Supporting non-techies requires a patient and empathetic approach, focusing on clear communication to bridge the knowledge gap.
The IT field is full of jargon and complex processes. IT support is no exception. As we know, IT support aims to keep business processes running smoothly and increase customer satisfaction. However, companies often fall into the trap of blindly following complex guidelines and described processes without seeing the full IT picture. Although the implementation of all these rules and techniques does provide better IT controls, in the end, the company does not get the desired result. It ceases to meet its obligations to customers and users.
There are a couple of ways to help the users forget about dealing with complex IT issues. If a company has a big and distributed infrastructure, it might make sense to hire a vendor for proactive monitoring of IT issues in order to fix them before they cause problems (it’s often called managed IT). Another approach is to simplify IT support.
This is a typical example of how NOT to explain the process of solving an IT problem to a user: “Medium importance laptop incident report has been moved to the problem management team because its RCA is unknown to us. We will apply a new change with minimal risk, fix the current state of your CI, and update the CMDB.”
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Here is an alternative and user-friendly wording: “We will analyze the root cause of your laptop problem and let you know as soon as we can fix it”.
We often hear statements like “Implementing IT support is comparable to launching a rocket into space” because people tend to overcomplicate things. So, what can be done to make IT support easier? Here are some small tips that will have a huge impact on your IT support:
- Follow what’s right for your customer
- Revise the definitions of terms
- Put theory into practice
- Nurture the corporate culture
Now let’s discuss them in detail.
When you’ve worked in customer support for a while, you have an overflowing cup of patience to draw from. When dealing with non-technical customers, it’s even more important to keep your cool and go slow. Rushing or skipping steps in the explanation will only make them more frustrated, and you’ll have to start again from the beginning.
Non-technical customers might appear frustrated or short-tempered at first. This is often because they are embarrassed they don’t understand. They might be a business owner or otherwise competent individual who doesn’t normally have trouble doing things themselves. Needing to ask for help, or feeling “out of the loop” can lead to imposter syndrome symptoms.
Needing to ask for help, or feeling “out of the loop” can lead to imposter syndrome symptoms.
Imposter syndrome is when qualified people feel like they are in a position they aren’t qualified to be in. They start doubting themselves. They become worried someone will “discover” that they shouldn’t be there, and that leads to defensiveness.
Whoever your non-technical customers are, it’s your job to educate them, just like every other customer. It might take a little longer, but the end result is so much more rewarding.
“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
– Albert Einstein (probably)
From the Einstein quote came the popular Reddit community “Explain Like I’m Five” where complex questions are answered simply in terms non-experts can understand.
When working with non-technical customers we should aim for the same level of detail as the questions in this subreddit. When there’s simpler words available, use them in place of long unnecessary words. The Simple English Wikipedia is a great example of explaining topics using only basic, common english words. You might be surprised at how much you can say with very few words!
Don’t assume knowledge. If you’re asking someone to open up an incognito browser window, provide steps on how to do so. If someone is trying to access the API for the first time, make sure they know how to use oAuth. Just because it’s familiar to you doesn’t mean it’s familiar to everyone. We all have to learn from the beginning.
Don’t assume knowledge. If you ask someone to open up an incognito mode, provide a how-to.
There’s no better way to explain something complicated than by using metaphors. Take this example from a scientific paper about explaining your research to the average person:
“For example, genes are book chapters and amino acids are words. All together, genes tell a story. Transcription and translation are reading a book from start to end and understanding it. A genome is a collection of books telling a big story, the story of someone’s life.”
Come up with metaphors for the toughest concepts you have to explain often. For example, the Twitter API is like a pipeline to tweet information. We can pull different levers based on what we information we want and either pull or push data to Twitter through the pipeline.
The best metaphors evoke images in your mind and are relevant to almost everyone. Using common objects and scenarios in explanations makes an obscure principle seem simple and familiar.
The best metaphors evoke images in your mind and are relevant to almost everyone.
Test out a variety of metaphors and save the ones that work the best (ie customers understand them) as macros. You’ll always have a good explanation at your fingertips.
Get the Media on your side
It’s estimated that 65% of all people are visual learners. This means they learn and absorb information better when presented with images, charts and videos than text alone. Other people learn better by doing (kinesthetic learners), or through listening (auditory learners).
It’s estimated that 65% of all people are visual learners.
Embrace all types of learners in your support workflow by providing a variety of media resources for customers. You might create walk through videos for your support center, record screenflows during support chats or use in-line help manuals to let users walk themselves through tutorials.
Personalizing media helps too. If you’re trying to explain something specific to the customer, it might be helpful to snap a quick screenshot and label it with the instructions for them to follow. Jing and Screenflow are two popular tools that make sending a quick screenshot super easy.
Other tools to have in your multimedia support belt:
- Video tutorials
- Up-to-date screenshots
- How-to GIFs
- Steps provided in bulleted lists
- Tutorials that provide example projects
- Inline help manuals
- Screenshare technology
Encourage an Open Door Policy
How many times have you heard someone start a question with “apologies for the stupid question” or “sorry to be a newbie….” ? Probably quite often. Humans are terrified of being judged for asking questions. In support, we have a responsibility to not pass judgement. And even better, we should be encouraging our customers to continue asking questions!
