Customer service -- Going from being the doctor to being the patient

I moved to Minnesota early in the Y2K build-up phase. I left a television station in Arizona where I was doing system administration in an effort to get to the next phase of my career. I found work with a medical insurer in system support.

Here I discovered the joy of the "drive by questioning," also known as "end user rapid fire questioning." My desk was located where anyone could walk up to it at any time of the work day and blithely ignore that I had a PC open or was working on something. And they frequently did. The result was that I quit trying to manage to timed task lists and started to do things when I could.

End users don't know everything there is to know about the technology they use. They just use it. The fact that the people I supported were all theoretically IT people didn't change that. At the end of the day, they wanted the system to "just work" so that they could get their work done and go home.

This extended from the guy with the PhD in computational logic to the UNIX admins to the Med-Admin Specialists. There was a computer on every desk and everyone used them but there were a few holes. Like the UNIX admin who was brilliant with Security but could never remember his password. Or the PhD that was confounded by NT any time he used it (his primary machine was Sparc). Or the Med-Admins who were incredible once they got their application open but needed someone to show them how to get there.

I learned that what was a "stupid" question to me was another person's quandary. I learned to respect that.

Fortunately for me, I had had the experience of teaching new computer users how to use them. I discovered that the more I was willing to patiently teach my end-users, the fewer calls for password resets and very general information I got. My calls were more on the lines of "I think something broke" or "Is the network down?" I learned that many end-users had become so accustomed to getting an answer they didn't understand from other techs that they had quit trying to learn anything. I also learned that my end-users were waiting for me to show them a facial reaction that indicated that I thought they were complete idiots.

So why dredge all this up now? Certainly we have had this discussion before- how to treat our end users, understanding that they are our customers. What's the different angle?

Simple. Being on the other side of the desk. And recognizing the value of support people who didn't treat me like an idiot because the system was new to me.

Even though I had used a Mac back in the System 7 days and again in the early OSX days, I still had a learning curve to manage. The toughest thing was recognizing that I was no longer the person with all the answers. That was awful. I often felt like the stupidest person in the world because I was looking things up constantly. The screen was never familiar and even the command line could get me.

Finding help was as easy as going to the Apple store. By using the Genius Bar, I was able to fill my knowledge gaps pretty painlessly. More importantly, I never felt as if my "stupid" questions were going to show up in a Mac forum somewhere or be the highlight of amusement in the back room.

When I have needed more help than the Genius Bar is able to provide, Apple provides a service called One to One that puts you on a computer with a trainer literally at your side, teaching you whatever you came in to learn.

While I can see that offering the services that Apple offers is a revenue builder, it isn't used as a revenue stream. I can go in and ask my questions and not have to defend against a salesman trying to make a quota. In fact, the only time I have ever had someone take me to a machine was to demonstrate the answer to a question I had asked or to show me a product I went to the store to buy. It's just good customer service.

These days, I use my book less and less, I don't need the Genius Bar nearly as often, and if I call Technical Support it will be because "something broke." That sounds oddly familiar.