User language



  • Does anyone here have advice (ideally, based on successful experience)
    on how to communicate with users about problems? I don't just mean the
    fact that someone whose expertise is in some other field isn't likely
    to know the jargon; I mean, some people seem to lack the circuit for
    basic logic. Here's a recent example:



    I received this message (actually forwarded to me by a front-line
    contact) from a user trying to use a Web shopping cart interface we
    developed:



    "When I finalize and go to checkout, the next page is unavailable. HELP!"



    Now, maybe I'm not the best at picking up clues, but this told me
    almost nothing. I can think of around fifty different scenarios that
    might be described this way. I sent this request for details:



    "I'm hoping you can provide us with more detail about the difficulty
    you're having with online purchasing. I am not able to reproduce the
    problem, and others are using the process successfully, so if you have
    the patience to help us sort this out, we'd be very grateful.



    "Can you please tell me exactly where in the process you are seeing a
    problem, and exactly what form that problem takes? That is, please
    describe in detail the last screen you see that makes sense to you, and
    also whatever it is you see next that looks like a problem or error. If
    you have time to do this, perhaps it will help us prevent this from
    happening to anyone else, as well as solving your problem."



    This is the reply:



    "GO TO CHECKOUT, AFTER ALL THE ORDER DETAILS ARE DONE.  THEN A 'PAGE DOES NOT DISPLAY' NOTICE COMES UP."



    I grant this does provide slight elaboration, but surely this person
    cannot think this fulfills my request? Or could it really be that this
    meets their definition of "describe in detail"?



    Anyway, any help in communicating with such people - particularly in eliciting useful failure descriptions - will be welcome.



  • It's not you, and it's not just you.



    My friend, who used to be a ISP tech-support phone-jockey, had a theory
    that when people sat down in front of their computer, all English
    language comprehension skills went out the window.  I tend to
    agree with him.



  • Apparently, this user does not have a clue which kinds of details might be useful to you. Ask more specific questions, like which browser or OS they use, which button they pressed, which items were in the cart, etc. Remember they are the customer, and if you treat them badly and they go public, you're screwed, not they. So stay polite and save your sarcasm for us enlightened people.



  • I find if I ask half a dozen really specific questions, they invariably
    can't be bothered to do the leg work and don't come back to me... works
    like a charm!



  • I don't really want them to go away. If there really is a bugt in the
    checkout, every time someone triggers it and can't complete the
    transaction, we lose money. I want to find it and fix it.



    I think I'm beginning to see what I'm doing wrong. To me, "describe the
    screen" means describe what I see; but I can sort of see how, to
    someone who thinks differently, it might mean describe what the screen
    means to you. Perhaps I need to be more explicit with this kind of
    request and say something like, "Please describe in detail the
    appearance of the last screen you see that makes sense to you - what
    objects you see, and what it says." Is there a danger that anyone might
    think that sounds like I'm talking down?



  • No, but it sounds like a lot of work for your customer. Ask them to make a screendump before and after the error occurs, paste them into a Word document and send that to you. Describe the steps they need to take to make a screendump. Before sending the procedure to the customer, test it on the least savvy person in the office. Thank the customer elaborately before and after their help: They could just as easily get the product somewhere else.



  • On most systems there is a print screen that will save a picture of the screen to the disk.  



    Figuring out which key combonation works the above magic on the
    customer's system is left as an exercise to the reader.  
    (normaly hold down one of the control/alt/command/meta keys, and press
    the print screen button, but God only knows what odd system the user
    has)     Then you just have to teach them to use
    email to send it to you.  



    After factoring in your time, it would be cheaper to buy a first class
    plane ticket to their home, hotels, and car rental.   Then you can
    watch what the user is doing and teach them how to user their site..



  • This option is only technically viable when the user lives in a sunny place. Otherwise, tell them to use a digital camera, purchased from your site.



