The start of a new academic year always brings new problems, challenges and questions. No matter how much one plans for change, there is always something that throws a wrench into the best laid plans. This year, programs like Windows Vista and Office 2007 are generating many calls for help. While I certainly expected many of these issues to appear, they are causing frustrations for both staff and students – and for me too since I’m struggling with the best way to offer support. This struggle highlights one of the aspects of providing technical support that I find most challenging – trying to find the right balance between giving someone the tools and training necessary to solve their own problem versus actually solving the problem for them.
When someone calls me with an issue, my first task is to listen, ask questions and make a preliminary assessment. At this point, I need to make a determination about the best way to resolve the issue and make a determination about whether or not this is the type of problem people need to be able to solve (or attempt to solve on their own). Some issues that play into this decision are the following: does the problem involve a student? is the problem related to standard procedures and/or practices (connecting to the network, printing, logging onto a computer)? does the problem require my intervention? There are, of course, other factors as well. This isn’t easy, and I’m constantly trying to make sure that I am offering the right level of support to everyone. I want people to feel empowered – and confident about their technical skills. But, I do not want people to think that I don’t want to help them – to think that I am being unapproachable and/or unhelpful. I’m pretty sure that I don’t always get it right, but I do try and I do try to learn from the mistakes that I do make.
One of the most important factors in trying to determine the right level of support is making the determination about whether or not this is the type of problem that might happen when I am not around to offer support. If this is the case, I believe it is important to give people some verbal help and then give them some space to try and resolve the issue. This is why when presented with any problems that involve student issues, I almost exclusively try and offer phone support. I don’t immediately offer to fix the problem. I specifically wait until a staff member either asks me to personally come and help or until I get a sense that the staff person is seriously at a loss.
One of the things that has become clear to me over the time that I have been engaged in technical support is that technical training for staff is a big problem. Honestly, I don’t feel as if it is one of my strengths. So often, there is so much work to do day to day to keep everything running smoothly that training takes a back seat. So staff may end up feeling as if they have the knowledge or the tools to solve the types of technical problems that patrons have. This, of course, means that I need to spend more time trying to troubleshoot basic problems. Right now, I’m on somewhat of a mission to try and make a serious effort to get people the tools they need. Hopefully, this will help me feel more comfortable when faced with the choice of helping staff solve problems themselves or solving it for them.
If anyone has any words of wisdom about how they deal with this issue, please feel free to share!