't be afraid to seek the help of your fellow IT pros. 6. Create a learning opportunity. If the customer is receptive, explain the problem, outline your solution, and then offer advice on how the customer can prevent the problem from occurring again. Hopefully, he will listen to and follow your guidance-saving you a future support call. 7. Look for innovative solutions. If a customer repeatedly ruins keyboards by spilling liquids on them, perhaps it's time to get them a keyboard cover or waterproof keyboard. 8. Be receptive to user questions. Don't be offended or defensive if the customer asks questions. Unless the customer is truly being difficult, they likely want to better understand the problem and know how to avoid their mistake in the future. 9. Realize not everyone will be happy with the solution. Some customers have unrealistic expectations when it comes to IT support. They expect you to recall a scathing e-mail they just sent outside the company. Others won't be happy with any solution. They just want to vent their general frustration with technology. If you fix the problem and are courteous and professional during the process, your dissatisfied customers will be few and far between. 10. Stay calm, cool, and collected: Above all else, never lose your temper. The end user is your customer and, while not always right, should be treated with courtesy and professionalism. This doesn't mean you should tolerate an irate customer screaming obscenities in your face but, even in this extreme situation, you should remain composed.

Armed with these strategies, you'll know how to effectively manage that end-user with a credit-card-filled floppy drive.