No way will they make it in customer service.

I was shocked at how strange my seemingly simple interaction with customer tech support was with a company over the weekend.

I encountered an issue with a company’s very specialized search engine over the weekend, my instructions to them on how to recreate the issue were so simple and yet the person I was dealing with from their tech support department was incapable of comprehending the 3 easy steps I sent them (the 3 steps were sent in print so there would be no misunderstanding – if for some reason tech support cannot read or cannot read English then there is nothing at all wrong with that – if that is the case then the company needs to switch to phone support instead of their current email ticketing system for support issues).

What should have been no more than 3 messages (1 message from myself highlighting the issue and 1 or 2 messages from tech support acknowledging the issue and then fixing the issue or saying the issue isn’t fixable at this time) has instead escalated to 9 messages so far.

This much chatter is completely unacceptable and unnecessary.

These are the 3 simple steps I sent the company so they could replicate the issue I was seeing:

1. visited this url: http:\\www.[their search site domain here].com
2. in the search box I entered this phrase: bla bla
3. selected enter, the search results appeared on screen

How can anyone not understand the exact 3 steps noted above? I cannot image any 3 steps being easier than what I posted above. How does someone not understand this? This is an example of the chatter going back and forth between myself and tech support:

  • tech support: “Works fine for me”
  • me: send me a screenshot
  • tech support: sends me a screenshot
  • me: nope, you did not go through the same 3 steps I did (see my steps), you instead searched on this criteria: bla. bla – I do not include a period in my 3 steps
  • tech support: “Went through your steps again, works for me”
  • me: send me a screenshot
  • tech support: sends me a screenshot
  • me: nope, you did not go through the same 3 steps I did (see my 3 steps), you instead searched on this criteria: you selected the category bla first then within that category searched on the phrase bla bla – I do not select a category in my 3 steps

The conversation just keeps going on and on and on like this until the human finally performs the 3 steps and sees the issue (I have truly witnessed a miracle). The human is unable to follow 3 simple instructions until the human is baby fed each step at a ridiculously slow pace. These instructions could not be simpler but this human is incapable of understanding how to perform these 3 steps without a tremendous amount of hand holding.

This person needs to leave customer support immediately and never go back and instead build a roller skating rink in my honor to make up for the damage this unnecessary stress has caused my brain.

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Color-coding the internets – say what?!

I have been a web developer and computer programmer for a long time, so I know how frustrating and complex computers and mobile devices can be.  It is because of this experience that my number one rule is to never poke fun at users when they ask questions that make no sense regarding computing.  I myself asked all of those same crazy questions when I was learning, and I still ask many today.  The world is always kind enough to help me without fanfare, so I always do the same – no matter what.  Unfortunately, as hard as I tried, this rule went out the window recently when the effects of Hurricane Florence arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Huddled safe and sound in my mother’s home, with wind howling and trees swaying, we watched a funny show on TV and snacked on Cheez-It crackers (the white cheddar ones, oh yeah).  My mind was far from thoughts on technology.  My brain was a vortex of worry.  Are cows going to fly by the windows?  Are we going to run out of TP? Can I swim across torrential rivers while holding onto my mom, my rabbit, my cat and my hamster?

And then it happened.

My mom looked at me from across the room, sitting in her fancy recliner, and said something my brain could not compute.  “So what’s this thing called the Black Internet and how do I get on it?”

Initially I did not know how to respond.  I remained quiet for a short time as I search every square inch of my brain for some crumb of meaning and I came up empty.  I had never heard anyone refer to the internet using color codes before.  Finally, I had no choice but to resort to a very sophisticated techy reply of:  “Huh?”

“You know, the internet that steals your identity.”

And it finally hit me.  “Do you mean the Dark Web?”

“Yes! That’s it! The Dark Web!”

At this point uncontrollable bouts of wild laughter rolled out of me.  I tried to contain myself, I really did.  Luckily ma took it in stride and rolled her eyes until my fit was over and then we chatted about the Dark Web.

I cannot even type this blog post without laughing.  It is just too much.  I am sorry, I really am.  I guess I am not the IT professional I thought I was😊  I will try harder.  I promise.

Gadget mania:)

With the number of electronic devices in the hands of our clients now it is truly a miracle they have not rioted against all of IT.  I have a sincere respect for them just based on the massive amount of patience they have for learning, caring for and using the large number of crazy devices we support for them.

If you have a full arsenal of gadgets for work and home and feel as if you are reaching your breaking point, then take a deep breath and keep the following tips noted below in mind for a happy life.

