What it’s like to be your user

Anyone in tech support has to consider how users are feeling when they feel compelled to call for help

Failure frustration anger user man worker
Credit: Thinkstock

Nearly everyone in IT has, at some point, been in support. Even if you never worked on a help desk, you probably had to support an application, infrastructure, or at least your mother’s desktop machine. No matter who you are, you’ve been on the receiving end of phone calls from people asking for technical help.

And, chances are, at some point you have found those people calling more than just a bit annoying. There’s a reason that everyone in IT knows what “RTFM” means.

But have you ever stopped to think about how it feels to be on the other end of that phone call — what it’s like to be a user calling you for help?

If you truly want to help them, you’ve got to have at least some sense of what it’s like to be them at that moment. So I’ll give you a quick hint.

Almost invariably, when they call you for help, they feel awful.

More precisely, they feel:

  1. Vulnerable. They rely on technology to get their jobs done, yet don’t understand it enough to feel in control of their own success. They are dependent on you for their success, and no matter how much they trust you, it doesn’t feel good to be in that position.
  2. Insecure. Calling for help is admitting that they can’t solve their problems on their own, that they haven’t mastered the skills that their job requires.
  3. Concerned. Many are also concerned that they may not be capable of learning what they need to know to do their jobs.
  4. Skeptical. Let’s be honest. Everyone has had experiences when support people have been rude, condescending, dismissive, dripping with disdain. They hear a silent “you idiot” at the end of every sentence. That never feels good, especially when they already feel exposed. And it leads them to question whether you even want to help them or would prefer to shame them, perhaps publicly.

Why is it important for you to know how they feel? Isn’t support only about fixing technical problems? Well, no.

Technical support is really about helping organizations and individuals maximize their return on their investments in technology. Your company can have the best tech in the world, but if no one can use it effectively, then the return will be poor, or perhaps even negative.

And, if you want people to reap the benefits of technology, you have to deal with their feelings as well as the facts of their problems. If you fix the problem but leave them still feeling awful, they will be reluctant to call you again and to use the technology to its fullest potential.

Truthfully, helping them feel better doesn’t take much. Usually a small expression of human empathy is all that’s needed. A simple statement like, “I can imagine that this is really frustrating,” or “You sound really frustrated,” will give people an opportunity to feel heard and cared for.

To really help the people you support, add a little empathy to your troubleshooting skills. To do that, you need to have a sense of what it feels like to be on the other end of the conversation. The smallest bit of human kindness will truly set you apart.

is the co-author of The Geek Leader's Handbook and a principal of Leading Geeks, an education and consulting firm devoted to clarifying the murky world of human emotion for people who gravitate toward concrete thinking. You can contact him at info@leadinggeeks.com.

This story, "What it’s like to be your user" was originally published by Computerworld.

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