Posted by: Philip Siddons | August 23, 2013

Hallmarks of Good IT Support

We’ve all experienced them. You may have seen some of these folks around at work. You call for tech support and sometime between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. in the next two weeks, the IT person suddenly shows up at your cube. You step aside, he (it is usually a guy) plops down at your keyboard. The screens change a few times, there’s some fast typing and you’re left back at your login.

Just when you’re in the process of forming the words to ask him “what went wrong . . . “ in mid-sentence, you realize you are alone, watching the IT guy’s back disappear through your office door.

No eye contact. No speech. No real human exchange. In fact, you think it would have been nice if there was some learning in this holdup so that the down time could be avoided in the future.

Instead, the IT guy’s sixty seconds at your computer has made you feel all of the following:

  1. You are too stupid to be allowed to operate the company’s computers! If he fixed it with a few keystrokes, everyone must know this and you are uniquely clueless about even the essentials of using a computer.
  2. Nobody else in the corporation has inconvenienced the IT Department as much or as often as you.
  3. By the time you have logged back in, the IT guy is back with his crew, swearing to the other staff that he’s sick and tired of having to deal with such dumb (pick a farming animal) who are too stupid to be paid to sit in a chair in front of a computer.

A lot has changed in our culture since the beginning decades of this kind of IT “support.” We users are more knowledgeable about the technology we use. Out of personal interest and our innate quest for learning, particularly our desire to want to improve what we do, we have learned a lot about software that enables us to contribute and grow in our careers. We have pursued learning on our own and sometimes at our own time and expense. This is true, even though the company may have provided classes on the technology.

Sometimes we find we have more sophisticated technology at home than what our employer gives us to use. Think of the time wasted as we wait for things to happen on our geriatric work computers that should have been replaced five years ago.

At home, we have learned to process, edit and share photography. We’ve learned to create, write, share and interact with other people around the world. We do it through the internet cloud-based servers.

So what does the word “support” mean to you?

As a software teacher and writer, to me, “support” embodies collaboration. People who have been empowered to deepen their understanding, experience and knowledge in technology should be about empowering others to do the same. Good technical support is about creating a safe and supportive work environment, even for a few minutes, while helping a colleague. It’s about collaboratively communicating with your fellow-worker in such a way that the following things are taking place every time we are communicating with a colleague on the phone or at their side. It’s about truly being present with them and their technology challenge.

Here are five suggestions for offering quality technical support.

  1. At every moment, the IT person is listening as much as they are speaking. That’s because a good diagnostic procedure always involves discovering what may have changed, what may have been introduced to the technical environment or examining the context, the frequency or an emerging pattern of the occurrence of the problem. Think about your medical doctor. During an intake conversation, she or he tries to learn learn as much as possible from the person who knows the most about what is going on: the patient. The same with IT people needing to get information from the user. But this takes the skill sets of listening and communicating with the user.
  2. Continually, (when the context is not where the user is frantically trying to get something fixed so they can get their task done and they don’t have time to breathe until you fix it), keep your teacher hat handy. If there is anything that would help the person avoid experiencing the problem again, offer it. Simply ask them if they want any tips on avoiding the problem in the future.
  3. Whatever you offer, in your teaching mode, it’s got to be jargon-free. You’ve got to use metaphors. (There have probably been PBS documentaries on this but IT Departments have been devoid of metaphors for 3 decades. Microsoft should have a mandatory “Metaphor Usefulness 405 Certification” in order for someone to receive their “Network Engineer” certificates.)
  4. A good teacher never touches the keyboard.” Good IT support encourages a user to do it on their own, even helping them to write down steps (as they go) so that they could learn to fix or avoid the problem or carry out the procedure. If it’s too complicated, write it down for them or sent it to them, with screen shots, in an email as soon as you get back to your own computer. If you don’t do it, no one else ever will. It’s truly up to you to be their best computer and software resource.
  5. Tone and attitude are everything. As an IT support person, it is up to you to create safe, teachable moments where users don’t feel “stupid.” They should NEVER feel stupid or inadequate. (IT folks, notice the word “feel” in this sentence. It’s about the other person, not you!) The way you, as an IT support person, communicates with them should make them feel as if you are like a friendly relative helping them out. You’re there to help them (not correct them) in getting past a problem and learning how to avoid it – knowing that you are there for them in the future. This is why the company has invested in your position. Ask yourself: “What level of quality of customer service relationship do I personally create when I am interacting with those whom I support?”

