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The Personal Technologist

The guide to being an Information Concierge, not an angsty know-it-all

Viewing Your Client Through a Different Lens - Part 3

In my previous two essays I shared what I've learned about who the clients are whom we serve in technology support and the numerous ways the client is unique and cannot be given standardized support. There is one more very important aspect to understand about our clients, but it's not a popular one.

The client doesn't want to fix their problem by following a multi-step procedure on an outdated online reference document

Most upper management have a checklist for their IT department to provide outstanding customer support in the workplace. This checklist is revisited during every annual retreat. It might also be included in the department's mission statement. The one item that I find a flaw with in this customer support checklist?

The IT department shall create an online knowledge base of all the possible issues a customer may encounter with the software the workplace provides...and the steps needed to resolve it.

Some upper management are unable or unwilling to consider the need for hiring additional tech support employees, so the only path forward is to "work smarter" and "train our users to use their technology better so they can fix their own problems." Upper management believe that their tech support employees should, "empower our users and provide them training so they can learn the skills to solve computer problems themselves." Teach them how to fish, if you will. It's a noble directive, especially when faced with an obscenely-skewed customer-to-tech ratio in the workplace. So the directive is made to develop an intra-network wiki chock full of issues and answers.

Side note: One day, when I take over the world, I am going to outlaw the practice of calling a customer or client a user.

The definition of oxymoron is, "a combination of contradictory or incongruous words." Some examples of oxymorons are crash landing, even odds, found missing, jumbo shrimp, original copy, and for this essay's purpose.... easy-to-search online repository. Any wiki or knowledge base is never easy for a client to search for, let alone discover, the results they are looking up. This glaring difficulty should be the primary reason upper management should avoid dedicating employee time to write down a technical issue and its steps to resolution for others to solve. Sadly, it is not.

Not only is the customer's experience in finding the reference article ignored, there is little or no oversight as to how the reference content is composed. Online reference content is not created by a full-time staffperson with an expertise in technical writing. It is created by tech support professionals who have not received training in technical writing and rely on Microsoft Word's spellcheck as the only resource for editing their documents.

In addition, the online knowledge repository is not regularly updated for accuracy and relevancy when software applications are updated. Once the information is uploaded, weblinks to the information is sent in an email to the client for them to figure out...year after year. the software changes, but the steps to issue resolution are not.

I'm also wagering most upper management, faced with a technology issue, expect one of their employees to fix their computer for them. They rarely dogfood their online repositories. If they did, they would realize what their clients have to contend with, and then would be forced to rethink their tech support paradigm.

We can do better.

Viewing Your Client Through a Different Lens - Part 2

By Chris Powell

In my previous essay I shared some perspectives about our customers from a relational standpoint. I'm wagering most professional techs never received any empathy training at any time during their career. Doesn't matter if it is new employee onboarding or the annual company retreat, a business is overlooking a valuable opportunity to enhance their IT department. Investing in soft skills can improve the reputation of the IT department and might actually improve the technologist's enjoyment of their work.

The Personal Technologist treats a client:

  • Like a person with feelings
  • Like a person who is contending with a lot of stress in their life outside of technology
  • Like a person who may not have been treated with kindness and dignity in previous tech support interactions with your peers.

There is still more to learn about our customers and how we can support them effectively:

The client is not on their computer 40 hours a week

Most clients begrudgingly use the technology the workplace requires them to use. As a result, most only want to know the minimum amount needed to complete their required tasks on their computer. This also means they don't want to know all the in-depth nuances you have learned about a software application. They just want the problem to go away.

The Personal Technologist chooses to learn all the ins and outs of the software. And when issues arise, they explain the situation to the client in ways that are easy to learn and NOT condescending or admonishing.

The client wants to be acknowledged

In many cases, "management policy" dictates how a customer will be handled when contacting tech support. I'm wagering that most decision-makers have received the frustrating, callous, and detached "your call is important to us...this call may be monitored for quality assurance" robotic recording in their own experience of obtaining tech support. Impersonal treatment begets impersonal treatment.

