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Tools to support brain-dead users?

Hi,

I'm currently trying to come up with a list of tools that would increase my productivity when supporting my dad's management tools (payroll, accounting, etc.).

Besides building a web site with manuals, FAQ, on- and off-line demos (thanks to pointers provided right here by kindful souls), and remote control apps... are there any tools you would recommend?

Thx
Fred.

PS: Since most of our customers are connected through a router with NAT, I'm looking for a NAT-friendly alternative to VNC. Someone told me of TinyVNC, but looking on the web and newsgroups didn't return the URL where the beast can be downloaded.

Frederic Faure
Friday, September 27, 2002

The basic tools I've seen are: have the end-user documentation, and the software on your own machine so you can be running it yourself when you walk a person through something; a contact management system (history of each user's calls); access to QA, product management, and bugtracking database; email; a hands-free telephone headset; call-waiting or voice-mail (if you're likely to get more than one simultaneous call).

And don't call them "brain-dead": they're your customers.

Christopher Wells
Friday, September 27, 2002

Fred, what's your company? I want to make sure I don't buy anything from you. I'd hate to be so brain dead that I gave you my money and expected useful, usable software in return.

Troy King
Friday, September 27, 2002

The best tool you could utilize by far is a positive attitude.

pb
Friday, September 27, 2002

I'll bet those folks are really nice people.  They'll think your a regular computer god if you can keep their systems going while being nice (professional) to them at the same time.

Tip: Genlty blame the computer, the system, the software, the user interface, poor design, weak documentation, inadequate training, solar flares, and yourself before you blame the users.  Imagine that your are trying to support your grandmother.  Visit your most trying users in person from time to time.

tk
Friday, September 27, 2002

:-) OK, I guess "brain-dead" was too strong a word, although you haven't seen some of them...

Anyhow, here's a list of tips so far:
- do whatever it takes so that they get their work done (even those who procrastinate a lot and refuse to learn even after showing them 10 times how to perform a simple task)
- if things don't work, blaming their incompetence or attitude is the last thing to do: any other excuse is better

- remember to visit your customers regularly, especially those who are the most difficult

- when doing support, have a workstation that is as close as possible to what the customer is using

- CRM to keep track of past calls

- Bug-tracking to check for known issues

- Access to project managers to check if such and such issue is "per design" or an actual bug

- e-mail and FTP to TX/RX messages with the customer (screenshots, database dumps, etc.)

- hand-free telephone headset, anc call-waiting/voice-mail so you can pick up another call or give customers the possibility of leaving voice messages and be called later

Thx!
Fred.

Frederic Faure
Saturday, September 28, 2002

> Bug-tracking to check for known issues

You may also need write-access to the bugbase, if customers report a problem.

> Access to project managers to check if such and such issue is "per design" or an actual bug

If the product is still being developed, you may want to pass on customers' suggestions for new features to the product manager; knowing what (potential) customers want is a difficult and important part of software development, and a tech support person is uniquely positioned to get insights into that from the (current) customers.

Also, tech support is often a cost and not a revenue - so if you can say things to the manager like "You know, 70% of calls are from people who have problem getting the thing installed", or "80% of my time is spent figuring out what the customers' configuration options are" then that's useful information to a product manager (who can improve the installation in a next release, for example).

Christopher Wells
Saturday, September 28, 2002

> Also, tech support is often a cost and not a revenue

I'd go further and say that with some software, it's the cost of tech support alone that determines how low you can price the software and how many you can sell - for example if a customer wants a 1000-user license at $5/user, then you can afford to sell it to them if and only if you're not going to get a tech support call from each of those 1000 users.

Christopher Wells
Saturday, September 28, 2002

> do whatever it takes so that they get their work done (even those who procrastinate a lot and refuse to learn even after showing them 10 times how to perform a simple task)
> if things don't work, blaming their incompetence or attitude is the last thing to do: any other excuse is better

It is no excuse to blame it on a usability problem. If the customer fails to figure out how to perform one simple task again and again, there is a problem with the application. Your dad, or whoever designed the thing, should take a good look at how to make it easier to understand.

Big B
Saturday, September 28, 2002

Man.  Some of you people are so full of crap.  How do you know what Fred's situation is?  Maybe these people can't remember how to copy/paste or open a file in word?  There is a certain cost benefit limit in usability, but I wouldn't expect 90% of you to understand that. 

the cluetrain
Monday, September 30, 2002

Thanks again for your useful comments. Indeed, one of my dad's weak points has always been UI, and it's one of the things I want to work on once I know enough about this field.

Back to checking out 33Kbps- and NAT-friendly remote control apps...

Thx
Fred.

Frederic Faure
Monday, September 30, 2002

It's easy to figure out from reading Fred's few posts that he's very user-hostile.

pb
Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Treating your users as if they were brain-dead is sometimes the best thing you can do for them.  I've seen too many users just open up dialogs blindly, click while they were thinking, and dismiss resulting dialog boxes by cilcking OK or Yes.  When it was the worst thing to do.

This is while asking you what is wrong with their system.  It's like there's a buzz in their heads that replaces thought or the desire to read.

Of course, not all users are like this.  Just that Frederic seems to be doing something nice for all users, using the "idiot user" mental model to guide him.  Similar to defensive programming.

anon
Wednesday, October 02, 2002

I agree with anon. Some users are truly brain dead, or as my dad would say, "they refuse to engage the thought process". Sometimes treating them as such is the only way to get them to learn something.

Do not dismiss Fred as being user unfriendly. I remember a quote, "The only intuitive interface is the nipple. After that it's all learned", attributed to Bruce Ediger. Check out http://www.greenend.org.uk/rjk/2002/08/nipple.html

I remember teaching a Computer Literacy course at university. My classes were first year students, and adult students. Most of them had *never* used a computer before. (Think black students in post apartheid South Africa).

The ones who were interested caught on pretty swiftly, and would spend time in the computer labs 'playing' with computers, and rapidly gaining proficiency. Another lot just declared computers too hard/boring, and six weeks into the course had not quite grasped the difference between a double-click and a right-click.... don't even talk about cut/copy and paste!

We just have to admit that there is only so much that UI design can do. Some people just refuse to make the effort!

tapiwa
Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Exactly the kind of users I'm going to have to deal with. They work in the public sector, in the health-care sector... Even asking them to gain some kind of proficiency in the job they're being paid to do (eg. knowing the basics of accounting if you're paid to handle the books...) is too much to ask.

Understand now why I used the term "brain-dead"? I'm very willing to write documentation, build UIs that even a two-year-old can figure out, install add-ons to ease support like remote control, etc. ... but most of those people _are_ difficult to handle. And yes, some of them still can't right- or double-click even after years of working with Windows...

Thx
Fred.

Frederic Faure
Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Macs are nice in this regard, but the situations you can sell them an entire machine are few.  At least right now.

And Apple made their new OS a bit too much like Windows in terms of ease-of-use.  (Accidentally dragging shortcuts from the Dock makes them go poof...)  At least they stuck with the 1-button mouse.

anon
Wednesday, October 02, 2002

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