Treating users equally, but differently

I try to treat all my users with equality, but sometimes equal doesn't exactly mean equal. What I mean is that I treat them all equally depending on the level of support required. One type of person, for example, might approach me and describe a problem or issue, and I can simply tell them what I think and what I might try. Another person with exactly the same issue, however, might require more personal attention, where I would actually go and do it myself. It's the same problem, but different users with different needs, and both requiring a different approach.

The first one I described might actually prefer to do it himself, but the second one might not. So in this case, equal means to give them what they require. The challenge lies in determining exactly what kind of attention is both necessary and appropriate. Another challenge is keeping my personal frustration level in check. I can't get frustrated because User-A can't understand something the same way User-B does. I simply have to be more patient and empathetic with some people.

I find that the timid user actually presents the greatest challenge. This is a person who does her job quite well and is very proficient with an application, but if just one little thing goes awry, she doesn't know what to do; she's totally lost. This is also the type of user who has a hard time understanding things over and above that norm. I might try to explain certain things, but some users just can't seem to get it. Even more dangerous is when they might appear to get it, but they really don't.

Then I might have the real hands-on user, one who would rather dig-in and do it himself, even though he might not be the best one suited to do it. I might have to find a non-offensive way to tell someone to move over to the co-pilot's seat (or out of the cockpit all together), and that I need to have my own hands on the controls.

Another type of user is one who might automatically tell me the solution instead of articulating the problem. It might take a bit of finesse to take that bit of information, work backwards, and try to pull-out the real underlying problem. Often times that proposed solution isn't the real solution at all. In this case, I have to resist the urge to simply tell them they're wrong, but rather lead them into another way of thinking.

I'm here to try and provide what they might need, but peoples' needs are all different. I have to adapt my style to their needs and personality, not the other way around. At least I try.

What are some of your biggest challenges in this regard? What kinds of users do you support? What kinds of approaches have you found successful?

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