MonthSeptember 2013

Adults can’t use computers… and this is why you should worry

This evening I stumbled across an excellent article: Kids Can’t Use Computers… And This Is Why It Should Worry You

It states:

Adults have worn their computer illiteracy as a badge of pride for many years now so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that their children share their digital inadequacies. Moreover, neither group is even willing to try to solve a problem when they encounter it.

In order to help those of you out there who are confounded by computers on a daily basis, let me provide three simple steps for success.

How to be a “Computer Guy/Gal”

  • Step 1. Read the screen.
    What is going on? What is the message instructing you to do? What action do you need to take? Is it offering you steps to resolve the issue you’re facing? Read. The. Screen. And all will become clear.

  • Step 2. Check cables.
    Is the cable plugged in? Is the other end of the cable also plugged in? Is the thing the cable plugged into on? Having your computer plugged into your power strip and the power strip being off isn’t going to work. This should go without saying, but since I’ve gotten this call…

  • Do you have power in your location?
    If you’re in the middle of a power outage, your computer that requires power will not work. If you’re in the middle of a storm and cell phones are out, your cellular network connection will also not work.

  • Step 3. Search.
    Seriously. Got an error message? Type in the error message to Google and read the first page of results. Don’t know how to do something in Word, Powerpoint, Excel or any other program? Look up “How Do I do the thing I want to do?” and click search. You will find the answers you seek.

If you have gotten through all three of these steps and still need assistance, then reach out to your support technicians. This will save you time, and the inevitable embarrassment when a technician shows up and plugs your mouse back into your computer, flips on your power strip or reads the error message and follows the directions provided.

Most of the people I work with and support have no idea how to use a computer. Reading through the examples in the post I was nodding my head as I’ve seen these same situations or ones nearly identical to them in the course of my work.

‘What anti-virus are you using?’ I ask, only to be told that he didn’t like using anti-virus because he’d heard it slowed his computer down. I hand back the laptop and tell him that it’s infected. He asks what he needs to do, and I suggest he reinstalls Windows. He looks at me blankly. He can’t use a computer.

Anti-virus is vital. If you’re running Windows, you need to be running an anti-virus. It doesn’t even matter which one. Just choose a free one and run it and keep it updated. Microsoft even bundles one with Windows 7 and 8. You are 5.5 times more likely to be infected without anti-virus according to a Microsoft study.

A kid puts her hand up in my lesson. ‘My computer won’t switch on,’ she says, with the air of desperation that implies she’s tried every conceivable way of making the thing work. I reach forward and switch on the monitor, and the screen flickers to life, displaying the Windows login screen. She can’t use a computer.

I have had calls because monitors, power strips and wireless mice and keyboards weren’t turned on. Also, if you use a mouse or keyboard with batteries, check them.

‘Bloody thing won’t connect to the internet.’ she says angrily, as if it were my fault. ‘I had tonnes of work to do last night, but I couldn’t get on-line at all. My husband even tried and he couldn’t figure it out and he’s excellent with computers.’ I take the offending laptop from out of her hands, toggle the wireless switch that resides on the side, and hand it back to her. Neither her nor her husband can use computers.

In her defense, the hardware wireless switch is the single worst idea in all of computer design. I have never come across a legitimate use for it. But I have taken dozens of calls from people in meetings or on travel or both because they had hit the switch and didn’t even know it was there. I’ve frantically searched for diagrams of customer’s computers to find out exactly where their particular switch was located.

I bet you don’t even know your laptop has such a switch. Dell loved to either put them on the front or the right side towards the front. My Lenovo puts it in the front right corner. If you see a weird switch you’ve never noticed before with a tiny antenna icon near it, that’s the wireless switch. It’s what stands between your internet access and nothing at all.

