If you have worked with computers for any amount of time you have likely become the go to person for your family and friends for tech support.
The printer is broken. Can you have a look?
I’ve bought a surround sound system, can you set it up?
My MacBook is very hot and is burning my legs, can you help?
My son has put some Lego in the USB ports and broken them, can you sort it out?
Sound familiar? I love being able to help but the challenge is always when there is an ongoing action. Allow me to explain.
If I just have to fix something that’s fine, it’s done. If I then have to say “Probably best not do that again” e.g. put Lego in USB ports, I need to explain why and how.
The Lego one is easy.
“That port allows your computer to charge phones, connect to other devices – it does not supercharge Lego… I know, I wish it did too.”
What if there is a complex procedure that needs to be run repeatedly whilst you’re not around, there in lies the challenge.
“Allow me to explain… wait where are you going”
A challenge of having knowledge someone needs is to not use that knowledge in one of these ways:
– As a tool to try to elevate yourself over those who don’t know as much as you do about the issue.
– Keep the explanation as complex as possible to show how clever you are.
– Being embarrassed about your knowledge and trying to dumb what you know down (the rarest but still an issue).
– Making it so simple that you may as well be a guest lecturer on a nursery YouTube channel “Caannn you say ‘Computer’?”.
These are all bad options. So how should we explain things?
1) Work out how best your audience will understand. Was there any clues in how they asked the question? Did they give you a browser version and steps they have already attempted? These can be used as signposts as to where to start helping and the user’s knowledge.
2) As the AutoMattic creed says “I’ll remember the days before I knew everything”. I mentioned in the first post in this series, asking for help is a vulnerable place to be. If you lose sight of the fact that you had to learn this information once as well, no matter how long ago, it can show in your support. The user gets annoyed with you, you feel like you want to answer back but can’t – day spoilt. The flip side of this is humility about what you don’t know and need help on. Don’t just make up the answer, or act like it isn’t important. Learning is a skill to be used through the whole of your life.
We all had to learn at some point, and we may have needed guidance as well. Keeping this in mind will impact how you speak, how you explain and increase patience.
3) Remember the average reading age. I saw a stat the other day which said the average reading age in the UK is 9 (It is 7th to 8th grade in the US). This has to impact how we communicate with people. Our challenge when keeping this in mind is not speaking down to people when considering our word choice. We don’t need to use every ticket to show that we have a huge vocabulary. I love the English language and all the different ways people use it to express themselves, but the most impressive thing for me is when someone is able to get detailed information across using fewer, less complex words and not loose any meaning.
This post really can be summed up in always be tailoring your communications with people. What do you know about them? What extra knowledge can you take from how they have communicated with you? What are they trying to get from the interaction?
If we are constantly considering who we are speaking to and tailoring our communication in light of that our customers can only be happy.