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Tech Talk Live Blog

Customer Service and IT: Keys to Successful End User Support – Part 2

Susan Koetzle Hoffman


This is the second of several posts that will address customer service and IT. To read the first post in the series, click here.​

Beyond a willingness to be of service, to provide truly exceptional customer service, we must understand the different types of users in our organization.  While everyone is unique, I have found that users fall into one of five broad categories.  Each category helps to define the knowledge and needs of those users.  By addressing these needs, the goal becomes that of gradually shifting users to a more self-sufficient level.  Thinking about how those you serve are distributed in these categories makes it easier to plan your approach for user support.

So, who are these end users?  Here is a simple chart from the user’s point of view:

Obviously, the number ones are the lowest maintenance users; however, keeping people in the first category still requires work on our part.  The people in categories two, three, and four are potential number ones depending on how we support them.  The approach I propose is a three-pronged strategy that aims to offer the various types of help each group finds most useful.  Over time this model works to move more users into the more self-sufficient categories.  Knowing where members of your institution fall on this chart helps with planning out support strategies.  Unfortunately, there will always be some people in the last group—those possessing a negative mindset that refuse to even try.  Do your best with these folks—you never know.

Providing support is a three-fold process—when all aspects are addressed in some form, all users get the help they need.  To illustrate this idea, the triangle below highlights the three areas of support that must be addressed by any IT department.

There are many ways to deal with each of the three points listed—what an institution ultimately can do always depends on staff resources and funding.  In the sections that follow, the suggested methods for tackling each point detail examples of the types of support my district and other schools provide.  Regardless of individual situations, each point can be addressed in some way—you need to pick the most effective strategy for your circumstances.  Getting started, everyone must focus on the basis of support—the bottom of the pyramid—which consists of the two things IT departments must provide for all users.  The starting point for all three involves offering access to immediate help for technology emergencies.

No matter how savvy the user or how well maintained and up-to-date the equipment, things can and do go wrong.  There must be a protocol for these emergency situations.  First, make sure users know what qualifies as an emergency.  “I don’t know how to bookmark a page” does not warrant a call to the help desk.  If instruction is interrupted or hampered, that is an emergency situation.  There should be other means in place to address non-emergency concerns.  Next, clearly define what users can expect when contacting the Technology Department, and publicize the hours and days one-to-one help is available.  Telephone help lines, walk up help desks, and emergency email addresses all serve the same purpose, as long as someone is at the other end ready to respond.  That last bit is crucial—you must be available when promised.

Ideally, have a designated help desk technician; this provides continuity since a familiar voice or face will more likely calm a panicking faculty member who has encountered technological difficulties.  The timely recognition of bigger problems or trends is another benefit of having an assigned staffer.  The sooner major problems are discovered, the more readily they are escalated to the proper person and resolved.  However you chose to staff your help desk, a calm, friendly, non-judgmental voice is essential—the situation is what it is regardless of where, why, or how the problem originated.

When working with a contact, walk the user through the steps to resolve the problem themselves whenever possible.  If it is a simple fix, hopefully the user will remember what to do if the same situation arises at a later date.  We want each person to get the most out of the devise he/she is using.  Explaining what you are doing helps everyone become more familiar with the technology, what it can do, and troubleshooting procedures.  The help provided should not only fix the problem, but also help create more knowledgeable users.

When people know they can count on you in an emergency, they are more understanding when less pressing concerns arise and they must wait while you prioritize requests.  This leads to the second point: the ability to request timely assistance, which will be addressed next time.  As always, your comments and questions are welcomed in the box below.

Susan Hoffman came to the Elizabethtown Area School District Technology department via a circuitous route. With degrees in English, a BA from St. Joseph’s University and an MA from Villanova, Susan started her work life as a college English instructor.  From there she moved to the Penn State University Libraries as Circulation Supervisor at Pattee Library on the University Park Campus.  While with the libraries, she wrote instruction manuals for the then in house circulation system developed by library programmers as well as gave workshops for library faculty and staff in the use of DOS and Microsoft Office applications.  Susan joined the Elizabethtown Area School District in 2000 as a classroom reading and math assistant.  In 2012, she left the classroom and brought her understanding of the end-user’s perspective to her new role manning the Technology Help Desk and Technology Emergency Line for the district.

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