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Why We Approach Tech Support with Empathy for the User

Why We Approach Tech Support with Empathy for the User

Among IT professionals, an acronym is sometimes used when discussing certain issues and challenges: “PEBKAC,” or Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair. In other words, user error. 

While it’s a fun little inside joke that can help frustrated technicians blow off steam, we cannot deny that PEBKAC implies some disrespect for the end user. Frankly, that’s not the perspective anyone offering support should take.

Instead, our approach to IT support is more reminiscent of a very different perspective.

Good IT Support Requires Empathy

For context, we have to go back to 1996 and acquaint ourselves with a researcher and publisher named Philip Agre. A doctoral graduate of MIT and researcher of artificial intelligence, Agre also wrote prolifically about a variety of topics and maintained an online newsletter called The Network Observer. UCLA has preserved his work and it is available to be read freely in their archives.

In 1996, Agre posted a brief article titled “How to help someone use a computer.” In it, he documented an impressive list of platitudes he felt support professionals (or really, anyone) should remember when helping someone else use a computer and a list of best practices to follow while providing that assistance.

It’s fascinating to read almost 30 years later because it really shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same. For instance, the following nuggets are just a few pieces of advice Agre gives the reader:

“Nobody is born knowing this stuff.”

“You've forgotten what it's like to be a beginner.”

“A computer is a means to an end. The person you're helping probably cares mostly about the end. This is reasonable.”

“They might be afraid that you're going to blame them for the problem.”

Later, in the “rules” he gives for a support professional to follow, Agre clearly endorses a gentle, empathetic approach.

While We Break Some of Agre’s Rules, We Follow the Important Ones

As a managed service provider, a key part of our job is operating in the background to help prevent users from experiencing issues. Otherwise, we’re there for them to call on when they actively need assistance. Our goal is to resolve the issue and get them back on track.

This directly contradicts one of Agre’s virtues: “Your primary goal is not to solve their problem. Your primary goal is to help them become one notch more capable of solving their problem on their own. So it's okay if they take notes.”

However, beyond this and a few other exceptions, we totally align with what Agre endorses. After all, it summarizes any good IT technician's approach: listen, educate, and resolve. Not only is it a more effective means of solving a problem, it does so by building a community, and as Agre put it:

“Knowledge lives in communities, not individuals. A computer user who's part of a community of computer users will have an easier time than one who isn't.”

We like to think that all our clients around British Columbia have a positive experience working with us. If this sounds like something you want to assist your business in achieving its goals, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. Call us at (604) 513-9428 to start a conversation about your needs and concerns.

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