The Personal Technologist faces a tough challenge... they must be acknowledging their client as a person and communicate to the client that their tech issue matters without sounding like a scripted automaton.

Your client has a unique tech setup

Breaking news: the way you have your computer set up is different than your clients, therefore the steps to resolve an issue which works on your computer will not work for them. You may have your desktop computer set up exactly to your specifications for optimal efficiency. Your client may not be as organized as you. They may be running Windows 10/11, macOS Mavericks/Yosemite/El Capitan/Sierra/High Sierra/Mojave/Catalina/Big Sur/Monterey/Ventura, ChromeOS, and possible Linux operating systems. Their software locations may be in the Windows Start menu, on a desktop shortcut, or on the taskbar. Their software locations might be in their Mac dock, on their desktop, or inside their Finder accessed through a series of clicks.

The Personal Technologist asks the client to share more information about their technology landscape. Are they on a desktop or a laptop? Is it a Windows computer, a Mac computer, or a Chromebook? Is their web browser Firefox, Edge, Chrome, Safari, Brave, or (heaven forbid) Internet Explorer?

The more information the client shares, the more the client senses you taking ownership of their issue, and the easier it will be for you to provide a customized resolution to their issue based on what they're running.

Your client doesn't understand techie humor

Professional techs are immersed in the ocean of online memes, obscure insider aphorisms, and other humorous headlines from the daily zeitgeist. It's how we cope with the daily avalanche of requests for computer help. A 21st-century cigarette break, if you will. Most of our clients do not understand nerdspeak. When tech support makes a geeky joke, it is almost guaranteed that the client will not get it.

The Personal Technologist knows their audience before unloading a witticism, meme, joke, humor, analogy or idiom. They are fully aware that a "harmless joke" actually can offend a client's identity, their ethnicity, their upbringing, or other aspects about their personal and professional lives.

There is one more way the Professional Technologist can view their clients in a more effective way. It's a big one. I'll be sharing it in Part 3 coming soon.

Viewing Your Client Through a Different Lens - Part 1

By Chris Powell

Getting hired as a full-time computer tech support right out of college was exciting. I was a fresh-faced 22-year-old with an understanding of how software worked, I had a lifelong curiosity for solving puzzles, and I was eager to fix customer computer problems. However, I was immediately met with anger, disdain, vitriol, impatience, and belligerence from those whom I supported. I was confused about why my customers were so mad at me. I was frustrated with their terse and acerbic emails. And I was hurt by not receiving genuine thanks from my customers for the work I did...something that a lifelong people-pleaser took personally.

Eventually I was able to unlock some perspectives about my clients that helped me view them with a different lens. This was valuable in changing my perspective while providing tech support. The angry client emails have never changed, but my reflexive instinct to take it personally has gradually subsided. Best of all, I have been able to convert clients from adversaries to allies during the actual support call!

Here is what I learned along the way... and Professional techs, pay attention! This will make you valuable to you company. A Linchpin, if you will.

You are meeting your client at their worst. It's not about you.

If their computer was working normally without issue and nothing went wrong there would be no reason to contact you. You aren't the one who installed the software update that changed the UI the day before their important presentation. You aren't the one who clicked on that weblink that now has malware infecting their computer. Unfortunately, your client is in a tight spot and contacting you because...

The client is often angry because they don't know how to fix their computer problem.

The client may be angrily emailing you after being embarrassed in front of others. You may see them as blame-shifting or misdirected anger, but there is often more to the story. One of my clients is a tenured professor at a university, an elder person whom I hold in high regard. They explained to me what the feel when their computer isn't working when lecturing a class full of students:

When my computer doesn't work, and I don't know how to solve it, I can see the students' sideways glances. I know they are thinking I am obsolete and I lose face as a result.

