Someone recently shared with me a thread where IT pros lament end users' lack of computer expertise. Even though end users have their own job responsibilities, you'd think that companies would hire people who at least have a basic understanding of e-mail or widely used business applications like Microsoft Office. However, that frequently isn't the case.
Anyway, this lengthy thread generated an epic comment, which I'll repost below. The commenter's basic point is that while an automobile is an incredibly complex machine, when something goes wrong most car owners can at least explain their problem. With end users, again, that frequently isn't the case:
"I've actually been using the cars analogy for a couple months now and I think it's very fitting. Imagine if you were a mechanic who owned an auto shop and your average customer call went something like this?
"Customer: My car isn't working and I need you to fix it immediately, this is an emergency.
Mechanic: Alright sir what seems to be the problem?
Customer: I don't know, I tried to use my car on Friday and it didn't work, now it's Monday and I need to get to work and I can't and this needs to be fixed right now.
Mechanic: Can you start the car? Can you even get into your car? Does it make any sounds when you try to start it? Are all four tires there?
Customer: I don't know, I don't know what any of that stuff means, I tried to get to work and it wouldn't let me and you need to fix it now because you changed my oil six months ago.
Mechanic: Alright well what kind of car are you driving?
Customer: I don't know, a green one, why does that matter?
Mechanic: Please take a look at the back of your car and see if there are any letters or numbers that would indicate a vehicle model or manufacturer
Customer: Ok, my car is a SV2 87K.
Mechanic: No sir that's your license plate. My records indicate that you drive a Nissan Altima, can you confirm that the key you're using to try and get into this car says Nissan on it?
Customer: My key says Lexus but I don't see how that makes a difference, I've been using this key on this car for years and it's always worked, what did you do to my car?"
Could you imagine your mechanic having to ask if you're using the right key, or if you have tires? Could you imagine saying you didn't know? Yet that sort of thing happens every day in the world of tech support. We ask customers -- even end users -- if the machine is plugged in. We really do ask if they've tried turning it off and on again.
It's our job to help people, but the people seeking our help need to help us by providing basic information. I cannot count the number of times I've asked "what changed?" only to, quite honestly, be lied to. "I didn't do anything," I'll hear. Then later the user admits to deleting files after reading somewhere that doing so would make his computer run faster. Which it could -- unless of course you randomly delete some important system files.
Dealing with end users can be frustrating. Laughing at comments like the aforementioned car analogy is one way to deal with the frustration. But more important is to always keep in mind the user's perspective. Sometimes I wonder if it isn't that users are dumb, but they're afraid of feeling dumb. Perhaps they don't confess because they've been belittled for their computer ignorance in the past.
As I wrote back in 2009, no matter how difficult they might make our jobs, end users still deserve our respect:
"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."
Perhaps end users as a whole should understand computers more than they do. Remember though -- few people are as passionate about technology as we are. And ultimately, we support businesses. These businesses don't run the latest and greatest hardware because they're geeked about feeds and speeds. They rely on computers to process data and solve problems. It's our job to be friendly and helpful and, above all, help people help themselves.