My career in technology

Point of View

One of the things that I am proud of in my career and something that I think has been important in making my career successful has been my insistence on understanding what the end-user is experiencing.

In a recent post, I described an incident where a user reported that they were not seeing a link on a particular SharePoint page. My first reaction was, “So what do you see?” This particular issue had been passed around to several technicians, and I didn’t see that anyone before me had asked for a screenshot. By getting a screenshot of what the user was seeing, I understood that the problem wasn’t the link per se (see the blog post for the full story) and put me onto what the actual problem was.

There is a story I used to tell at job interviews, but hasn’t gotten much use of late. I used to use it as an example of my ability to “think outside the box”, but in retrospect, it is more about understanding things from the customers point fo view.

(Mumble mumble) years ago, I worked as a phone support tech for Dell. Primarily the queue I was in took calls from corporate customers, but the queue also took calls from home users who had purchased their computers through their employers’ employee purchase plans. One day I took a call from a woman who had made multiple calls on the issue to Dell and her ISP. The ISP blamed Dell, the Dell techs were blaming the ISP. But nobody was fixing her problem.

The issue was her modem was not connecting her to her ISP. (For the young folks in the audience, a modem is a piece of hardware that allows a computer to connect to an ISP over a phone line. You know, the thing that goes brrrrrrr-boop-boop-boop-boop-boop-boop-boop-schreeeeeech-ksssssh. You may have heard the term “dial up”… Yeah, that’s how long ago it was. Why do I suddenly feel so old?)

I asked her to describe what happened when the modem failed to connect. Her answer lacked something, but I couldn’t tell what. And of course the phone line she was trying to connect on was the same one she used to call support, so that anytime she tried a fix, she had to disconnect from tech support first in order to try it, then call back and wait in the queue and begin all over again with someone new when it didn’t work. I made an odd request – I asked her if she had a tape recorder handy. (We used to use those things before mp3 players, and the neat thing about them was you could record sounds too!) And I gave her my extension (not exactly in the company playbook) so she could continue with me after she had done what I asked of her – record the sound of the modem trying to connect.

When she called back, my inclination to understand what was going on from the user’s perspective paid off. The modem dialed as it should, but there was no schreeeeeech-ksssssh at the end of the brrrrrrr-boop-boop-boop-boop-boop-boop-boop; in fact the brrr of the dialtone kept doing through and after the dialing. The phone line wasn’t responding to the tones of the numbers being dialed.

You might have to be older than me to see the implications – the customer was on a rotary dial line rather than a tone dial line (tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick rather than boop-boop-boop-boop-boop-boop-boop). Set the dialer program to make the modem use rotary, and the customer’s issue was resolved.

Understanding exactly what the end user is experiencing is often key to understanding the nature of the problem. One can often find me visiting the desk of a user that is having an issue because it gives me that insight, but there are other benefits as well. In some situations it can suggest solutions that solve what the user is trying to accomplish from a strategic point of view, rather than a tactical one (solving their tactical issue may not bring them any closer to accomplishing the desired end result). If you are in an internal helpdesk role, it gives you face time with the users, which they appreciate, which means they appreciate you more. (Can you say “Investment in job security”? I knew you could!)

I am a big believer in understanding what the user is experiencing. I hope that you will be, too!

I'm an overachiever this week.

For this week, anyway. We'll see what happens going forward.

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Comments on: "Point of View" (1)

  1. […] When the problem was initially reported via e-mail, the error message was included in the screen shot, but the image provided little context to indicate that the browser was Chrome. It was only after visiting the user’s desk to get a better understanding of what they were doing that the browser was identified as the issue. (Another example of Point of View.) […]

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