  • @don said:

    Is there a danger that anyone might
    think that sounds like I'm talking down?




    This is a catch-22, really.  i.e., the user claims to be computer
    literate and claims that you are talking down when you call the monitor
    'the TV part' but then thinks the terms 'tower' or 'box' for the CPU is
    too technical.

    Just be as explicit as you can be, and rephrase/get more specific as the customer fails to understand.



  • @don said:



    Anyway, any help in communicating with such people - particularly in eliciting useful failure descriptions - will be welcome.




    Well, if you aren't having any luck emailing with them, it sounds like
    you need to go to the next level - Fog Creek Copilot! 



    I have no affiliation with Fog Creek, but their product sounds like
    exactly what you need if you can't get the necessary information via
    more traditional channels such as email or phone.






  • I have a couple of questions I ask them, if they take the time to reply to them it usually makes it a little more useful

    Something along the lines of (I write them in dutch and not for webapps but here goes)
    ----
    Thank you for reporting this problem, I hope you can find the time to help us find it and fix it.
    I have a couple of questions for you, it would be really valuable to us if you replyed to them the best you can. We didn't notice the problem nor can we reproduce it, so your help is very much appreciated.
    - What browser/client os etc are you using
    - Does it happen on your machine only or do you have it on every machine
    - Were you able to complete the process before
    - does it happen every time, if so, try to describe the steps to reproduce it (such as items or qty's ordered etc)
    - Do you get an error message, if so copy paste the exact message below
    -....
    ------

    if they reply I'm sure you'll get much more useful info than when you ask "works for me, please elaborate" type of questions
    And if you ask them nicely and make them feel important without feeling dumb a lot of them will take 15 minutes to fill out the reply's

    All they need is a little more guidance since they have no clue what fixing a software bug is like.



  • I think I posted this before, but what the hell, out of the hundreds of posters on a daily basis, there's no chance anyone would notice.

    I wrote some software for our in-house team to use and it went over just fine for months. The problem started when our Middle Eastern subcontractor (whose English is a distant second language) began using it. Suddenly the tools I write "have a cold". I think she means there are bugs, like when someone gets a flu bug, or that her computer now has a virus. After about a year of this, we still have no clue.

    I get the same results when I try to ask her specific questions, like what operating system she has ("Office 98") and what the error message actually says ("You can not do that thing because there is an error on the thing that says that you can not do it"). Finally I showed her how to do screenshots. Big mistake.

    She now takes screenshots of her entire desktop, which spans two monitors, and emails me the 24-bit BMP files (~3-5 MB each time). One time there was a glitch on her computer (her email had a cold that day) and it sent me her attachment 8 times. There may have been more attempts, but after the 8th one, my mailbox went over its limit and it bounced all the emails I received until I got into work. Since she sends this stuff around 1 am, I didn't get emails for the next 8 hours until I cleared them out.

    Prepare for a life in hell, a thankless job where you service the dregs of society. Kinda like being a hooker that works in a crack house.



  • All you people with stars in your eyes, thinking that if you just make
    your explanations clear, concise, detailed or whatever enough the users
    will get it and give you what you want either haven't had to deal with
    users, or are lucky enough to have users of above dimwit intelligence.



    I know that sounds harsh, but what I said above is true - the IQ and
    english comprehension skills of many, many people drop a significant
    amount when the sit in front of a computer, and even more so when
    talking over the phone to someone about the computer.



    I have examples.



    My friend: OK, I need you to minimise all your windows so you're looking at your desktop.

    lUser: OK.

    My friend: What can you see on the screen.

    lUser: Google (ie. Internet Explorer).

    My friend.  Please minimise Internet Explorer and show the desktop.

    lUser: OK

    My friend: What can you see on the screen.

    lUser: Google.

    My friend: In the top corner of the screen is a little grey button with
    a horizontal black line through it.  Click it on all your open
    windows until you see the desktop.

    lUser: OK

    My friend: What can you see on the screen.

    lUser: Google.

