I spent a year in high school working as a busboy at Sizzler
Steakhouse. You might think that anyone can do that job--and admittedly,
the stress level wasn't high compared to other jobs I've had. But when you
go to a restaurant, do you notice the busboys? If you were one, sure;
otherwise, probably not.
And yet, how the busboy does his menial job can set the tone for your whole dining experience. If your table isn't wiped down properly, you may conclude that the whole restaurant, including the kitchen, is dirty, or that the employees don't take pride in their work. You may even end up taking your dollars elsewhere.
Sometimes the restaurant was busy--often it wasn't. During the slow times, our manager would ask us to make sure the dishes were washed, dried and put away, and that floors were cleaned. When things got really slow, we cleaned the walls. Sometimes we'd wonder, "what's the point of cleaning a wall?" But we learned that, without a good scrub-down, walls can get quite dirty over time.
The point is, customer service matters. It certainly matters in IT. So how can we "clean the walls" in our IT environments and do our jobs better? For starters, we should change the way we think about our customers--the end users. In some help-desk environments, "lusers" are commonly belittled for their lack of technical expertise. But we should take a moment to step into their shoes. These people might not be technical, but that doesn't mean they aren't intelligent. They just don't share our background.
A co-worker of mine once snapped at a nurse when she had
problems logging into her workstation. She responded by asking him if he'd like
to come up the hall with her and fix an IV or administer some
drugs. Touche. The nurse was just as knowledgeable and passionate
about healthcare as my coworker was about technology. Working with computers
was important, but it was only a small part of her job. She just needed to
enter data and to print some reports. She didn't care about drivers, passwords
or proper startup/shutdown sequences. Once we showed her how to do what
she needed to do, she was fine, and we didn't hear from her again.
End users may not know computers, but they know when they're running slowly. How often do you take the time to actually sit down with your end users and find out how things are working from their perspective? I've had users who were printing out reports from one system and retyping the data into another. How easy would it be to save folks from that effort and aggravation? Just leave the raised floor and take a walk. Find people in other departments that use your systems and ask them for feedback. Ask them if you can look over their shoulder while they use your machine sometime.
End users are our customers. If they weren't using the data we store and process, there would be no need for us. And if we have a better understanding of users' problems and frustrations, if we show them better ways to do things, the entire organization benefits.
It's true that there's never much time for "cleaning walls." We're always told to do more with less. But we should make the time for our end users, our customers. We can learn from them.