Two Tips For Users

  1. As a user, perhaps the first step is to ask the IT person to sit down and talk. Ask them your questions and if they act like don’t have the time or the inclination, ask them if the issue or practice is like anything else they’ve experienced. If they don’t use metaphors or similes, try some out on them. Say, “Is erasing unneeded emails or moving things out of my email inbox like remembering to take out the trash on trash day?” Or “is avoiding supposedly ‘free’ pharmacy supplements from strangers on the internet like avoiding walking into a biker bar at 2 a.m.?
  2. Remember the rule of getting the best nursing care when you’re in a nursing home? The patients who get the best medical care are the ones who are the most pleasant to the staff. The same holds for how you treat your IT support personnel. As a user, try making your IT support person feel that they have had a good experience in trying to help you. Remind them that their efforts are truly valued.

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Posted by: Philip Siddons | July 6, 2012

DNS fix for 7/9/12 virus

A published note in the Buffalo paper had the wrong URL for a discovery and fix for a DNS virus (which prevents you from getting on the internet and going to the correct sites. It is apparently a virus the FBI warned about.
The correct URL for an automatic test of your computer is:
http://dns-ok.us

If you don’t get the balloons graphic with the green indication your computer is OK,
go to dcwg.org for a fix from reputable antivirus firms.

Posted by: Philip Siddons | March 9, 2012

A Web Page of Your Own

A Web Page of Your Own

 

 

Today, with thousands of companies and projects competing for attention and revenue, you have to get noticed. We don’t want to stand out the middle of the road dressed in a chicken costume. Rather, we’d prefer some other, more dignified, electronic form of communication.

 

Fortunately, it’s getting easier than ever to communicate on the Internet. It used to be that you had to have all this to do it:

 

  • An account with a network hosting company so you could put up your web pages
  • Experience with HTML code and know-how with an expensive web-authoring software package like Adobe Dreamweaver
  • The uncanny special perception gift of knowing where files are on a distant web server as well as your own hard drive

 

The good news is that now you can get what is called a “splash page” of your own to promote your project. The folks at the About.Me company have made it as easy as is humanly possible. Here are some of the things you can put on your page:

 

  1. The headlined title of your project or company (or your own name)
  2. A description of what your project is about
  3. A company logo
  4. A screen-wide background image (or you can use any of their templates)
  5. Direct links (with appropriate icons) to the social media services with which you subscribe
  6. Website links (URLs) to your favorite websites
  7. Change colors, fonts and add tags to be found by search engines

 

Especially handy is the portability of your about.me page. You can print it on your business cards or electronic video business card. You can include the link in the signature of your email. You can place the link on an existing webpage or even on posters, flyers or pamphlets. Since everyone is on the Internet these days, it’s a good idea to let everyone know about your project.

 

As an example, here is one I made for Fly By Night Publishing:

 

http://about.me/flybynightpublishing

 

Get your company or project name a free splash page. I don’t know how they can do this for free but it sure works well.

 

Posted by: Philip Siddons | February 2, 2012

Share Your Computer Screen With Others Instantly

Share your screen with as many people as you like.
Go here:
http://www.screenleap.com/

Click on the Share your screen now (green button)

After it loads, you’ll get aninformation screen. Either send the other person(s) the provided link or verbally tell them to go to the http://www.screenleap.com and enter the provided code.

