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Tips to handle difficult end users


It’s a classic love-hate relationship: the IT help desk and the end user. Without IT, end users wouldn’t have the technology in place to do their jobs; but without end users, IT wouldn’t have a job. It’s a twisted symbiosis; one that’s made more distinctive by a sharp cultural divide and near-polar agendas.

There are plenty of reasons why IT professionals get flak from the people they are enlisted to support. They tend to have a reputation for being, well, a little hard to work with. IT guys get a bad rap for a number of reasons, but mostly because by the time users reach out to tech support, they’re already frustrated. And to make matters worse, support is often end-users’ only hope, leaving them feeling dependent upon someone else to do their job.

On the flip side, the IT help desk is tasked with the often thankless job of blindly diagnosing user issues based on symptoms like “my computer broke” or “it won’t print.” Sometimes the solutions are simple (“plug it in” or “complete the setup process”), but often they’re more complex and require technical prowess, not to mention patience and expert listening skills.

Meet the personas
Cultural divides aside, here are three end-user personas that help desk pros know all too well—and how to handle them.

1. The Technology Challenged—This is an end user who is truly clueless when it comes to computing. They might not know the difference between a modem and a monitor, let alone an operating system and a graphical user interface. Dealing with this type results in some of the most frustrating—albeit funny—tales from the help desk.

What makes the Technology Challenged user so frustrating is the degree of hand-holding they require. Even the simplest solution demands not just your time, but your ability to state and restate the steps to fixing the problem. In addition, these end users are skeptical, if not downright terrified, of change. Scheduled software update rearranged their desktop icons? Count on an uptick in calls—and utter confusion.

What you can expect: Expect the Technology Challenged user to describe their (frequent) problems as vaguely and simply as possible. Something’s wrong. That’s all they’ve got.

How to handle: Be patient. Though your mind may initially lead you down more complicated troubleshooting paths, stick to the basics first. The real basics, like is the printer turned on? Is the volume set to mute? Have you accidentally hit CAPS LOCK? Never assume the Technology Challenged is capable of troubleshooting even the simplest of tech tasks.

2. The Know-it-All—This end user may seem like the opposite of the Technology Challenged, but he or she is in fact much more similar than you may think. The Know-it-All may dabble in HTML and be able to carry on a surface-level conversation about Perl, but the Know-it-All’s knowledge stops there. They think they’ve got it down—and worse yet—they don’t think they could possibly do any wrong. So when something goes wrong, they’re the last ones to admit fault.

What you can expect: Lots of self-diagnosis and superfluous details surrounding said diagnosis. Know-it-Alls often tinker away on their machines, downloading software that’s not supported. They’re arrogant and ready to tell you how to do your job. You know, the one where you were hired to support them? They’ll want to do things their way, so don’t expect to win these types over by suggesting they may have changed their password the night before—and just forgotten that when they arrived this morning.

How to handle: One technique is to test their alleged expertise by getting technical with them. Start out using some basic “insider” language, then move on to more in-depth technical queries. Just to see if they can play ball. Whatever you do, don’t lose your patience. Instead opt to overcome their skepticism with knowledge.

3. The Entitled One—This end user can be tricky, as he or she may be your boss’ boss’ boss. They’re often c-level and busy. Very busy. Like, busier than you, no matter how many requests are backed up in the queue.

What to expect: Here’s what not to expect—standard protocol. The Entitled One will humorlessly state why their problem should come before all the others in the queue.  Why? Because their work is “more important.” If the problem isn’t resolved, money will be lost. The entire organisation will suffer. And it will be all your fault.

Whereas most users are expected to follow standard operating procedures (like emailing the help desk alias), the Entitled One may believe their time is more valuable. This means not only should their requests take precedence, but that they can take whatever measures they see fit to get in touch with you.

If there’s an on-site help desk, don’t be surprised if they just stop by. If you field the Entitled One’s call, don’t be surprised if they seem putout when you say you won’t be able to get to them until the end of the day. Or, heaven forbid, the next morning.

How to handle: Politely and respectfully. As much as it irks you, it’s probably in your best interest to drop lesser tasks and finish theirs first. Hierarchies exist in offices and, like it or not, they require a change in standard operations. But do use your best judgment. Sometimes it makes sense to cater to the needs of higher-ups, but other times it’s best to address the most pressing issues first.

The silver lining: end users you love
With all the talk of nightmare users, now is an appropriate time to mention those who make the help desk not just bearable, but better. They’re the ones who, regardless of technical knowledge, listen with patience, apply their new knowledge and most importantly, learn. They are the ones who ask “What am I doing wrong?” and “How do I avoid this in the future?” While ignorance is expected (hey, you don’t necessarily know how to do their job, right?), it’s made palatable by appreciation and, better yet, the desire to learn.

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