This is Part I of a two-part blog series. The second one talks about breaking bad habits in IT support.
In most organizations, IT agents are expected to be superheroes who can make any issue disappear with the snap of a finger. Although we don’t mind the responsibility that’s thrust upon us (with no great power), a little realism once in a while would be nice.
During my time as an IT support agent, I came across all sorts of users. Along the way, I learned that the best way to work with them is to understand their mindset and find out their true need. Over time I started identifying user types and my responses became quicker and more effective.
That said, you do come across some difficult users once in a while. The way to handle them effectively is to categorize them – well, one of the ways, but a fun way at that. Here are what I call the 7 deadly sins of the IT user:
Here’s a handy link to tweet the comic
I’m obviously exaggerating, but these categories will seem familiar if you’ve supported IT users for long enough. I’ll share a few tips that I use. I’m sure you’ll find this helpful and I hope you have fun along the way.
Remember: They’re still your colleagues and probably well-intentioned. When you’ve had a long day, it’s easy to blow things out of proportion, and segment slightly obnoxious behavior as one of the cardinal sins. As much as I get that, try not to go all John Doe on them 🙂
“Can you install Chrome for me? I don’t know how to.”
This user wants everything handed to them on a silver platter. Or worse, they actually don’t know much about technology, or anything about computers. Either way, if your team gets a lot of such trivial requests, I’ve got two words for you – knowledge management.
Track tickets that get resolved on the first contact and check if it was done using a knowledge base article. If it wasn’t, add the solution to the KB and make it ridiculously simple to follow.
If they’re bypassing the portal altogether, raise awareness about the benefits of using the knowledge base. Conduct sessions on the value of self-service. Show them how it’s simpler to find a solution article, fix the issue themselves and move on with their day than it is to raise a ticket and wait for a resolution.
If your end users are not searching the KB, you can try using a smart tool that proactively suggests relevant articles while they’re raising a ticket. Here’s how we do that at Freshservice:
We’re also working on an ML bot that’ll handle the tickets that still sneak through. More on that soon.
“How come her MacBook is bigger than mine?”
For this user, the grass is not just greener, but bigger, brighter, better.. you see where this is going. Most of these requests don’t have a valid justification and whether or not you fulfill them depends on your company policy, among other things – like the number of times you run into them every day.
What you can do is include a customized service catalog in the portal so everyone can see what they’re eligible for. Make it clear that this may vary based on a range of factors – someone who edits videos, for instance, will need a bigger screen and a better graphics card.
“Could you look at my home laptop for me?”
This is not just restricted to your company’s employees. If you’re in IT support, everyone from your relatives to your next-door neighbor to your friend’s cousin’s father-in-law sees you as a fix to a nagging computer problem they otherwise got used to. If you start helping end users with undocumented tasks, before long, you’ll find yourself too swamped to work on things that actually get assigned to you.
The key is to set the right expectations from the get-go. Make sure a ticket is logged before you start working on a request or an issue. Define concrete SLAs and make sure tickets raised via email have low priority by default. Stop entertaining requests that are subtly worked into water cooler conversations.
“Just give me all the apps I’m eligible for.”
This user is a notch above the previous one. They don’t mind raising tickets for things they might practically never even use, as long as they have it when needed. I mean, you never know when you might need to flip an image, invert its color and add a bunch of annotations to it. So why not keep an annual subscription of Adobe Creative Cloud handy, right?
Yet again, the service catalog is the answer. If a service comes at a cost, however small, display it in the catalog. Ask for the business justification and a manager’s approval, and have a showback or a chargeback mechanism in place to keep these requests under control.
Here’s how we solved this problem in our office.
You can even consider automating the service request workflow, so a request comes through to you only after being duly approved by the users’ reporting manager or department head.
“I really needed that application, so I installed it.”
These are the users you need to be the most wary of. They have a fair grasp on technology and see information security as a roadblock – not a reassuring combination. They circumvent access controls all the time and don’t bother consulting the IT team before installing applications with questionable data security. They love shortcuts, backdoors, and shadow IT (although they might not know the term) and on a good day, they can single-handedly throw the entire IT department into disarray.
The advent of BYOD and cloud technology has given them newfound powers. They’re using corporate credit cards and expense accounts to buy app subscriptions. When this goes undocumented, tracing issues and data breaches caused by these apps becomes a pain. Not to mention, a breach of customer data can lead to potential lawsuits.
Your network department might have a firewall in place to prevent unauthorized access, and you can use asset discovery agents to track installed apps. You can also get a report of payments categorized as ‘technology’ from the finance team. But these are all reactive, short-term measures. Containing shadow IT will need a mindset change across the organization. Users need to see the IT department as an agile enabler that can provide expert advice and help with fast procurement of applications.
“Do NOT tell me to restart my computer.”
I know it feels like our job is just to fix IT issues. If someone’s having a bad day and decides to take it out on everyone they come across, we’re not paid enough to be patient with them. Hey, I’ve been there too. But more often than not, this user just wants to feel.. understood.
Notice how I started this section? I said something that you’ve probably felt during at least one support call, to get your buy-in. I even established common ground by mentioning my own experience. Then, when I got to what they wanted, you were more open to it.
With this user, resist the temptation to jump to the resolution and try to get to the heart of the issue that’s bothering them. Let them vent, and listen to understand rather than to respond. Maybe they were promised a quick resolution only to be transferred multiple times. And every time the hold music finally ended, the next person asked the exact same question or suggested the exact same steps to try.
Once they’re done talking, paraphrase to let them know you were listening. This shows empathy and they open up to what you have to say.
This might sound counterintuitive unless you’ve seen it happen, but these are the calls where the potential for scoring a high CSat is the maximum. Well, the probability of it being average is next to zero, anyway.
“I’m a computer science major. I know how it works.”
This user can fall into two broad (sometimes overlapping) categories – the well-informed user and the “know it all”.
As a general rule, the former won’t strut their “computer expertise”. They come to you after they’ve tried basic-to-advanced troubleshooting, looked through enough KB articles, and exhausted all the obvious hypotheses. A sure way to find out is to ask what they’ve tried so you can save both your time and skip to advanced troubleshooting.
The “know it all” (or KIA, as I like to call them), is the quintessential wannabe who thinks that managing IT is so simple, they wonder why support agents even exist. Yet, they reach out to you for help once in a while. The trick is the same – ask what they tried, and listen. In my experience, this is when most of them eat their speech bubbles and realize there are things they just don’t know yet. Here’s one of my favorite instances:
I’ve become much calmer since. But if you’re not as desensitized to this kind of behavior yet, remember that you’re there to help them out. This might sometimes mean helping them see that there’s a reason they reached out to you for support. And then actually helping them resolve their core issue.
I hope you enjoyed the article. You can find more of my stories here.
You might also like my article on breaking bad habits in IT support.