back to article Want to keep the users happy? Don't call them users for a start

A common complaint about IT staff is their lack of social skills. As in any industry that attracts a certain type of person, there's a high percentage of dark-room-dwelling people who can sometimes struggle to communicate. This is either through what they say or how they interact with others. Not all IT people are like this of …

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Trollface

This is useful

It explains neatly why just slapping my forehead and saying "see you people..." has made me a tad unpopular...

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Paris Hilton

Re: This is useful

That is where I have been going wrong...

"Hello and welcome to the Luser helpdesk"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: This is useful

Ab(users)

L(users)

Cattle

;)

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Mushroom

Re: This is useful

It seems like the reply "Better yet, go f*ck yourself." to the users meets all advice criteria.

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Gav

You can't win

"Often people will ask for something they think is the best solution to their problem, which means more questions need to be asked to find out what they are actually trying to accomplish."

This is very true. However the follow on from that is invariably "Why do you always question what I'm asking for, why can't you just do it?"

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Re: You can't win

"Why do you always question what I'm asking for, why can't you just do it?"

I counter this by saying that when someone goes to the Doctor and says, "I think I have a flesh-eating disease on my leg" s/he doesn't immediately reach for the chainsaw. It's rarely sensible to skip investigation of a problem if you want a long-term resolution for it.

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Re: You can't win

If they ever would investigate what I tell them.

Last example was support at Microsoft.

I wanted to try Office 365 on my mac, specifically Excel. On their download page, I'm supposed to be able to set the language I want to download. I want English, Finnish is the default language. I do so and press the button that says install. What it does is that it downloads a .exe file. Yes, it works just as web pages with trojan horses.

I fiddle around, it doesn't work. So I download the default installation that will be in "Suomi" on a webpage that is otherwise in English, idiots...! Thinking that maybe MS mac apps would work as normal mac apps does. Conform to the system setting for what language to use. But no, checking around there is only Finnish language set inside the ".app" "folder". So no chance that will become English in any way.

So I call MS support. I tell them that their download page has an error. When I set the language, I don't get a mac .dmg file but a Windows "Setup...exe" file. Which for natural reasons don't work under MacOSX.

I'm then told to repeat my bloody procedure, so I do. Now from my Work PC as support is only available normal working hours. Same error. So they figure maybe it's because I'm now on a PC. I again have to explain that I had the same error yesterday on my mac.

After a long call, they agree to send me by mail a link to a english version of Office for me. So at home I install. Guess does it work? No a freaking database error, and the 365 subscription doesn't work with it.

Have they fixed the core problem yet. No you still get the same error I told them about in first place. You are still given the wrong download file for a Windows computer.

So for freaking sake, Stop and fix what I told you to fix. STOP reading bullshit 101 helpdesk manuals and listen to what I exactly tell you, and stop doubting what I'm telling you.

I have found the best way to deal with so called support is to make a screen recording of your problem. Then repeat it. Write a manuscript with video timing where each step can be seen and when the errors happen. I have done this a couple of times when I have had the time for it. That resulted in no further stupid questions from the support persons, and that they actually tried to fix the issues.

On a mac this is easy to do but takes time and effort. On a work windows computer impossible, as you find no software available for you to do a screen recording nor a way to edit it.

So all you who work with support. Listen to your client. Whether he's a techie or not you should be able to discern in a few moments. But in both cases they are telling what they are experiencing. Whether there is a solution to it, or that it's an issue for you to solve, like faulty links on your company's homepage, you should also be able to discern in a few moments based on the type of information your client is giving you. And for FFS stop doubting what I tell you, try it first yourself before you tell me to redo what I've already done 10 times over, with the same error as a result, as I already explained to you fiftyeleven times.

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Re: You can't win

And.............................. breathe.

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@t.est Re: You can't win

Re: Screen recording on Windows PCs - http://camstudio.org/ any use to you?

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Bronze badge

Re: You can't win

Communication is a) how something is said, and b) how something is heard.

Unfortunately, when you're providing a service, you take responsibility for both a) AND b), within reason, so go out of your way to make sure the person you're dealing with feels that you're not treating them like an idiot, and that you're offering an alternative suggestion. It's not difficult, and doesn't take long. E.g. "Oh I see why you did that. If you're trying to do X, there's another way to do it that might be easier: Y."

See? Even though all I did was dispassionately state a good working practice, it can come across as condescending. Thankfully I'm not providing you a service, so I take no responsibility :)

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Re: @t.est You can't win

Windows 7 has PSR (Problem Steps Recorder) built in (psr.exe) or you could try ScreenRecorder for XP/Vista - http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/magazine/2009.03.utilityspotlight2.aspx?pr=blog

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Re: You can't win

My favourite saying in the public service IT agency I worked in was.,...

