Thursday, June 17, 2010

Computer user stereotypes

As a programmer, my job also entails supporting many users of the software we create. I respond to support requests relating to the software, as well as internal requests for general help with computers and other IT related matters. It can become extremely frustrating when the same questions are asked over and over. In the time that I have dealt with support requests, I have been able to identify common traits in computer user behaviour and compiled a list of categories - this is my perspective.

A. The learner
This is my favourite kind of user - one who requests support only after they have first tried everything they can. The learner is also inquisitive and asks questions that help them expand their knowledge about the software or computers so that they can apply the new knowledge gained in a more generic sense in multiple scenarios. Learners are also proactive and often help to stem the wave of support requests from B's, C's, D's, F's and G's by helping them before they contact me. Sometimes, the learner is also a G, but this can be forgiven because they learn to check their notes/help documents before asking again.

B. The always innocent
These are cunning users, everything they say about an issue must be questioned before being believed. They will often provide very little information and just say that something is not functioning correctly. When asked what steps they took to encounter the issue and it is found they made a mistake, they will feign innocence, become defensive and make a multitude of excuses including:
* Not being told about it before
* The documentation not being adequate
* The process being confusing
"Innocents" are often also C's, D's and G's.

C. The accuser
There are very few accusers (from my experience), but they do exist. Accusers will play the lawsuit card and they will play it very quickly, practically immaturely. They will threaten to sue your company because the software they bought from you "isn't working". These threats are mostly likely empty and are made in an attempt to exert some dominance because they think the customer is always right. After some further discussion and being shown what they need to do to overcome their issue, accusers will then back off rather sheepishly. Accusers can also be B's, D's and G's.

D. The one who finds it too difficult
The typical attitude of D's is "this issue is software/computer related, therefore it's not my problem and I don't need to attempt to overcome it myself." They will immediately approach you with their problem as soon as they encounter it. Also, because I'm a programmer, they assume I am the IT support department and can answer every IT related question under the sun. That's like assuming that all Arabs are terrorists and know how to construct a bomb. D's can also be B's, C's and G's.

E. The one who will never understand
These users can be annoying and a source of extreme frustration, but cannot be blamed entirely. Despite their best efforts to understand how overcome their issue, they will never "get it". A support call with an E often starts of with me attempting to give them step by step instructions, which they will fail to be able to comprehend or follow. After an alternative process is spelled out to them, E's will still fail to understand. From this point, I have no option but to end the interaction by asking them to seek the help of one of their colleagues.

F. The dangerous
F users are those that know the basic concepts about computers and software. What makes them dangerous is that they will call me for support, explain their issue and then preempt my response by suggesting "possible" causes or solutions that are unrelated or irrelevant. Not only is this a huge waste of time for both of us, it might also detract from them actually comprehending what I have to say because they are so self absorbed in their "solution". Dangerous users can also be quick to take action when I am giving them instructions, they might perform extra steps that are actually detrimental to the chance of a successful outcome. Dangerous users can also be B's, C's, D's and G's.

G. The illiterate
Illiterates are one of the worst. They seem to lack the ability to read anything, whether it be a pop-up message or written instructions. If a confirmation message window appears, they will click OK without reading. If written instructions are supplied, they will conveniently not notice or claim they did not receive them. As illiterates are quite common, they are often also A's, B's, C's, D's and F's.

Here is a Venn style diagram of how I think the above user groups are structured.

Please let me know if you think there are any user stereotypes that I have missed.