Share your screen with as many people as you like

Posted by: Philip Siddons | November 16, 2010

Spamex – a great online tool to keep unwanted senders at bay.

Every time you disclose your Real Email Address, you lose all control over how it is used. Consider the online service Spamex at http://www.spamex.com/

You cannot MAKE someone stop sending you email or prevent them from disclosing it to others. Spamex solves this problem!

Essentially, you can make up an email address of your choice and use it on websites or purchases where you do not know what the recipients will do with it. Whenever something is sent to that disposable address, it gets routed to your real address but the sender never knows your real address. When you receive email through this disposable email address, you can choose to eliminate the email address or keep it running. It is disposable and won’t affect your regular email address(es). You can turn it on again to work later or never use it again.

What I tend to do is make an email address so that I can tell for whom it was first intended. If they sell that address, I can tell they sold it if I’m getting spam from some other vendor.

For instance, if I buy something online from Acme123.com I don’t know these people. I decide to make a disposable email address and call it Acme123@spamex.com. Two months later, if I get unwanted sales emails from Acme123.com or from LostWeightFast.com, I can see from the email that got to me that Acme123.com actually sent it or sold the email to LostWeightFast.com. Not bad for less than $10 a year.

With Spamex you can:

  • Hide your Real Email Address
  • Stop unwanted email permanently
  • Reveal who disclosed your information
  • Keep track of logins and passwords
  • Make it easy to change your Real Email Address at any time

Read what our users say about Spamex

With Spamex Disposable Email Addresses you can safely provide a working email address to anyone and not have to worry about whether they will send you unwanted email or sell your email address to others.

Spamex works with everything

(Internet Explorer, Netscape, Opera, PC, Mac, Unix, AOL, Earthlink, Juno, Hotmail, Yahoo mail, Eudora, Outlook, Outlook Express, Pegasas, and more…)

Posted by: Philip Siddons | November 7, 2010

Editing Your Video

Since you’re being swept along with our video-oriented culture, you probably have a smartphone with a video camera recorder. After you’ve grown tired of taking videos of the cats sleeping with their heads resting on one another and your grandchildren standing in awe of the festivus holiday tree, you want to expand. You get a Flip camcorder and start recording in High Definition. You start using it at work to record your bosses speeches. You get testimonies from grateful clients, telling how they’ve benefitted from your firm’s services. As soon as you start putting your videos up on a streaming service like You Tube or Vimeo, you start to lust after a $2-4,000 video recorder and you seriously consider mortgaging your home, selling your car, and hoping to get an attorney who will work pro-bono on your divorce. There are limits.

Before you start to make Steven Spielberg nervous, you have to edit your videos to make them better. Titles. Transitions. Fades. Sound consistency.

Enter TechSmith’s Camtasia. Lots less expensive that Adobie’s Premier and easier to learn.

http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia/

Here’s a PowerPoint slide show produced for Homeland Security, documenting how one hacker was caught approaching Eric Mower Associates advertising agency and ultimately causing serious change in that firm. The slide show was turned into a video by Camtasia with little effort in less than 5 minutes.

http://vimeo.com/16587044

Posted by: Philip Siddons | November 5, 2010

QR bar codes for your blog, web page or emails

A QR (“quick response”) code is a square barcode that makes getting URLs, location coordinates, any text or contact information onto a phone quickly. With a barcode scanner app installed, you just point your phone’s camera at the code to read its contents. Here’s what reading this QR code looks like on my web page. 
QR Code

You can put QR bar codes on your web page, blog or even in your signature for your emails.

Why make these code images for your readers to see? They can scan them and get information you provide without having to type them.

To read them (and retain their information) with your smartphone (a cell phone with a camera and internet access) here is a good article surveying several aps. http://news.cnet.com/qr-code-readers-for-iphone The recommendation by this author and Google for the iPhone is Quickmark.

Posted by: Philip Siddons | September 14, 2010

DropBox App

Want to share files but can’t afford a server? Now you can.

