'Help, the Web Is Broken!' and Other IT/Client Madness

By Deborah Rothberg  |  Posted 04-28-2006
Sometimes, from the view of the help desk, the end of civilization seems near. Very near, indeed.

This is one explanation for interactions such as the following:

"My computer is running real slow. The process 'System Idle Process' takes like 90-100 percent of the CPU! And I can't shut it off! I've tried everything!"

"Hi, I just scanned my computer and there were 75 instances of spyware found. Should I delete them?"

"But are you sure the Internet is safe to use?"

IT workers toil all day, all over the world, to help bridge the formidable gap between human beings and technology in business. So why doesn't everyone just get along? Is it that clients continually do "dumb" things or is it the way we geeks approach them?

According to experts, the problems in communication are complex on both sides of the screen. The culprits include "TechnoStress," the dysfunctional psychology of IT; the sometimes lackluster communication skill sets of technical staff; the generation gap; and the unrealistic expectations of service by clients.

"Technical people don't always focus on their listening skills," said Donna Knapp, author of "A Guide to Customer Service Skills for the Help Desk Professional," who offers training on improving the customer service, or "soft skills," of IT workers. "They often communicate in a language that doesn't make sense to customers. They also need the proper empathy skills to handle the situation."

Yet, the problem is greater than miscommunication—it's perspective. Customers want to know what impact their malfunctioning technology will have on their work, Knapp explained.

"In this day and age, the business doesn't run if the IT isn't available. There's a real impact when people can't do their work. IT needs to understand this and also how to prioritize minimizing the impact on the bottom line."

Larry Rosen, author of the "Mental Health Technology Bible" and "TechnoStress: Coping with Technology @Work, @Home, @Play," told eWEEK that much of the bad blood between IT and clients is attributable to something he calls TechnoStress.

"TechnoStress is simply the stress, anxiety and frustration that we all feel when we're dealing with technology. It doesn't matter whether you are high-tech or low-tech, it still happens," he said.

TechnoStress, Rosen explains, affects the way we deal with the fact that our clients and users aren't able to communicate with us.

"What's really fascinating in the long run is that these folks want to communicate. They're not hiding anything."

Rosen argues that there are many barriers to communications between IT and clients, and many of these can be attributed to a generation gap: Most IT people are young and most of the users are not.

Read the full story on eWEEK.com: 'Help, the Web Is Broken!' and Other IT/Client Madness