A kid knocks on my office door, complaining that he can’t login. ‘Have you forgotten your password?’ I ask, but he insists he hasn’t. ‘What was the error message?’ I ask, and he shrugs his shoulders. I follow him to the IT suite. I watch him type in his user-name and password. A message box opens up, but the kid clicks OK so quickly that I don’t have time to read the message. He repeats this process three times, as if the computer will suddenly change its mind and allow him access to the network. On his third attempt I manage to get a glimpse of the message. I reach behind his computer and plug-in the Ethernet cable. He can’t use a computer.

Remember the tips for success? Read the screen and check the cable. If you had read the screen you may have been led to the cable. If not, reading the screen to the help desk would have resulted in a fix over the phone.

A teacher brings me her brand new iPhone, the previous one having been destroyed. She’s lost all her contacts and is very upset. I ask if she’d plugged her old iPhone into her computer at any time, but she can’t remember. I ask her to bring in her laptop and iPhone. When she brings them in the next day I restore her phone from the backup that resides on her laptop. She has her contacts back, and her photos as well. She’s happy. She can’t use a computer.

Having setup a dozen new iPhones and Blackberries this week, I can attest that no one has any idea how they work. Where are those priceless photos of your child’s birthday party? On your phone somewhere?

I had a customer call me frantically because she had lost all the pictures of her daughter’s 3rd birthday and she was distraught. She had taken all of them on her Blackberry and now they weren’t showing up.

The problem was her micro SD card had come loose and the phone couldn’t read it. I popped the back of the phone off, inserted the card, and her pictures were returned to her. Then, I immediately showed her how to back up her photos to her computer which she did.

A teacher phones my office, complaining that his laptop has “no internet”. I take a walk down to his classroom. He tells me that the internet was there yesterday, but today it’s gone. His desktop is a solid wall of randomly placed Microsoft office icons. I quickly try to explain that the desktop is not a good place to store files as they’re not backed up on the server, but he doesn’t care; he just wants the internet back. I open the start menu and click on Internet Explorer, and it flashes to life with his homepage displayed. He explains that the Internet used to be on his desktop, but isn’t any more. I close I.E. and scour the desktop, eventually finding the little blue ‘e’ buried among some PowerPoint and Excel icons. I point to it. He points to a different location on the screen, informing me of where it used to be. I drag the icon back to it’s original location. He’s happy. He can’t use a computer.

Shortcuts are not programs. Just because your little blue E is gone from your desktop doesn’t mean your Internet is gone. If an icon is missing from the Dock of your Mac, it doesn’t mean the program is gone.

Programs are stored on a Mac in the Applications folder (or should be). Programs on Windows are stored in the C:\Program Files folder. Or even better, under the Start menu.

I have had calls for applications not being installed when they were, but there was not a desktop shortcut. Or there was not an icon in the Dock. These are both extremely basic concepts of computers that have not changed in a decade.

Whenever I see someone struggle with navigating Windows XP, I just want to say, “It’s been the same since 2001! Nothing has changed!” But I don’t. I calmly and patiently create desktop shortcuts and wish them a good day.

A kid puts his hand up. He tells me he’s got a virus on his computer. I look at his screen. Displayed in his web-browser is what appears to be an XP dialog box warning that his computer is infected and offering free malware scanning and removal tools. He’s on a Windows 7 machine. I close the offending tab. He can’t use a computer.

If you’re on a Mac and you see a Windows error, it’s not real. Close it. If you see an error message that looks absolutely nothing like the rest of your windows, close it.

The same goes for phishing emails. I’ve covered them before.

Not really knowing how to use a computer is deemed acceptable if you’re twenty-five or over. It’s something that some people are even perversely proud of, but the prevailing wisdom is that all under eighteens are technical wizards, and this is simply not true. They can use some software, particularly web-apps. They know how to use Facebook and Twitter. They can use YouTube and Pinterest. They even know how to use Word and PowerPoint and Excel. Ask them to reinstall an operating system and they’re lost. Ask them to upgrade their hard-drive or their RAM and they break out in a cold sweat. Ask them what https means and why it is important and they’ll look at you as if you’re speaking Klingon.

