***Anxiously typing into a ticket*** “Something’s broken with my computer. I’m getting a message that my connection is not secure. I seriously can’t get anything done until it’s fixed!! How am I supposed to do my job when my computer is broken like this!?!?”
-***Signaling to his computer and catching the attention of the office*** “Hey, guys, can you believe that ticket *ENDUSER* just put in!? Unbelievable. Don’t they ever read our weekly updates?”
-”What a bonehead.”
-***Support tech angrily typing reply*** “We clearly told you last week in our weekly update that you were going to need to update your computer before X date if you wanted your computer to remain functional. We have a long backlog of tickets for the day. We’ll get to you sometime this afternoon or maybe tomorrow.”
***Angrily typing reply*** “What weekly update?! Where do I find the information? I have meetings all day that I need to use my computer for. You seriously can’t help me until later in the day!?”
Have you ever had an exchange like this between you and one of your end users? I know I’ve turned to my colleagues and said, “Can you believe this guy?! He never reads any of our memos.” In some instances this is justified. We all have a handful of users who just can’t seem to get with the program. But if this situation is the norm in your department, maybe there are some underlying issues that need to be addressed.
There’s much to be gained from creating a symbiotic and healthy relationship with end users. I’ll attempt to outline the benefits of a symbiotic relationship and discuss some provoking questions that can lead you and your department to building better relationships with your end users.
Benefits of Healthy Relationships
My personal philosophy on running a successful department depends on three things:
Documentation and follow-through regarding internal processes, automation and integration of systems, and maintaining a healthy relationship with end users. These three things are what we have control over and can potentially make our lives a whole lot easier. The first two deserve their own articles, and maybe they’ll get them later, but for now I’ll focus on what I believe to be most important: relationships.
The results of a good relationships with end users include:
- Better compliance: When you have a relationship with your users, they are more likely to do the things you ask. If you have built goodwill with your users, that can go a long way in saving you work in the long run.
- A sense of common understanding: When you seek to understand end users, they will seek to understand you and why you are asking them to do something. It is often important that all parties understand one another.
- Open communication: When we build better communication channels, we open the door to end users informing us of issues sooner and potentially spotting security issues and breaches earlier.
- Happier people: When end users are happy, we’re often more happy. When we can treat each other with dignity and respect, we go home much less stressed and more fulfilled.
?s to Support Better Relationships
We’ve talked about the benefits of good relationships with end users, but where do we start? There’s no simple answer, but here are some questions to help you evaluate where you are and maybe spur some thought and conversation within your office on how you can improve.
Mass Communication with End Users
Regardless of whether you’re the person who puts together mass communication in your department, these questions should guide you in creating better communications with end users.
- Is your communication concise but detailed enough to explain what is needed or expected? You don’t want it to be too long, but at the same time you don’t want it to leave holes you can drive a bus through.
- Is your communication understandable in lay terms? Put your teacher/cook/maintenance guy hat on for a second. Would someone who works outside of tech be able to understand what you said? Did you use any acronyms or technical jargon that require inside knowledge?
- Is your communication effective? Test your communication with metrics if possible. Look in management consoles to see if end users truly did what you asked. If not, think through some of the things you could have done differently.
Two-Way Communication with End Users
- Is it easy for end users to communicate with you (phone, chat, email), or do you put barriers in their way including overly burdensome ticket systems? I’m not advocating for a system that is a free-for-all in terms of requests, but I’m asking if your users have an easy way to get ahold of you. And after they get in touch with you, do you have a meaningful and systematic way to follow up with them?
- Do you stop and take a breath before responding to the tickets that might infuriate you? Oftentimes it’s best to wait a few minutes before responding to those tickets that seem accusatory or inflammatory. It’s better to take a minute to calm down than to respond immediately and destroy whatever relationship you have with the user.
- Do you respond with helpful directions and meaningful questions that help users better explain their issues? Helpful directions from the start might get users onto fixing their problems right away, and probing questions can lead to better results. Don’t be vague; be detailed, but easy to understand.
- Do your responses or messages sound condescending? Read them out loud in your head before you send them. You’ll be surprised.
Compassionate and Humane Communication
- Do you stop to understand that teachers and staff are often overworked and under a lot of stress? When they send in what you view as an inflammatory ticket or response, stop and recognize they may be under undue stress and are just trying to educate students.
- Do you ask users if you have adequately fulfilled their request and see if there’s more you can do to help them?
- Are you present in buildings and out and about? This is one of the things that make in-person technicians effective. We can build relationships and put a face to the requestor. In turn, they can put a face to the response. I know this seems small, but it helps humanize our response. Even if all your tickets can be fulfilled from behind the desk, it’s helpful to get out and talk to end users in person.
I’m not advocating for school IT departments to become soft and lax with end users. I’m not advocating for IT departments to grant any request that comes in. I’m simply advocating for building better relationships between end users and the IT department. This involves compassion, good communication, and sometimes taking a breath before we send what we want to send. If we build these relationships, our lives become easier and ultimately happier.