Monday, October 05, 2009

Blue wires and blinking lights - Let the users help

I have several tech friends (some of whom read this, which will undoubtedly put me in the technological doghouse if they think I am referring to them.  Then again, if one feels the conviction...) that have a hard time "dealing" with users.  Why?  Mainly because the users don't know the technical terms for the equipment they use (or may have to look at).  The tech gets frustrated because the user isn't calling certain parts by their "right" names, and so they sound like they don't know what they are doing or what they're talking about when in reality, they know what they see, but just are educated in the terminilogy of networking, computers, etc.

Many techs, and they know who they are but won't admit it and generally work for telephone support, forget that they were in the same position as the average user.  Over the years, through training, whatever, the tech has acquired the necessary vocabulary, but most folks do not.  For me, it's the same thing as when I take my truck to the shop.  i have no idea what those folks are telling me when they use the "official" name for things, but I can tell them it looks like "this" or sounds like "that" and generally get the point across.  Same thing here.

Today, I got a phone call from a user that could not get online at her school.  From my desk, I was able to test the connection to the network and that was fine, so the issue was in that particular building.  She had called me from the room with the "little box that has blue wires and lights on it."  That was all I needed.

The conversation went something like this:
Me: Okay, do you see numbers by the lights on the little box?

Her: Yes. Only #2 is blinking.  #1,3,6,7,8 are solid and #4 and 5 are not lit up.  Wait, one of them is orange, but the rest are green.

Me: Okay, have you tried unplugging the power to the box?

Her: Yes.  I did that and when it came back on, the same lights were lit or unlit as before.

Me: Okay, tell me which numbers have blue wires going to them.

Her: Well, #1 has a gray wire and it is lit up (meaning the light).  There is no wire in #2 or #7, but they have lights.  #4 and #5 have wires but no lights.

Me: Okay, one of the wires should lead to a little black box near the wall.  The black box has an orange wire attached to it. Do you see that?

Her: Yes.  it has six lights.  All the lights on the orange wire side are lit or blinking green or orange.  On the blue wire side, there is a light by "ACT" but no lights by "LINK" or (I cant remember the other indicator now that I'm typing this out, but that's not important)

Me: Okay.  That tells me exactly what I need to know!  There is a problem with the switch (pause) the box with the blue wires.  I'll contact the tech (who was out at training/meetings today) and see if I can just swap out the part and get you connected.  You've been a great tech troubleshooter!  Thank you!
Notice the only time I used any kind of technical term was at the end where I used the word "switch" to describe the equipment.  That was me thinking out loud.  I caught myself and used the terms she had been using with me.  Notice, I also took the time to thank HER for helping me.  She now knows the term for the little box (switch), and she may or may not ever use that again.  But more importantly for getting her back online, we used plain english terms to get the job done.

I have never understood why people in some positions (not just tech either!) feel the need to belittle and berate the people they are supposed to be 'helping' just because that person doesn't know the correct words to use.  Instead of making the user feel stupid, EDUCATE the user.  Start off in language they can understand and relate to, then teach them (without making them feel stupid) what the pieces and parts are called - IF NECESSARY.  Sometimes, it will never matter again, and so if the person doesn't need to know and doesn't care to learn the names, then move along.  Don't take it personally.

Shan (and every other teacher I encounter) uses terms for things that I have no idea what she's talking about.  But, if I have a question about it, she'll explain it to me in terms I do understand.  Same thing with the truck, same thing with injection-based molded plastic parts (okay, I made that up and have no idea if that is even a real term, but you get the idea, I'm sure).

1 comment:

  1. David, this is a wonderful example of how to work with the situation at hand rather than complain that someone doesn't know what they are doing. I would hate to have a car mechanic use technical terms with me if I was getting help over the phone.