The Personal Technologist responds to an angry client with, "I bet that must have been a real stressball for you." It shows you understand just how embarrassing that was for them, and it also justifies the client's spike in anxiety when they can get things working normally again.

The client already feels dumb about their computer problem, and doesn't need you to reinforce this

You, the professional technologist, knows what it's like not to know something (e.g. combatting a DDOS attack from a APT by immersing yourself in your IDS/IPS system while upper management is demanding up-to-the-minute status reports) and have to ask a more knowledgeable source for help. If you're like me, you have received this request for help with RTFM, a three-word response for a product that requires hours of research, or, "You should have known this already."

The Personal Technologist gets to break this cycle of unhelpful treatment with your clients by sharing the solution to the computer issue with them in a way they can easily digest and understand.

The Personal Technologist assumes their client isn't familiar with their problem even though you have solved it over 1,000 times already.

The Personal Technologist doesn't get to admonish the client passively for not reading your silly online KB reference article written three years ago (The software has changed since then. Your information needs to be updated.) or referring them to the three all-company emails you sent warning employees of this issue.

The Personal Technologist is patient. The Personal Technolgist is kind. They respond to clients as if they were responding to their boss's boss. They compose email in ways that will make clients very appreciative of the help, even though you may not get that sort of response from your clients.

More ways to view your client through a different lens coming up... stay tuned.

Modern Technology Support is Broken

By Chris Powell

Back when desktop computers first landed on employees’ office desks, getting tech support used to be a simple process:

  • Call the phone extension for the IT department
  • Explain the problem with their computer to someone they regularly encountered wandering the hallways of their workplace.
  • Receive troubleshooting support right then over the phone or the IT support person would come visit their office in person a short time after ending the phone call.

This was also known as the good old days. How did this process get completely obliterated?

Workplace employees now have to endure one of the following:

  • Send an email to support@nameofcompany.com
  • Wait for an unknown support professional to magically fix their issue in the background
  • Receive a generic formatted email stating their issue has been resolved

…or:

  • Call a phone number provided by their company for “technical support”
  • Listen to an impersonal recorded voice state that “their call is very important” and rattle off numbers to press for categorical issues
  • Grumble at not having a number to press to speak with live tech support
  • Decide which number to press that is closest to their actual issue
  • Roll their eyes at hearing they can reach support at www.nameofcompany.com forward-slash something dot html to email their technology issue

…or worse:

  • Call a phone number provided by their company for technical support
  • Listen to an impersonal recorded voice state that “their call is very important” and to please hold for the next available support representative
  • Celebrate upon hearing a live person’s voice after waiting for a number of minutes
  • Explain the problem with their computer to the live person
  • Raise an eyebrow at the live person transcribing the issue into a “ticket”
  • Receive a ticket number for future reference, and is thanked for calling nameofbusiness tech support
  • Hang up and wait for someone to fix their issue.
  • Eventually receive a formatted email from your business’ help desk software stating the issue is resolved.

...or worst of all:

  • Call a phone number for their company's IT support
  • Explain the problem with their computer to the live professional on the other end of the phone call
  • Receive the worst five-word response a professional tech can ever use, said in an exasperated tone of voice: "Did you reboot your computer?"
  • Experience confusion and frustration trying to figure out where on their computer they are supposed to click, especially when the professional support caffeinated and speaking 100 miles an hour reading from a script.
  • Feel worse than before due to the professional tech "dumbing down" their directions after not being able to locate where to fix their problem.

Clients in the '20s decade have no connection with the person they are receiving tech support from. They don't feel heard. They feel like it's their fault when the computer is acting up. Most of all, they dread having to call IT for help.

It's time to rethink, reimagine, and reconfigure professional and personal tech support. We can do better.

In the upcoming communiques, I'll be sharing my vision for how a professional technologist can be more like a hotel concierge versus a switchboard operator. I'll also be calling out the toxicity some techs still subject their clients to. 1999 called, they want Nick Burns Computer Guy back.