Help is a Two-way Street
It always amazes me how so much can be said between an HDA and a user during a support situation, with neither actually being involved in any meaningful dialog. This is because each person is speaking to rather than speaking with the other.
Both parties have a responsibility in this interaction: The user must be able to adequately describe the problem they're having, and HDAs must be able to process this information and find a suitable solution.
Although it's unfair to place undue responsibility or blame on any one party when there's a failure in this interaction, there's one very important point HDAs need to bear in mind: When users call the help desk, they're often in an elevated state of stress.
The onus is on the help desk agent, as the service provider, to take control of the situation. They're the one's in the controlled environment and state. It's they're job to manage and solve user problems. A caller in distress, however, is most certainly not in a controlled environment or state; and it's not part of their job to have a system crash destroy a week's worth of work (rude and abusive callers are a different matter, and will be covered in Part 2). HDAs need to empathize with the user's situation, and not make the matter worse by adding to the user's stress and frustration.
To Be Continued...
In all my dealings with HDAs, those who left the biggest impression on me were not the ones with the most technical know-how, but the ones who possessed a natural ability to empathize and relate with users in a human way. These soft-skills are a lot harder to come by than technical hard-skills.
On many occasions, my calls to a help desk felt more like lectures than discussions. The HDAs didn't know of my IT background but felt it necessary to pepper the conversation with IT related acronyms and techno-jargon. I understood their explanations because I'm in IT as well and have a high degree of technical proficiency. And as a naturally patient and mellow person, I was, to an extent, even able to tolerate the cold and unfeeling HDAs. Although the majority of my problems were solved by the HDAs, at the end of the service calls, I wasn't entirely sure whether I had been speaking with an actual HDA or HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This lack of basic humanness and interpersonal skill, however, will be disconcerting and frustrating to those who are less technically inclined. Those HDAs who truly believe that "I'm not paid to be nice, I'm paid to solve problems" should realize that users are calling for help, not attitude.
In Part 2, I'll be covering the interaction between HDAs and users, providing handy tips for HDAs, and dealing with rude and abusive users.
Paul Chin is an IT consultant and a freelance writer. Previously, Paul worked as an intranet and content management specialist in the aerospace and competitive intelligence industries.