The Hermit Shrimp

2020.12.22

Dear Users: "It Broke" is not enough anymore.

Also, know as, "typing is hard. Do it for me."

Picture it now. It's Sunday morning around 8:00 AM. You wake up, start preparing breakfast, and you get an email notification from your work email. You know it's probably nothing important because it's not a direct message from your boss so you continue on with your life. A few minutes later, you get a direct message from your boss. You sigh and open your phone to see what's up. "One of our executives is having issue with his machine. this is an urgent issue. I have went ahead and assigned the work order to you. You don't have to do it right now. Just an FYI." Yes, the codewords of "you don't have to do it right now", also known as "the boss man is breathing down my neck and I need a paper trail to prove that I'm trying to do anything of worth to appease him." So, of course, you jump on the saddle and take a look at this work order that was submitted.

"I was working on my machine yesterday and now it doesn't work. HELP URGENT."

Nothing else. No description, no times when it started, not even a blurry picture taken on an iPhone showing that the computer is still even in our realm of existence. You now have to plod onward on your aimless task of squeezing information out of this person like a terrorist in Guantanamo Bay for the rest of your Sunday morning just to find out they didn't realize that a laptop needs to be plugged in to be charged.

Beside the point that a basic computer literacy test should be given to anyone who needs to touch a computer on a regular basis, we just tend to ignore the fact that we were gifted a wild goose chase. I know that the car-mechanic-computer-technician example has been bludgeoned into everyone's brains over the years, however, I will walk through the exercise once more.

Let's say you take your car to the mechanic and you're able to provide about as much detail as most end users provide to their computer technician.

Mechanic: "What seems to be the problem?"

User: "It broke."

Mechanic: "What were you doing when it broke?"

User: "I forgot. That was yesterday. I'm very busy and can't remember everything I do."

Mechanic: "Does it start up?"

User: "How would I know?"

Mechanic: "Does it make any kind of strange noises?"

User: "I wasn't paying attention so I don't know."

Mechanic: "Can you bring it in so that I can look at it?"

User: "I have a bunch of meetings. I'm very busy all of the time so no."

Mechanic: "I can't really help you then."

User: "What do you mean you can't help me aren't you an expert?!"

This is almost an exact rendition of what anyone who works in technology has to go through several times of day every day. This isn't a rant about how IT is the smartest people in the room and everyone should bow before us. No, this is rather pointing out that we want to provide you a better service. IT wants you to get back on your feet as fast as possible, because the sooner you're back to work, the lower the chance of someone yelling at us for something that's not our fault.

Okay, now that we've hammered the issue into the ground, what can both sides do to help? Let's start with the IT side.

What can IT do?

Work orders are a magical ticket into the world where miracles happen for anyone outside of IT. For those who work under the umbrella of IT, they are your daily lashings so that you know your place in the world. Most organizations generally have a very, very simple work order system where you just submit an email to help@company.com. Seems harmless in theory, doesn't it? Surely nothing could go wrong with letting end users dump un-validated and unstructured data into a bucket. That has never hurt any process ever.

Let's go ahead and make birthday fields a text area while we're at it.

I find that the biggest issue during the entire work order process is the creation. Not just users but humans as a whole will always move towards the point of least effort and if you allow, 1% effort, you will get 1% effort. This is where you can get creative with your process to save yourself a headache later. Many work order software come with the ability to set up a sort of "Q&A" structure where the user is presented a list of choices or asked to fill in the field in steps, so that information gathering can be done right up front rather than having to fish down this data from endless emails and missed phone calls. This also allows the user to enter in the information when it is most fresh in their mind. Once a two hour meeting happens, most users will have already forgotten that they even submitted a work order, much less any of the information around said problem. Needless to say, this is sort of a "leading the horse to water" situation, which most will feel obligated to at least take a sip, but we'll always have some that will prefer to thirst to death and, honestly, good riddance to them.

But what can users do?

They've made it quite apparent that anything beyond an email and a phone call is absolute black magic because "I'm not a expert." Well, they can start with what they do (hopefully) know. Start with the simple things: who, what, when, where, and how. I, personally, hope that this is still a fairly common skillset that even most elementary school student can grasp.

Who are you?

Yes, many people tend to forget to let us know. Email or username is plenty for most occasions. And before you say it, yes, I know there are users who have difficulty with this one. I'm pretending to ignore that right now. Also, stop sending your password in IT. Nobody in IT will ever ask for this.

When did this occur?

A good date and time can greatly help the troubleshooting. We can run through error, activity, etc. logs around that period to see if there was an issue that may have affected you.

Where did this occur?

Especially, in the age of covid remote working, this is very nice to know. Whether you're at work or home or what office and/or building you're working at. Simple bits of info that help paint a much more complex issue.

What happened and how?

I'm combining these two because they tend to blend together in a cause-effect reaction similar to Mentos and Coke. This is also where the "it broke" does not cut it anymore. Just like you would tell a mechanic that "the car started feeling wobbly", you would provide the information that you know in the language that you know.

Sure, saying that the car is "wobbly" feels really stupid and uneducated to you, but to an experience mechanic, he's probably already narrowed down the possible issue to a list of the 10 most common wobbly issues.

Just saying something that you may feel dumb saying such as "I was clicking the red x and nothing was happening" is a huge amount of information to someone trying to track down the issue. If you even added what you said before like, "I clicked save, then...", you're practically one step away from fixing the machine yourself at that point. Sure it's not a technical description. Sure, it's not what you think one expert would say to another.

Don't worry most experts sound stupid too.

But these little tidbits of what you know combined with what I know is a undefeatable force know as, basic human communication.