Users are people, too
© Douglas E. Welch 1999
April 2, 1999
Ten years into my computer career I found myself sitting in my
cubicle after going out on 10 straight support calls. The phone
would not stop ringing and my email continued to fill up as I
watched. My frustration grew with every new call. How was I ever
to keep up with the level of support my people wanted without
driving myself crazy?
I came to a realization that day that seems obvious now. The only
way to provide the level of support my users wished was to teach
them to support themselves as much as possible. Unfortunately,
if you look at the way support and service organizations are run
today you will find that others have not found this realization
so obvious. Companies are still throwing people and dollars at
a problem that can easily swallow whatever manpower and budget
you can throw at it. Like the creature from science fiction literature,
the more you try to attack it, the larger it gets.
The time to change your support strategy is now. The first large
change you must undertake actually has nothing to do with your
users but everything to do with you. You must insure that you
are not treating your users like idiots. If you constantly treat
users like idiots that is exactly what you will create. While
users may do silly things usually these things are done out of
ignorance, not stupidity. They don?t have the knowledge they need
to use their computer effectively. Constantly holding users hands
will only lead to more hand-holding in the future. You need to
understand that everyone has the capability to learn about computers.
With this in mind, Stop talking down to your users. Stop showing
an undisguised contempt for your users. Stop telling stupid user
stories. In the long run you are only creating more work for yourself,
more work of the most unsatisfying type.
Find the gems
The next step in digging out from under the support and service
avalanche is to find those users who can help you evangelize in
the company as a whole. While not everyone has the desire to be
a "super user" there will be those people who will enjoy taking
on more technical responsibility. Seek them out and cultivate
them like fine orchids. Give them any and all information you
can. Send them to training. Train them yourselves. Give them support
materials or let them have library privileges in your IS library.
(You do have an IS library, don?t you?) Send them the addresses
of interesting web sites. Do anything in your power for every
question they answer within their department is one less question
that will end up on your desk.
Reach out and train someone
As you develop your base of super users you should also reach
out to all the other users through some form of casual training
program. It is my experience that people are starved for information
about their computers. They want to use their computers better
but are lacking the information they need.
Set up a series of before work/lunch time/after work training
sessions on how to use your company?s basic software. You will
be surprised at the number of people who show up. Too many support
people have long ago assumed that users are idiots and wish to
remain so. These training sessions will prove you wrong.
The more important aspect of these sessions is a casual environment.
Make them seminars, not traditional hands-on training sessions.
Show people neat tools that they can use in their everyday work.
Give them the "killer app" that makes the computer indispensable
for them. Always allow plenty of time for question and answer
at the end. This will often be the most useful part as users get
their most pressing questions answered. You will send them away
happy, more likely to return to future sessions and in a much
better position to help themselves.
I don?t have time
A common cry among support people who I talk to is "I don?t have
time to do what I do now. How am I going to do more?" What they
fail to realize is that they are spending their time in the wrong
places. Instead of showing a user how to do something by rote,
teach them the underlying principles as well. Instead of telling
them how to do something, tell them why it is done that way. To
paraphrase an old cliché, don?t give them a fish. Teach them to
fish. While it may not happen right away, teaching people will
reduce the number of calls you receive over time. The more time
you spend training, the more time you will have for supporting
those users who really need it. It may seem like a paradox but
making users more self-dependent and knowledgeable is the only
way out of the support trap.
We all need to open our minds and understand that users are not
the enemy in the support/service war. Users are our allies. We
can accomplish so much more by working together than by fighting
against one another.
Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant
in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with
other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on
Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org