I used to work with an exceptionally confused woman who would pop up in our chat queue daily. It was clear she was put in charge of setting up the system in spite of having no experience at all with the product. At first, she asked simple questions about the different features. Then, she graduated to more advanced questions about custom settings and workflows. Eventually she picked up a little bit of coding so she could customize her system even further. She became one of our biggest power users.
Imagine what would have happened if we didn’t make her feel welcome to ask us any questions. We would have lost a huge advocate, and she probably would have given up early.
Keep the door open for learners by ending support sessions on a positive note. Encourage them to come back if they run into more questions. Suggest additional resources if they seem keen. Empathize with how tough it can be to learn something new.
Learning a new skill is difficult for everyone. We should be so excited that we get to help our users learn something new.
Bonus tips on how to handle non-techies:
Follow what’s right for your customer
One of the reasons IT giants like Apple, Google, and Amazon are so successful is because they have put the understanding of user needs first.
The companies understand the importance of supporting the users, and the customer experience management market is showing significant growth every year. In 2022, for example, it was worth $11.34 billion worldwide.
IT customer support is focused on creating an excellent interconnectivity system, and its main objective is to solve customer requests. So, you have to understand your client’s needs and strive to meet the main business goals. Sometimes simple basics are more effective than complex processes.
Let’s take a scenario of a typical daily conversation between an IT support person and a customer:
- Customer: “My laptop crashed during an important presentation! I need help as soon as possible!”
- IT support: “Okay, provide me with additional information. Give me your ID and username.”
- Customer: “User78, executive director”.
- IT support: “Thank you, give me your laptop’s serial number”.
- Customer: “I don’t know! Where will I find it?”
- IT support “No problem. Confirm the creation of the incident and remember the incident number to know the status of the solution. We’ll have it resolved soon.”
- Customer: “Why do I have to do anything else!? I need you to fix my problem right now!”
- IT support: “Sorry, but that’s how the process works. Confirm the ticket registration.”
- Customer: “Incident or ticket? I don’t understand!”
The discussion ends.
This situation is familiar to any customer and IT support professional. It is incredibly frustrating. You should simplify IT support, not fill it with jargon that doesn’t make sense to users. You must reduce redundant procedures and simplify interaction protocols. By the way, appointment booking software can facilitate the interaction between your IT support and customers.
Revise the definitions of terms
Dialogues like this one are confusing and frustrating for customers:
- Customer: “I need to report a problem with my laptop.”
- IT support “Sorry! Only support specialists can create problem reports.”
Agreeing on definitions used to communicate with users and within IT support is essential. You must communicate with the customer in their language, even if they use the wrong IT terms. In this example, the term “problem” had a different meaning for the customer and the IT support specialist.
Consistency and simplicity in the language of communication are critical. Try to convey information to the customer in terms he or she understands. This will significantly simplify the implementation and use of IT support.
Put theory into practice
While it’s crucial to know theory, it’s even more important to practice it. This is especially true when implementing ITIL methodology in your organization. Traditionally, the theory assumes the division of technical support into levels (L1, L2). The handling of calls is divided into groups depending on the complexity.
But new methodologies such as Agile and DevOps simplify ITSM and promote a collaborative approach to problem-solving. This leads to faster incident resolution and greater efficiency as members of different teams and levels can collaborate on solving the same problem.
Implementing ITIL processes requires proper training for end users and IT support professionals. Their training must include practical examples that apply to real work – only then will the implementation be successful.
Remember: it is crucial not to dogmatically follow the methodology described in ITIL but to apply it to personal experience, continuously improving processes in your own company.
Nurture the corporate culture
Corporate culture plays a significant role in the success of any business process. You should:
- Develop a mindset that generates new change.
- Make the culture open – employees can innovate and adopt new methods themselves.
- Consistently collect feedback and revise existing processes based on the results of its processing.
- Start small and strive for more – move to a process model in stages to simplify IT support.
- Develop a collaborative environment that allows tech support professionals to collaborate, implement an Agile approach, etc.
Fostering a culture of learning and providing accessible resources is paramount. Offering user-friendly documentation, tutorials, and online training materials can yield amazing results for your company. Use these strategies to equip non-techies with the knowledge they need to address common IT problems. Creating a supportive environment where questions are encouraged and assistance is readily available can also boost confidence and reduce anxiety.
Ultimately, the development of corporate culture and implementation of the service model is beneficial to the economic state of the business, as it makes the calculation of financial costs and income from services more transparent.
Simplifying IT support for non-techies is essential in today’s digital age. As technology advances and becomes an integral part of our lives, it’s important to ensure that individuals without technical expertise can easily and effectively navigate and troubleshoot everyday IT issues. By implementing the strategies and tips discussed in this article, IT support can confidently handle IT challenges for non-techies.