TechRepublic has been running some of the humor of customer support, most of which has to do with clueless users and how funny some of their responses are. I am acquainted with this kind of humor and occasionally pass some of it on myself. I also know some stories of really dumb tech support guys, such as one to whom I provided the part number (his company’s part number) and the precise problem with that part at the beginning of the conversation. Three hours later, he finished his diagnosis and agreed to send a technician out—to replace the part I’d specified at the beginning of the conversation. Yes, I could have been wrong, but I provided the evidence as well.
So it doesn’t all go one way. In fact, I’ve found that the vast majority of problems in providing telephone support involve different vocabulary and a different way of looking at the situation. One very common source of confusion is the meaning of “CPU.” To me, that’s a chip on the motherboard that does the processing, i.e. central processing unit. To most of my clients, it’s the whole tower.
But it can get much worse than that. For example, one customer called me and when I asked what the problem was, he told me that he couldn’t get on the internet. So I started to ask him questions related to the browser, cables, lights, and so forth. The problem was that the computer wouldn’t turn on.
Well, that was the problem as I saw it. For him, the primary use for the computer was to get on the internet, and his problem was that he couldn’t do that. We very quickly solved our communication problem, because he was a smart guy and I like to think I’m pretty swift myself.
Now that one could be called a stupid user story. The average support tech would think that was a pretty silly way to look at it. But it could equally well be a stupid support tech story. I, the support tech failed to bridge the gap to my client’s situation. If one is trying to provide support and getting money for doing so, one needs to actually listen to and comprehend what the client is saying.
We don’t think of it as translation when we’re dealing with the same language. We were both speaking English, weren’t we? Well, not precisely. Besides dialects, we have specialized vocabulary in different fields and we also have our own way of looking at problems. I’ve learned a great deal from helping my wife do things with her computer.
Jody is a very intelligent woman and she is also systematic. It’s difficult to help someone who actually can’t follow directions, but she can. (Note that I don’t mean someone who misunderstands directions; I mean someone who doesn’t follow them.) When I was helping her yesterday in working with an image in GIMP, involving some work with layers, it quickly became clear.
To me, each of these processes is a series of steps. To her, they are combined goals. At the same time (almost perversely) to me some of those steps are so automatic that I don’t really think about them, and might forget to mention them. I often have to go back and add a step that I’d forgotten to mention. One thing that would catch me regularly was stating the location of a particular command. I have clearly in mind which GIMP commands are done from the menu and which from the toolbars. This is complicated by the fact that many might be done either way, but I have deeply ingrained habits as to which way I do them. Then I forget to actually state these things.
The only solution I know to these things is to learn how to listen and how to see what the other person wants to accomplish and how they view their work and their computer. In general, you’ll find that they are quite skilled in their area, and that the only thing that needs to be bridged is that communication gap.
That leaves those people who really are stupid, or the small number who will lie to you about what they’ve done or not done, and I don’t know what to do about them, but they are actually mercifully small in number.