  • If you are unable to turn off all devices for quality time with other humans or for strolls in nature for a set amount of time each day, then you are probably going to self-destruct in some weird and ugly way in front of witnesses in a public place.  No one wants that.  Just turn the gadgets off and do your thing.
  • Understand how to update the gadget to keep it running well.  Check for updates weekly.
  • Understand how to turn off, turn on and hard reboot the gadget.  Avoid leaving computer-like gadgets in an on state for weeks at a time, rebooting is very important as is normally shutting down every few days to avoid all sorts of performance issues.
  • Understand how to backup data from the gadget to another gadget (like to an external hard drive) that you then store in a separate place (any detached structure from your home or office that is secure).  Backup your data on a regular schedule and never deviate from this schedule.
  • Know that if you enjoy a huge bowl of Captain Crunch while reaching over your gadget to snag a book that is sliding off of a shelf, then the Captain Crunch is going to spill all over the gadget rendering it completely unusable…probably forever.

Noting the creepy factor when implementing video conferencing or video chatting tools like Skype in the workplace

Video conferencing and video chat are seriously valuable tools for businesses and families alike. This article focuses on the use of these tools in a business setting and how to identify and deal with misuse.

Two types of employees make the use of these tools a problem in the workplace: the gossiper and the pervert. These types of employees already make normal employees uncomfortable in everyday office situations. When employers add in forced face-to-face video communication where normal employees are on display (with zoom capability) with undesirables, the meetings become unsettling.

The gossiper is very easy to identify. He or she, after the meeting, quickly relays to anyone who will listen inappropriate information regarding meeting attendees.

Though easy to identify, the gossiper may be hard to silence. Over time the gossiper may also create a truly toxic environment and even jeopardize the welfare of the company or safety of other employees if they spill company secrets or safety protocols to other people. If you have trouble with gossipers in the workplace now, incorporating video communication may intensify the toxicity. Proceed with caution.

Perverts can be extremely difficult to identify because they often make inappropriate comments or gestures towards others in one-on-one encounters. This behavior is difficult to identify in a group setting. Employees may also misidentify someone as being a pervert and immediately shut down all communication with them. This strategy of course will never solve the problem if there in fact is a problem.

If you are running video meetings or managing people that are participating in them, carefully examine how people are interacting during the meetings. If something seems off, like communication is not natural, there is too much silence, or a normal employee is suddenly agitated then there could be a problem.

Here are a few suggestions that may make meetings like this bearable if you notice issues in current video-enabled meetings:

  • Make it part of the meeting policy to include meeting rules (rules are short and easy to understand) inside the meeting invitation (at the very top) of every video-enabled meeting invitation sent out so all participants understand how to behave during and after all video-enabled meetings. In the rules, be sure to clearly identify the types of inappropriate employees that make meetings difficult in the workplace.
  • Recommend that employees sit several feet away from the camera and behind a desk, so they are viewed as they are in normal in-person meetings where personal space is acknowledged (no one is looking up anyone else’s nose).
  • Give employees the option to turn the video portion off so participants cannot see them.

Good luck:)

The grandiose IT ego

If you work in IT or work with IT then you probably know what the “grandiose IT ego” is.  Since it is a phrase used to describe something or someone technical then I guess we have to refer to it using an acronym (huge eye roll):  GITE (and I don’t mean a holiday house in France).

I rarely encounter the GITE but when I do it is something that ranks high on my list of unpleasant experiences that I would gladly trade instead for moments of crawling on my belly through deep muck in a scary jungle infested with disease, flesh-eating insects and cannibalistic tribes.

I write this post because a typical GITE made the news recently for doing something that a typical GITE does:  publicly mock people who ask “stupid” questions.  Not cool.

Unfortunately, I cannot offer sound advice on how to deal with GITE’s since my method is that of ignoring them on an epic level.  I am proud to say I am an Olympic champion in the arena of ignoring and, unless you are at this level, I do not recommend it because bottling up that kind of frustration could cause your head to pop off if you are not properly trained on how to internalize such things.

There is one thing I can do if you are a new IT up-and-comer.  I can offer a few tips on how to prevent becoming the dreaded GITE:

  • Your clients are paying you for an IT service for a reason.  They either do not have time to do the task themselves or they do not know how to do it.  In either case, they are going to ask you questions.  If some of these questions are questions you classify as silly, avoid mocking them for asking such questions.  This is the most important rule to carry with you in any field of study or business setting.  Mocking others quickly propels you into a spotlight of unflattering light that can be seen for miles.   Poking fun is something you do in private with your friends when you are letting off steam.  Keep it private and anonymous and remember this: you ask silly questions to, you just do not realize it.
  • Avoid the urge to lecture others on how they should be doing something.  Work on your delivery by offering suggestions or just appreciating others as they are instead of a scene like this:  hovering over someone’s shoulder as they drive and sighing and rolling your eyes as you tell them how slow they are and that they should be selecting Ctrl-C to copy text instead of selecting “edit” > “copy” from the top menu.  There are 1200 different ways to do anything on a computer, no one cares that you want to be the Overlord of Copy Commands.