I’ve worked with people ages 20-80 and it’s the same across the board. I’ve had 22 year-old interns in our just our of college that were completely clueless how to use a computer. It wasn’t that they knew how Macs worked and were in front of Windows or vice versa. They had no idea how to maneuver around a computer.

The future is here and it’s computerized. Computers are not going away. They are going to be a bigger and bigger part of life and work. If you’re unable to use a computer, you’re going to be left behind.

I don’t expect everyone to be able to explain to me how the internet works or what the circuits on their motherboard does. However, knowing what a motherboard is, or at least where to find it would be a good start.

Computers have come a long way since the early days. Installing an operating system today is a series of clicks and answering complex questions like what timezone are you in and what language you speak.

I urge you to read Kids Can’t Use Computers… And This Is Why It Should Worry You as the author, who is an educator in England offers solutions to the problems.

Replace “kids” with “adults” and every example is and statement is just as relevant. I’ve seen that someone holding a higher level degree doesn’t mean they have any better idea how to use a computer than my 5 year-old niece.

Beyond the Reboot #5: Basic Acting Skills

Everyone has bad days. Everyone enjoys the weekend a little too much or stays up all night sometimes. We all have bad days where the last thing we want to do is to go to work and help people with their problems. Providing great service means a little acting.

It doesn’t take much to put on a face of friendliness and concern when going to help your customers. If you’re in a bad mood, it can quickly rub off on the customer and they can feel like they’re inconveniencing you and they may become irritated or hostile. Remember, it is your job to help them and if you project negativity, they may respond in kind.

Stay positive and fake it if you don’t feel it. Just as you’re reading your customer’s emotions, they’ll be reading yours and if you’re upset or grumpy, it will not lead to a good experience.

If you don’t feel it, fake it. If you wear a smile on your face long enough, you’ll start to feel happier. Then your great service skills will shine through and you’ll start to feel better once you’ve helped your customer.

Recently, I went to go help an executive who was having a problem with Powerpoint. He had a new version of the application installed and was having some trouble finding a specific setting he needed.

When I arrived, he was already throwing F-bombs and very irritated. This particular person has no patience for computers and if they didn’t work as expected, it was nuclear war.

I knew this would take the best acting performance of my career to get out of this unscathed. I walked in with a huge smile on my face and summoned all my patience on this early, Monday morning and endured. I asked, “I hear you are having problems with Powerpoint, how can I help?” I endured the screaming and the yelling and the assault to my profession and myself.

I tried my best to help the customer with his problem but in the end, he was too angry to explain what he needed.. I could not get enough information out of him to understand what he was looking for. So he dismissed me and I left his office and returned to my own.

My first call was to my manager to explain what had just taken place. My second call was to my team lead to warn her of what had just happened. She was next in line to deal with him. My third call was to the wild. I took a walk around the campus to cool down so I would not bring the negativity of that exchange my other customer interactions.

Another important acting lesson is never making the customer feel stupid. In the past few weeks I have removed an SD Card from a slot-loading CD-ROM drive, plugged in a network cable to restore internet access, turned on a power strip to restore a non-working computer to life and plugged a USB cable in to repair a broken printer.

In each instance, the customers all apologized for having me come to see them for a very simple fix. In each case, I told them not to be sorry. I am here to fix problems big and small. They have jobs to do that don’t involve crawling around on the floor and checking cables. The customer doesn’t need to know how everything connects and works.

In talking with one of the scientists I support, she said to me. “I’m so glad you understand computers. Because I don’t at all.” To which I replied, “I’m so glad you’re trying to cure cancer. Because I have no clue how to do that.”

We all have our roles to play and it’s through support and help that we’re all able to get through our days a little better off than when we started. I take great pleasure in putting on a show for my customer so they don’t feel silly or stupid. I will act whatever part is required to calm or reassure my customers because when they’re happy, I’m happy.