"The customer is always right about what they think! they want, not what they actually need and not what is technically feasible".

Numpty senior users telling me at the 11th hour they wanted to use the DR system as a milestone image for releases as well, does not go down well with me.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You can't win

One word: Start. Run. PSR.

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Re: You can't win

"Turn a "no" into an alternative solution"

have to completely disagree with this one... its not a creche. people need to learn that some things just get a No answer.

Sure, you could suggest using a USB stick to get the files off, but that usually is met with a response of "How do i do that, can you show me?" So once you have done that, you are now responsible for all the problems of that machine from now until the end of time. " It used to always print properly before you did that USB thing", "I never got SPAM before you did that USB thing" , " It was much faster before you did that USB thing" etc etc

So , just say NO and let people realise that this is real life and you get have everything your own way.

now, back to randomly blocking network packets.....

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Re: "Turn a "no" into an alternative solution"

Agreed. Especially given their example of:

"Can I plug in my personal laptop and use it at work?"

"No" is the quick and easy answer and probably better than my alternative:

"Damn. What was your name again? Now that you've said that I have to report to your supervisor that you failed the IT Security Awareness Training and will have to take it again. You have no idea how much work you've just caused me and yourself."

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Trollface

Perhaps when

The users stop referring to sysads as 'geeks'

Until then they can F off

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Re: Perhaps when

N2: "Perhaps when The users stop referring to sysads as 'geeks' Until then they can F off"

IT provides technical support.

Users are directly engaged in the business of their employer --- some of them at a very high level.

They stay. You go.

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@Westlake Some users more equal than others

"Users are directly engaged in the business of their employer --- some of them at a very high level."

You optimist.

Even if we're not talking about staff in HR, facility management, legal, accounting, audit, finance etc, i.e. users/staff in line departments, these people may *still* not be directly engaged in making profit...

I suspect a "live and let live" attitude on both sides of the tech divide would help. E.g. the fiction that IT is solely responsible for all things vaguely IT related, *including* business requirements for all IT systems unfortunately endures, as does IT not knowing or caring about what valid business needs actually are.

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Re: Perhaps when

I have never referred to a sysad as a geek.

That would be to think way too highly of them.

Geeks use systems to do something important, cool, funny. In an essence to work for them.

Sysads just administer systems for the system's sake. What's geeky with that, being able to read a manual and apply it, where is the geekiness in that?

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Re: Perhaps when

Sysads just administer systems for the system's sake.

Then you've had shite sysadmins, or you haven't been paying attention.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Perhaps when

Not always. My "Users" are effectively peripherals - like the printers and the NAS etc. They exist because the computers (which are what really matter) don't yet have adequate voice recognition capabilities and OCR can't cope with diabolical cursive handwriting. Consequently they are easily and instantly replaceable. Not so the SysAdmins (or Developers).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @Westlake Some users more equal than others

Yup and the users with the least clue are ALWAYS from HR and Finance. It's never anyone who really does anything substantial.

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Re: @Steve Knox

"Then you've had shite sysadmins, or you haven't been paying attention."

I'd strongly lean toward the latter... I used to always be surprised how many people think that the sysadmin just sits around and plays with computers all day.

When a couple of the customer service reps mentioned that to me once, I pointed out that all they did was sit around and chat on the phone all day. It's a case of perception vs. what's actually happening

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N2

Re: Perhaps when @ westlake

"Users are directly engaged in the business of their employer --- some of them at a very high level."

That made me chuckle.

& when I left, all ran well for a while, until...

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Re: Perhaps when

If you have good sysadmins, you don't notice 'em (or at least not very often)

If you do notice them, there's either a problem with the way they're doing things or they're trying to hold everything together with sticky tape and string thanks to mangelment thinking that computers and networks aren't important enough to spend money on.

It's not at all uncommon to find acquiustion decisions are based on lowest purchase price, vs TCO (and even if TCO is taken into account, not factoring in manhours as part of that cost). This can result in very grouchy admins.

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Re: Perhaps when

I've always regarded that as a label of pride.

I think Users should do the same.

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Re: ALWAYS from HR and Finance.

You forgot Facilities, although I suppose they might fall under Finance.

