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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