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Tech Talk Live Blog

Customer Service and IT: Keys to Successful End User Support – Part 1

Susan Koetzle Hoffman


This is the first of several posts that will address customer service and IT.

“I’m so sorry to bother you, but I am having a problem with . . . .” In the three years since taking over the Technology Help Desk duties for Elizabethtown Area School District, I am still surprised to hear the trepidation in some callers’ voices.  Relief that someone answered I could understand, but why are so many people uneasy about calling for technical assistance?  It is the IT support line, after all!

Horror stories and jokes abound detailing unsatisfactory phone calls to help lines— probably we all have at least one tale to tell, but we do not want those jokes to refer to us!  We do not want our colleagues to be timid when asking for assistance.  Far too often, those in the technology field dismiss this caller reluctance as an irrational fear exhibited by people who just do not understand how to use a computer.  While there may be some truth to this, not all users fit into this category.  In fact, there are many types of users out there and, by understanding who they are, an IT Department can better serve all of them.  This idea spurred me to think about our different users and to outline an approach to helping all of them.  As it turns out, this approach can benefit more than just those we serve.

Our goals for providing technology and support are quite straightforward.  Paramount is the desire to enhance instruction for students and faculty and ensure all components work seamlessly and are trouble free.  Preparing and putting technology in place, as well as maintaining and upgrading equipment take much of our efforts; however, there is another task of equal importance.  We should strive to be available for timely support when requested, and we should also make it a priority to teach users how to help themselves.  Ideally, users should be encouraged to explore what technology can do and to be on the lookout for new innovations and ideas.  Not every request will be feasible, but having users involved in developing new strategies and suggesting new approaches makes sense.  Finally, fundamentally, we want to prevent disasters—big and small—before they occur.

In reality, most IT departments in education live within tight budget constraints.  Providing for the technology needs of students, faculty, and staff often involves the creative juggling of resources, manpower, and funds.  As a result, the idea of customer service gets placed on the back burner while what are considered more practical concerns get addressed.  In reality, having good rapport with users enhances the job an IT department performs and results in everyone getting the most out of the technology at hand.  People are more willing to listen and learn when they feel you have listened to their problems and are ready and happy to help.  The more users learn, the better able they are to troubleshoot and resolve some issues on their own.  When things are working well, everyone from the administration on down is happy, and this reflects well on the department as a whole.  Taking some simple steps to improve customer service can reap many benefits.

The mantras of “service with a smile” and “smile through the phone” are a good place to start.  The purpose of an institution’s technology department is not only to put technology in place, but also to help people use it.  Questions and problems are inevitable and users should be encouraged to contact IT for help.  When they do, competent, friendly, reassuring assistance should be a given—even when department personnel are stretched thin and there are many other tasks at hand.  The best scenario is to have a designated help desk technician who fields most calls and requests for help, but not every school can afford this arrangement.  Everyone in the department needs to remember that customer service skills are a necessity, and failure to maintain good rapport with users hurts everyone.

In future posts, the nature and needs of the various user types we encounter will be discussed as well as a basic framework for designing a technology support system that can be customized to an institution’s unique situation.  A lot of hard work goes into procuring, deploying, and maintaining technology—we also need to put time and effort into making sure those who use this technology are fully supported and are getting the most out of all that is offered.  Expending a little effort now organizing an effective support strategy will actually free up time and pay dividends in the end.

Please feel free to comment, question, and share your success stories, as well as lessons learned 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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