Help, the Web Is Broken! and Other IT/Client Madness

Are users really "dumb"? Are IT guys arrogant geeks? Or perhaps there are many causes to problematic communication between IT staff and the clients they are trying to serve-on both sides of the help call.

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 miscommunication—its 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.