Help, the Web Is Broken! and Other IT/Client Madness
Help, the Web Is Broken! and Other IT/Client Madness
Sometimes, from the view of the help desk, the end of civilization seems near. Very near, indeed.
This is one explanation for interactions such as the following:
"My computer is running real slow. The process System Idle Process takes like 90-100 percent of the CPU! And I cant shut it off! Ive tried everything!"
"Hi, I just scanned my computer and there were 75 instances of spyware found. Should I delete them?"
"But are you sure the Internet is safe to use?"
IT workers toil all day, all over the world, to help bridge the formidable gap between human beings and technology in business. So why doesnt everyone just get along? Is it that clients continually do "dumb" things or is it the way we geeks approach them?
According to experts, the problems in communication are complex on both sides of the screen. The culprits include "TechnoStress," the dysfunctional psychology of IT; the sometimes lackluster communication skill sets of technical staff; the generation gap; and the unrealistic expectations of service by clients.
"Technical people dont always focus on their listening skills," said Donna Knapp, author of "A Guide to Customer Service Skills for the Help Desk Professional," who offers training on improving the customer service, or "soft skills," of IT workers. "They often communicate in a language that doesnt make sense to customers. They also need the proper empathy skills to handle the situation."
Yet, the problem is greater than miscommunicationits perspective. Customers want to know what impact their malfunctioning technology will have on their work, Knapp explained.
"In this day and age, the business doesnt run if the IT isnt available. Theres a real impact when people cant do their work. IT needs to understand this and also how to prioritize minimizing the impact on the bottom line."
Larry Rosen, author of the "Mental Health Technology Bible" and "TechnoStress: Coping with Technology @Work, @Home, @Play," told eWEEK that much of the bad blood between IT and clients is attributable to something he calls TechnoStress.
"TechnoStress is simply the stress, anxiety and frustration that we all feel when were dealing with technology. It doesnt matter whether you are high-tech or low-tech, it still happens," he said.
TechnoStress, Rosen explains, affects the way we deal with the fact that our clients and users arent able to communicate with us.
"Whats really fascinating in the long run is that these folks want to communicate. Theyre not hiding anything."
Rosen argues that there are many barriers to communications between IT and clients, and many of these can be attributed to a generation gap: Most IT people are young and most of the users are not.
Next Page: More barriers to communication.
More Barriers to Communication
To help explain individuals relationship to technology, he separates computer users into four generations: twilight, boomer, generation X and MySpace.
The oldest, or twilight generation, had no technology growing up, but despite being out of their comfort zone they are the fastest-growing group on the Internet. They learn very slowly.
The second generation are the baby boomers, many of who are very comfortable with technology. But it hasnt always been the case.
"The boomers are the ones that let their kids program their VCRs for them. Theyre good with tech, but not as confident," he said.
Generation X, the third generation Dr. Rosen classifies by their relationship to technology, is the first to have been raised with computers. Much more at ease with the rapid change in technologies than their elders, a majority of todays businesses are run by those in this 20s-to-40s crowd.
Rosen makes a point to add an additional generation he calls the "MySpace" generation. Because those in this generation have had technology around them their whole lives, they barely notice it.
"They do think of technology as technologyit just is. In addition, they are always multitaskingtelevision, IM, music playingthey cannot not multitask," he said.
IT professionals typically fall within generation X, and because of this, they often speak about technology in ways that those in the boomer and twilight generations cannot comprehend.
"Many techies are guilty of this," Rosen said. "When you talk about technology, you use jargon. Sure, the jargon is effective, but its not second nature to others. IT people literally have to throw out the jargon [to effectively communicate]."
Of course, nobody knows more about the difficulties communicating with nontechnical people than the actual help desk consultants.
"If I use [tech] terminology, they dont understand me. I try to translate, but sometimes it takes a while to explain things," said Fred Ocampo, a help desk consultant at California State University at Dominguez Hills.
Even users with a greater amount of technology knowledge pose their own set of difficulties.
"There are other users that think they know whats going on and when you correct them, they get offended. You have to find a way to make them comfortable and relaxed so theyll trust you," Ocampo told eWEEK.
In addition, not all clients are interested in increasing their knowledge.
"Some people just dont want to learn and are very comfortable just getting others to fix things. Others are more interested in learning," explained Ocampo.
Rosen warned that beyond jargon, communication between IT and clients can also be negatively affected by hurried interactions.
"IT people are impatient. You are making them unitask, and on some level this is frustrating them and making them antsy. They talk fast and skip steps. And, they dont let the person do it themselves."
According to Rosen, a little basic learning theory could go a long way in IT-client relations. He suggested that there are four steps that lead to effective learning: The first is to let the students do it themselves, making and correcting mistakes along the way; the second is to have time to practice; the third is to have someone calm and relaxed nearby who can answer questions; and the final step is to only get information in small bites.
IT people who fix the problems for clients take the learning out of the process and in the end create more work for themselves, Rosen observed.
"A lot if it is awareness of how the other half thinks. IT people often have trouble getting into the heads of their users. This causes stress, and from psychology we know that the more stress you are under, the less you are able to perform."
At the same time, an ongoing theme in complaints from IT workers is the unrealistic expectations from clients.
"Although computer guys are smart and can fix a tremendous amount of problems, theres no way for us to know everything .... Nor can we force Microsoft to bring back the Office tool bar. I had an issue like this last week," said Howard Graylin, a technical analyst at Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance, of Ridgeland, Miss.
Graylin told eWEEK that users most often do something to "break" their computer but dont want to admit it.
"My favorite user complaint is that somehow their password was changed. Dont tell anyone, but whenever we have free time, our favorite game is to randomly change user passwordslike we really have time to do that. [Just] tell me you forgot your password. It happens and its nothing to be ashamed of," Graylin said.
"Between you and me, ... Im glad the average user is an idiot. If they ever figured out how easy this can be Id be living in a cardboard box on the street."
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