Are you listening to me? – Tips for Support Staff

Providing support in schools, like anywhere, requires listening to a whole barrage of problems that people have all day, every day. In my experience most of the problems you are given to solve are simple – the sort you can reel off the solution from memory and the user is satisfied.

The problem occurs when the support team try and pre-empt the problems of users, and end up trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, leaving the user to get more and more exasperated that their actual problem isn’t being looked at!

altIn my current job, working for a large cinema chain in the UK (part time, it’s a student job!), I look after the IT equipment on site – mainly phoning our outsourced IT support team to get fixes for relatively simple issues; however, virtually every time I phone I am interrupted and "told" my problem before I’ve even finished – often incorrectly. Also, because it is assumed that I have little to no technical knowledge (I work in a cinema, after all!) by the person at the end of the phone, I get spoken down to like I’m both stupid and worthless. It is quite liberating to fire back at them with jargon that is well above their understanding, and listening to the awkward silence that invariably ensues.

So,  now that I’ve sat both sides of the fence, what have I learned?

  • Try, as hard as it may be, to be actively interested in each and every person that comes to you with a problem, even if it is the 59th time that day – apathy is a sure-fire way to get yourself slagged off in the staff room!
  • Listen to the problem in full before butting in – you never know, maybe it isn’t just a case of switching it off and on again.
  • Only promise achievable outcomes – if you can’t solve it in five minutes, don’t say that you will. Breaking promises makes members of staff lose faith in you quicker than shooting someone.
  • If the problem is with the user, and it keeps happening, try and work with the user to solve the problem and prevent it from happening; huffing and puffing because Mrs. Jenkins has accidentally flicked her laptop’s Wi-Fi switch ‘off’ again won’t help Mrs. Jenkins – it will wind her up!
  • Never underestimate your users – just because they teach Ancient History doesn’t mean they don’t know how to use a computer; use jargon where appropriate and don’t be patronising.

Now those suggestions aren’t peculiar to schools – but in my experience that’s where the majority of repeat issues occur.  Heck, if I’d had a pound for every time I said "you need to flick the switch on the side" I would be able to retire!

Perhaps schools could look to implement a wiki-style help site as part of their Intranet – where common problems have simple, plain-English, solutions documented for users to look at?

Whatever the long term solution, putting on a smile, taking a deep breath, and listening can make the world of difference!

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