August 26, 2003
How to Be Nice to Users
During any given week I interact with some number of the staff/faculty/students at Tufts, our users. I do my best to not be the stereotypical tech geek who speaks down to the "stupid" users, but I messed up today. I didn't say anything obviously demeaning, but got some feedback that my intonations were such. I feel bad, trying to figure out how to prevent this.
It happened on a phone conversation with a staff user who is on our site very regularly, who was reporting a somewhat critical problem. I was trying to finish up another item when the call came. Before getting too far into the explanation I inferred the cause of the problem, and proceeded to ask questions and propose solutions in a less friendly tone. The kicker after the whole thing was that it was a configuration problem on our server (my responsibility).
It should be noted that I'm not the help-desk, I get far fewer calls/questions than our user-support people, most of the time when a user gets to me there is either no-one else around or it's a deeper technical question.
So I'm asking myself how I can ensure that I'll be nice to users, even if I'm frustrated, busy, swamped, annoyed, not responsible, in a coding groove, etc. Frequently I've got my head down in an issue when the call/IM/visitor comes and I'm faced with switching gears to respond to something else. There is no telling how many other things factor into my state of mind when the user gets to me; the time-sensitive nature of the current problem I'm tackling, the number of interruptions I've experienced in the day, how frustrated I am with other things (myself included).
Regardless, a few ideas to remember in interacting with users:
- I don't have a right to belittle users looking for help
- users aren't aware of what's on my plate
- how do I convey that I'm swamped in a friendly way
- how do I nicely suggest a better time to discuss non-pressing items
- is there someone else who'd better answer the question, can I refer the user to them without being sharp
- not knowing how our system works doesn't make a person dumb
- not knowing how a computer works doesn't make a person dumb
- I'm a user of other systems, I expect to be treated nicely by their operators
Probably a lot more to be added here, but I guess the bottom line is to be friendly, even if the circumstances aren't ideal.
Posted by mike at August 26, 2003 4:56 PM