Worst problem child I ever had was in Facilities Management. He couldn't keep track of email for love nor money. At least once a week half an hour before quitting time we'd get a call to help him locate something in his email. Every week it took me 20 seconds to find it after using the Search feature in his MS Outlook. We had a user who was more inept, but the more inept user was always pleasant to deal with, called less frequently, and wished you a nice day. Tone from the Facilities person was always irritating.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ALWAYS from HR and Finance.

True story (I'm a user) about someone who sits very close to me in a busy office.

IT had, a couple of weeks before, sent an email to all (with a few reminders) saying they would automatically start deleting old emails from the 'deleted' folder in Outlook (too many people hadn't set their Outlook preferences to delete on exit).

Colleague, one Monday morning: 'Why have all my saved emails disappeared? All the emails from months that I needed to keep.'

Me: 'Dunno, where were you keeping them?'

Colleague: 'In the deleted folder.'

IT, bless them, managed to retrieve some, but not all.

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Re: ALWAYS from HR and Finance.

I've met someone like that. He told me he kept his important stuff in the deleted folder. I asked him if he kept important letters and documents in the bin under his desk. His reply was that he didn't know he could create folders and thought he had to keep them in the deleted items folder.

I meet several people who won't delete their deleted items folder "just in case"...

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Users...

A pet peeve of mine - if you're supporting or developing customer-facing applications, you really need to get into the habit of calling the users (and thinking of them as) customers - ie the people that pay our wages.

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WTF?

Re: Users...

THEY. ARE. USERS.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Users...

Customers or clients are external; users are internal. I've never met anyone that had a problem with that and if I did I would assume they had other problems which are probably more worrying.

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Re: Users...

Unless they are directly handing me cash for a pre-agreed service or good, then they are not "customers", they are "staff". We are all staff of the same organisation.

And yes, external customers who purchase services from the organisation I work for are also "customers'. Of the organisation, not me personally.

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Re: Users...

many apologies to users such as yourself

Those that "use" a computer ARE "users". That's why the name exists in the first place.

There are customers. There are clients. There are employees. If any of these people have any reason to interact with IT....they are users. It all depends on the business though. But in this world where everything is a computer (or a computer wanna-be); how does anyone expect to escape such an all-encompassing label?

I am a user and so are you. It's neither honorable nor derogatory. It is what it is. Just as we are all "human" (well, most of us anyway). We can play these politically correct word games all day long, but it will never change the simple fact that we are users. We use computers. It's not semantics. It's the way things are. Most resonable people don't have an issue with this idea. Just as most IT geeks would more more inclined to take pride in the name "geek".

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Do not trust but don't dismiss either

101 : "Never trust the user".

Understandable but not the best advice. In real life and more complex environments a reported problem is not just the plain description of an error or a determined failure of a task. In those environments with regular intervals serious problems occur which cannot just be replicated at will. If it was so easy, we're not talking about "dragons" to slay but more young kittens to play with. Such helpdesk will be replaced by robots tomorrow.

My advice would be not to dismiss the reported problem just because it cannot be instantaneously replicated or there aren't any error messages which can be looked up. The art here is to determine what the best follow-up might be. Asking the right questions in the right way (some psychological insight might be handy) could reveal quick enough in which category the problem falls (just user imagination or a serious issue like being hacked).

Time pressure might put some limits on the approach above. And yet you have to use some spider sense to make the judgement call and at least try to explain to the one reporting the problem which information is needed, let them take note of times, circumstances while letting them start thinking about their own report. Sometimes you can almost literally see the fog lift and not just a problem but also a suggested explanation will be given to you by the same person, client, user, bugger or lets just call them "security risks"...

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Re: Do not trust but don't dismiss either

I think "Never trust the user" is more in the context of "Don't trust the user's description of a problem" rather than assume they're outright lying. So when they say "My PC isn't getting email", the problem may just as likely be "Nobody in the office has any networking at all". Without being intentionally misleading, they often describe only part of a symptom and could send you off on a wild goose chase.

Of course there are certain questions that you can absolutely guarantee users will lie about, "Have you changed anything recently?" and "Have you checked it's plugged in?" are classic examples because nobody wants to think they broke something or that they've asked a dumb question. That's why good IT folk sometimes suggest "remove the plug, waiting a few seconds, then plug it back in" - because 99% of the time that's the moment when the user spots their mistake but allows them to resolve the issue without seeming foolish.

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Re: Do not trust but don't dismiss either

So agree with you. I've had so many calls over the years from clients with email problems where it turns out the Internet connection is down. But they're users, they don't make that same mental connection.

The other thing I'd add to the list is honesty. Admit when you make mistakes, come clean on screwups, and users are more likely to trust you. Also when something really isn't your fault they're far more likely to believe you.