 

Scrum and Agile Project Management: meeting and scope creep wasteland

I really like seeing happy people; it makes me feel better about the world when I see happy people.  Kindness, great attitudes, respect for others and hope for tomorrow are a huge part of what make communities and workplaces thrive.  My appreciation for happiness is why it has taken me so long to write this article because I feel like I am complaining about happy people.  For this, I sincerely apologize.

I have worked in a few IT shops that have attempted the Scrum and Agile process.  From my limited exposure to this process, I have noted a few disturbing similarities:

  • The crazy amount of face time chatter that occurs in multiple planning meetings with coworkers. I can look past this because, as a long time introvert, I am highly skilled in tuning out humans that are speaking yet saying nothing. I bring work to these meetings that I can delve into when the clock passes the time limit of 10 minutes and extends into 90 minutes of giggles, jokes, complaining, etc.
  • The unusual and frequent “sprints” of activity that seem to exist for the sole benefit of providing eye candy to clients. From what I have witnessed, this activity does not keep clients in the loop; it only provides a platform for clients to add more requirements to an already agreed upon set of requirements.  I am all for scope creep because we are human, it keeps me coding and I am giving clients what they want.  However, enabling extreme scope creep means you are promoting an environment where no one has to sit, think and plan before meetings – everything just ends up being stream of consciousness.   I rarely see extreme scope creep, but when I do it is when participants have to attend many meetings and they arrive at each meeting unprepared where they then rattle off unrelated and messy concepts about processes.
  • The Agile and Scrum process seems to attract feverish support from the more social employees. They talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk about anything and everything and at the end of the day there is no code written.  I appreciate this type of employee for their great attitude but when they promote Scrum and Agile processes, they end up keeping many people in meetings with them each week that far exceed what is necessary.

The to do list, client and IT communication, and weekly accountability of the Scrum and Agile process are WONDERFUL but these are things I already do so I don’t really have a solid argument for Scrum and Agile due to what I have experienced to date.

If you are in the midst of implementing the Scrum and Agile process, my advice to you (based on my meager experience with it) is:

  • keep the 4 billion meetings to a strict time limit
  • ensure the welcoming of scope creep does not promote lazy preparation for documenting processes and determining requirements
  • if the only thing being produced is more meetings and no work is being produced, then scrutinize the process with all parties

Good luck.

ACRONYM

Dear ACRONYM,

Thank you for your consistent overuse in the workplace.  Side effects of no pharmaceutical drugs in our solar system can compare to the thick atmosphere of confusion you create on a daily basis.

I particularly enjoy pausing at various points throughout my workday to reference copious amounts of old documentation in a futile attempt to find your true meaning.

Please keep up the good work.  Continue to blanket my world in meaningless character combinations until one day I snap and speak only in numbers for the remainder of my days.

Sincerely,

 

TCTIGTKY

 

Web Applications – make this clear to users at all times: where they are and what they are using

When a user experiences a problem using an application, the list of possible issues can be lengthy depending on the complexity of the environment(s) and dependencies.  If the user is unable to clearly articulate to the help desk what application is broken or where they are when issues arise then this is a clear indicator that the training, documentation and application itself are not all using the same language.

Make things easy for your users by following these simple steps with every application your write and/or support:

  • Give the application one name and one name only. In this example we will give our application the name “Blue Safari”.
  • Place the name of the application prominently on every page of the application. This means “Blue Safari” is on every page of the application.  (not “Bls Version 2.0” but “Blue Safari” or “Blue Safari Version 2.0”)
  • If your application is a web application, try to place the name of the application somewhere in the url if possible.
  • All shortcuts or hyperlinks that take users to the application should be the name of the application (i.e. “Blue Safari”)
  • In all documentation and training for users and support staff, refer to your application with the same language. This means all references to the application will be stated as “Blue Safari”.

If you give your application several different names then several problems arise:

  1. The user either doesn’t know what to call the application when he or she calls the help desk to report the problem or the user calls the application by a name that no one at the help desk recognizes.
  2. A significant delay occurs before the issue is resolved simply due to the time spent sorting out the confusion over what exactly is broken and where it is.

Avoid contributing to the overall mayhem of our existence, it will only end badly, we both know that.  Unless of course your help desk gives out free ponies and chocolate ice cream with every call, then maybe as a caller I will not care so much that I am unable to clearly tell you what is broken.  Now I want ice cream.

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