I regularly deal with non-profit organizations who are expected to do county, state and federal work as professionals. Unfortunately, because of their not for profit structuring, they have little or no cash reserves. Their fee-for-service contracts seldom cover the necessary infrastructure costs. That means they are expected to have current computer technology, training and the surrounding network infrastructure in place to perform competitively with other bidding organizations.

The same is true of other non-profit small to medium organizations that are staffed by intelligent, caring and committed socially minded workers. You simply can’t have enough bake sales and car washes to buy a $7-10,000 file server, $2-4,000 worth of software, a $500 a month T-1 line and a $50-75,000 a year network administrator to manage it.

Here is some good news. If your workers are at least able to connect to the Internet, you can store and share files in common folders. You can work collaboratively, saving, editing and managing multiple files with everyone else with whom you work without investing in a local area network. Here’s how.

There are several ways to store and share files “in the cloud.” That means that instead of owning an expensive and complex file server and all that goes with it, you can use one of the many available cloud services. For an excellent article in this, see Paul Tilly’s “The Great Hard Drive in the Sky” article in the September 2012 issue of PCWorld (page 69).

Of the six services mentioned, I have found Dropbox particularly effective. Their free version has allowed multiple clients I have to easily share and collaborate by using common files and folders. While they currently do not have password-protected or permission-based folders, Dropbox has brought several of my clients them into the 21st century by using cloud technology. No longer do they have to try to email things to multiple people. People can work on the same documents and benefit from its version tracking. They can even access files from their Apple or Android smartphones. With the QuickOffice application, they can even open, edit and save Microsoft documents to their Dropbox folders with their iPhone or iPad.

Using the free DropBox account, you get a whopping 2 GB of space. For $100 a year you get 100 GB, but as soon as I paid my yearly feel for all that space, they doubled my allotment to 200 GB.
Dropbox keeps a history of file changes so you can roll back to previous versions whenever you like. One of my clients used it last week to enable three workers to collaboratively craft a grant. Another client used it for sharing a too-large-to-email file with their website manager so he wouldn’t have to physically type text for the web pages.

I also like their artwork throughout the site. It reminds you that life is supposed to be fun as well as efficient and collaborative.

If folder password protection is important to your organization, you may want to look into SugarSync. It lets you create password-protected folders for things such as HR or private items that you might want to share with one or a few individuals. It also lets you share folders with non-subscribers.

Otherwise, DropBox might be the step forward for your company to do more networking without the cost of a full-blown local area network. Try it out. You’ll be pleasantly surprised that you are easily using the cloud to work with others.

Posted by: Philip Siddons | July 29, 2010

Video Converter Software

Someone from a TV station hands you a DVD of someone from your company interviewed on their show. You want to put it on your company website but after a lot of hits on converter software, you feel a bit lost.

Or you create a lot of videos yourself with your Flip HD mini-cam but can’t for the life of you figure out how to convert it to a DVD format and get it on a DVD to give to someone.

Then there’s getting your videos to your friends with an iPhone.

Enter AVS Video Converter. If you get their whole package for $60 you also get abouit 16 video and audio creating & editing packages. The Video Converter, alone, is worth it.

So if you are getting into videos in any way, this seems like a must-have tool. It’s made my work a lot easier.

Here’s what the tool’s screen has in it. Notice the variety of file formats one can convert to and from. (a screen shot appears if you follow this link):

http://www.flybynightpublishing.com/technologytips.html

Posted by: Philip Siddons | May 23, 2010

Share smart phone videos from anywhere

Qik.com allows you to take videos from your smart phone and instantly share them on a website.

   Sharing live or saved videos with your smart phone. See bottom of http://bit.ly/aUc2df to see an embedded live feed from my phone.

Of course this illustrates that (1) you really have to have content worth watching in order to share (something more than just cats taking a nap and (2) you should try to hold the smart phone steady so it doesn’t look so shakey.

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