Pity the poor helpdesk
You don’t need us to tell you how utterly frustrating it can be to call an IT helpdesk or technical support line. You dial an expensive phone number, navigate through a maze of twisty menu options that exercise every key on your telephone keypad, spend half-an-hour listening to some plinkity-plonkety electronic Vivaldi – made all the more unpleasant by being the same 15-second fragment playing in a loop – and eventually get to speak to someone who treats you like an complete idiot. You’re an IT specialist. You can write software in your sleep. You can configure a Cisco router while standing on one leg. But the person on the end of the phone is explaining in immense detail how to find the off switch.
You really want to get past this baby stuff, but the helpdesk have their script to follow: ‘Please unplug the machine, wait exactly five minutes, then start it up again’. You protest that you’ve already power-cycled it half a dozen times, but you’re told ‘do it again please, waiting exactly five minutes before restarting it’. It’s only when you agree to this pointless exercise that they drop their bombshell: ‘Thank you sir, please call back when the computer has finished booting <click>’. It’s a game of chance how many rounds of this DTMF/Vivaldi/helpdesk cycle you’re forced to endure, but each time, when you finally get to speak to someone, they’ll credit you with the intelligence and IT skills of a budgie.
The other side
Horrible, isn’t it? But please spare a thought for the people at the other end of the phone. It’s all too easy to assume that everyone is IT-literate these days – as a PC Pro reader, you’ll be clued up about computers and the Internet, and there’s a high chance most of your friends and family will be too. You’re all, however, still in a rather small minority, and it’s only when you sit at the other end of that phone line – working in tech support – that you realise why so many of the bigger companies use scripted steps to help identify your technology problems.
We’ve all heard that (possibly apocryphal) story of the person who thought their CD drive was a cup holder. Can anyone really be that silly? Well, yes, they can, and they do make mistakes like that, but not because they’re stupid. Can you think of any other domestic appliance as complex as a PC, but which comes without so much as a user guide? It’s frightening to hear customers in high-street stores saying ‘We want to buy a computer’ – you just know they won’t cope once they get it home.
Paul’s company, CST, offers technical support for one of its web-based applications, and Paul will occasionally take a call or two just to keep abreast of what’s going on. The application itself is incredibly easy to use; its interface is Janet and John meets Fisher-Price, so most problems concern people actually getting to the site and typing their usernames and passwords.
In case you get press-ganged into offering technical support for your users, here are some of the more common problems Paul’s team has encountered:
Google. Many people, novices or not, have Google set as their browser homepage. The novices, however, tend to type URLs directly into the Google search box (which will have grabbed the focus) rather than into the address bar. That’s fine for any site that Google knows about, as it will offer a link directly to it, but for intranets and web-based tools Google will show a ‘not found’ message. It’s very confusing for the user and not always obvious to the helpdesk that the user is typing URLs into the wrong box.