Beyond the Reboot #4: Understanding Human Psychology

You have listened to your customer. You’ve communicated clearly with them. You’ve gone a step further and empathized with them. You’re well on your way to providing great customer service. Now it’s time to get inside your customer’s head. Don’t rely on fixing problems as they happen. Anticipate their needs and try to identify where they will encounter trouble before they do.

Learn your customer’s habits and preferences. Anticipate what they are going to need before they need it. If you have a customer you know becomes easily frustrated by big changes, work to prepare them well ahead of the change. Learn how to defuse the hotheads and encourage the timid. Ease all of your customers into upcoming changes.

Getting inside your customer’s heads will make you seem like a mind reader and they’ll not only notice but appreciate your effort in doing more than they expected. You’re making their lives easier by skipping a call to support. It will make your job easier because you’ve stopped a problem before it started.

A great example of this is when things change unexpectedly. Recently, Firefox started bundling a basic PDF reader into the browser. This caused it to replace the Adobe Reader plugin that can handle advanced features like entering information into a form.

I had a customer call saying his documents were no longer working on a certain web page. I went to see him and he showed me how he opened a web page filled with PDF forms he needed to complete. The PDFs were either not loading at all or loading without any of the forms being editable. He has no idea what had happened. Nothing had changed as far as he knew but he couldn’t get his work done.

I was aware of Firefox’s new feature and checked the version number. It was the latest version. Good news, I had my culprit. I turned off the built-in PDF reader and enabled the Adobe Reader plugin. Now the files opened as they always had. He was so excited. He said, “Great! Now I can get on with my day!”

This was a minor issue for me, but this was ruining his day. Being aware of the new PDF reader feature, I knew immediately what his problem was and while I couldn’t prevent it, I was able to resolve it very quickly.

A big change that happened recently was an upgrade to the Exchange servers. Exchange is Microsoft’s email server. It powers many company’s email systems and provides calendar and contact sharing and syncing to mobile devices as well. If you email at work, then you’re most likely using an Exchange server.

Often times these upgrades are seamless and the customer notices very little except for a few hours of downtime over a weekend. Or perhaps their company webmail looks a bit different.

However, in this move Entourage, a Mac email client would not longer be supported and Outlook would be the new email client for a large number of customers. This caused a lot of strife because people live and die by their email. And they’ve come to understand their program and build work flows and habits around it.

Changing their habits cause a lot of stress and frustration. Ahead of this change, I worked extensively with a few customers I knew would have problems with the new client.

Not for any technical reason, just that it was new and it was different. My email works just fine. Why do we need to change it? I explained to them that the company was moving forward because the new servers would allow for more features and better security. I explained that the new email client would reduce the need to always repair the Entourage database.

This is a common issue with the Entourage email client where all data is stored in a single file. Over the years, and decades, this file grows to enormous sizes and as a result becomes unstable.

Outlook stores messages, calendar events and contacts in separate, small files. This allows the number of email messages and calendars to grow to much larger sizes without the fear of corruption and lost data.

After explaining this to my reluctant customers, they were ready for the change. Sometimes it’s a matter of finding the benefit to the customer. Many times they view IT upgrades and changes as nothing more than inconvenient for them. I try to find the value for the customer and share it with them. It makes the transitions easier and they’re happier as a result.

Beyond the Reboot #3: Ability to Empathize

Time to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Once you know the problem and are communicating, show some empathy. Don’t just say you understand their problems. Show them you understand what they’re going through. They have hit upon a problem they can’t solve and it is frustrating them and preventing them from doing their work and getting on with their day.

Even if the problem is simple in your eyes, it could be a huge deal to your customer. Today, I got an urgent call from a customer who had lost the connection to two network drives. Now, to me it is a very simple thing to remap a network drive. To my customer, her data was gone and she did not know how to get it back. She was very upset.

I arrived quickly and assured her all of her data was safe. She had only lost access to the data, not the data itself. I explained what had happened and how I was going to get it back as I worked.

I mapped the drives and I saved them as shortcuts so if they became disconnected again, she could still access her data. I also showed her how to remap the drives so she could do what I had done next time. I gave her the tools to solve the problem in the future.