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Re: Do not trust but don't dismiss either

Indeed, I was just on the receiving end of this attitude when a co worker asked me to find out why our credit card processing system stopped working and the upstream provider blamed us because "no one else is having the same problem"

Turns our their SSL certificate was on it's last day and we were the first to notice because we were in an earlier timezone (gmt+1). If I hadn't caught it their staff would have been having a *very* bad day in a few more hours.

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Re: Do not trust but don't dismiss either

I never trust what my customers tell me.

Rule 1: Don't listen to the customer's description of the problem

Rule 2: Absolutely never listen to the customer's proposed "solution". Remember, if their "solution" had a cat's chance in hell of working, they'd have tried it and it would have worked, and they wouldn't have called me.

To rephrase the above, find out what the customers really need to do rather than what they want to do. They'll often be more pleased with the result. Case in point - a customer once asked me to bring a CD Writer for their computer.

1. They already had a CD writer

2. I asked her why they needed one. Shetold me that they wanted to save their pictures onto them.

3. I asked why she wanted to save their pictures onto CDs when she already did backups onto a portable drive. She told me so that she could transfer the pictures to their husband's computer.

4. I asked why she wanted to transfer the pictures onto her husband's computer. She told me that she sometimes wanted to sit at her husband's computer if he wasn't using it because it had a bigger screen to edit her photos with

5. So I suggested "how about a system where you can sync the photos on the two computers together so that if she edits a photo on one computer, the edits will show on the other, and all she needs to do is run a program to synchronise the two.

6. She said "AH!! That *just* what I wanted! I knew that's what it was but didn't know how to explain it....

So I asked "Why?" THREE times to determine what she really needed rather than what she said she wanted....

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Unhappy

Not 'users'

judging by the intelligence shown by some of them they should be called amoeba or plankton.

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Thumb Up

Re: Not 'users'

Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with the BOFHness of your comment, I try to think of what my tame mechanic must think when I ask his opinion on the state of my suspension bushes. I know enough to know what to look for, but he knows whether that clunking is the bottom arm chassis bush, or actually, the entirely unrelated gearbox support mount.

I can't tell because I don't spend enough time under the car.

There's definitely a middle ground, normally involving just being a human being about it, I find...

Although that said, my mechanic finds my diagnosis attempts hilarious, so maybe I should be less gentle with the use....staff ;-)

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Re: Not 'users'

True...but having spent 25 years as a Chief Purser for a now defunct airline...and the past 15 years in the IT business as a sysadmin..."stupid is as stupid does" knows no specific industry.

When I was flying, the standard line was "they checked their brain when they checked their luggage". All too true.

The main thing I have found in 50+ years of working in "service industries" is that most, but not all, IT types have no clue about what "customer service" really is.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not 'users'

There's your problem, they are called "Bushings".... Bushes are shrubbery, not rubber vibration isolation devices.

If you are trying to communicate, please use the correct words. It's easier to understand that way.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not 'users' @AC 16:20

Bush would also seem to be in use, going by the number of companies selling them who do use it. Always worth doing a Google search before being condescending.

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Happy

Re: Not 'users'

"judging by the intelligence shown by some of them they should be called amoeba or plankton."

Was that insult on the intelligence of amoeba and plankton really necessary?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not 'users' @AC 16:20

It's still BUSHINGS dagnabbit!

There's never just ONE!

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Re: Not 'users'

Today I had to correct three people during a conversation with them (together) lasting about five minutes because they kept referring to their computers as either a modem, a hard drive, a power pack and rather oddly, a "TCP Stack" . And the number of people I meet who tell me that their computer "crashed - what could that be?"

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Simples really

If you want to provide a good service for the "Clients" of the IT system the solution is quite simple.

Put yourself into their position: Sit behind their desk, learn a little of the "chore" that they have to perform and understand how you as an IT Professional can help alleviate the burden. Solving their problems might cause some new problems for you but it is usually short term.

In IT, I feel that we are lucky to have interesting jobs, for the most part.... Personally I would hate to be sat in front of a computer doing accounting, or working in the claims dept. etc... So if we can make their life’s easier, it also undoubtedly will make our lives easier..

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Unhappy

Re: Simples really

"Put yourself into their position: Sit behind their desk, learn a little of the "chore" that they have to perform and understand how you as an IT Professional can help alleviate the burden. Solving their problems might cause some new problems for you but it is usually short term."

Hmm. Empathy.

We've heard of that.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Simples really @John Smith 19 13:23

"Hmm. Empathy.

We've heard of that."

I can't see what point you're making there, John.

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