Recently, I got another call from a customer who thought she had lost 300 pictures of her son from her Blackberry. They were just gone! One minute they were there, in the pictures app and the next, they were nowhere to be found.

I calmly took the phone from her and checked the settings for a media card. I saw there was no recognized card. So I removed the phone from its case, popped open the back and removed the battery to find the tiny card has slipped from its slot.

Reseating the card in its slot, I explained that her photos were most likely on the card which had come loose so the phone wasn’t able to see it. I replace the battery, powered on the phone and she customer was relieved to see her son smiling back at her.

She asked how she could backup the photos so this didn’t happen again. So I walked with her to her desk. We plugged her phone into her desktop and added the phone as a media drive. We then found the Blackberry external drive under My Computer and inside the Pictures folder were her irreplaceable photos.

I assisted her in backing them up to her computer so she could sort them and then save them.

In both cases, I immediately empathized with my customer. They were both frantic, afraid they had lost important data. I reassured them their data was safe and only moments away from being recovered. I made them feel better. I fixed the problem. Then I explained how to fix the problem should it arise again.

All that stands between feeling helpless and confident is a little knowledge. Even if she doesn’t remember what I showed her today, she can be confident in the future if this happens again it is not a crisis, but an inconvenience.

You are a trusted ally to your customer. It can be hard to remember sometimes, especially when you’ve worked in the industry a long time. It can often feel like you wear a badge that says Whipping Boy but you are the customer’s hero. You are the lifeline in the battle between man and machine. Listen to what your customer is saying but also how they are saying it. Understand their emotions and react accordingly.

Learning to Love Photo Management

Learning to Love Photo Management by Bradley Chamber is a book that should not need to exist. He says it right at the beginning. But since photo management is not as easy as it should be, the book does. And we are all better off for it. This is your how-to manual for managing photos.

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy and read through it quickly. It’s only 16 pages but each one has real, actionable information. This is a book I could easily hand my mother and she could follow the steps. She has a massive, ever-growing photo library and more than once I’ve needed to help her out in trying to bring some order to the madness. This book deserves to be sold with all new cameras and smartphones. I live by a simple rule. If it doesn’t exist in two places, it doesn’t exist. I don’t remember who I stole the line from but it applies to anything important.

Photos certainly fall into that category. If you want to keep a photo safe, it needs to be backed up. It needs to be kept in a safe place and on your phone is not a safe place. Many people often feel that Dropbox is a safe backup on its own. But what happens to a file that’s deleted from Dropbox? It deletes the file everywhere else too. This is why a true backup solution is needed. Bradley recommends Crashplan which is also what I use and recommend. (Crashplan link offers 20% off for new subscribers.)

The advice within these pages will take you from hoping Apple has your back and not really knowing where yours photos are stored to being in total control. I know when geeks talk about being in control of something it sounds like they’re saying this takes a lot of work. But this will not. With a set of very simple, inexpensive tools Learning to Love Photo Management will have you doing just that.

The screenshots and examples are from iPhones and Macs but the ideas are universal and can easily be applied to an Android/Windows setup or any other combination of phone and computer.

Stop worrying about where your photos are and hoping Apple is handling your backups if you lose or break your phone. They’re not. If you’re like me, or my mother, you’ve spent many hours taking and enjoying photos of children, family events, vacations and the beauty life has to offer. You’ve spent hundreds on a smartphone or nice camera setup. Spend a few dollars and a few minutes on protecting those photos for years to come.

The solutions offered in this book don’t rely on any specialized software or one particularly company so even if they go out of business tomorrow, your photos will be stored locally so you’ll always have them. The rest of the pieces are interchangeable.

It’s great advice in a small package. After reading through the book I am rethinking the way I manage my photos and you will too. It is available as a PDF download or an iPad-only iBook and it’s only $2.99. Take control of your photos and learn to love photo management. Once you do, you can enjoy your photos and not worry about losing them.