    My frined: headbuts desk



    Me: In the bottom right of screen is an icon that looks like a <something don't remember>

    lUser: I see it.

    Me: I need you to right-click on it

    lUser: Nothing happened

    Me: Did you click with the right mouse button?

    lUser: Yes

    Me: Try again.

    lUser: Nothing happened

    Me: You need to click with the mouse button on the right.  There are two buttons on the mouse.

    lUser: Nothing happened

    Me: Look at the mouse.  There are two buttons on it.  Which one did you press.

    lUser: The left one.



    You get it?  Basic english language and comprehension skills, people.



  • @stevekj said:

    @don said:


    Anyway, any help in communicating with such people - particularly in eliciting useful failure descriptions - will be welcome.




    Well, if you aren't having any luck emailing with them, it sounds like
    you need to go to the next level - Fog Creek Copilot! 



    I have no affiliation with Fog Creek, but their product sounds like
    exactly what you need if you can't get the necessary information via
    more traditional channels such as email or phone.

    It is, it's a VNC-like application, but much easier to use, without any server-install hassle on the distant site and that doesn't give shit about firewalls.

    Anyone who has to do helpdesk work (and that DOES include helping your mom/gf/whatever) should setup an account to this thing, the only things you get to ask the client being: go to page XXX, download the file, launch the file and you take control of the computer.



  • @masklinn said:

    It is, it's a VNC-like application, but much easier to use, without any server-install hassle on the distant site and that doesn't give shit about firewalls.

    Anyone who has to do helpdesk work (and that DOES include helping your mom/gf/whatever) should setup an account to this thing, the only things you get to ask the client being: go to page XXX, download the file, launch the file and you take control of the computer.



    So then they have a little piece of software installed that grants Anyone All access at Any time?


  • @HAK said:

    @don said:
    Is there a danger that anyone might think that sounds like I'm talking down?


    This is a catch-22, really.  i.e., the user claims to be computer literate and claims that you are talking down when you call the monitor 'the TV part' but then thinks the terms 'tower' or 'box' for the CPU is too technical.
    Just be as explicit as you can be, and rephrase/get more specific as the customer fails to understand.

     

    I generally refer to my CPU as the processor...

    The Tower means my computer case, the Box is the computer as a whole. The CPU is part of the Box, as is the Tower.

    Drak



  • @masklinn said:

    It is, it's a VNC-like application, but much easier to use, without any server-install hassle on the distant site and that doesn't give shit about firewalls.

    Anyone who has to do helpdesk work (and that DOES include helping your mom/gf/whatever) should setup an account to this thing, the only things you get to ask the client being: go to page XXX, download the file, launch the file and you take control of the computer.


    Installing realvnc is simple, the only issue I run into is having them switch it into user mode server and then right click the icon to add my listening client. (Much more secure than opening a port in their router.)

    I need to modify the installer somehow to start user-mode by default; and maybe ask them for a more brain dead "add remote client" shortcut right on the desktop.

    On the other hand, if fog creek is safe I could just use that.


  • @dhromed said:

    @masklinn said:
    It is, it's a VNC-like
    application, but much easier to use, without any server-install hassle
    on the distant site and that doesn't give shit about firewalls.

    Anyone who has to do helpdesk work (and that DOES include helping your mom/gf/whatever) should setup an account to this thing, the only things you get to ask the client being: go to page XXX, download the file, launch the file and you take control of the computer.



    So then they have a little piece of software installed that grants Anyone All access at Any time?


    Nope. It's a run-once type app that deletes itself from the machine when your session ends. You should really check it out.


  • @Drak said:

    @HAK said:

    This is a catch-22, really.  i.e., the user claims to be computer literate and claims that you are talking down when you call the monitor 'the TV part' but then thinks the terms 'tower' or 'box' for the CPU is too technical.
    Just be as explicit as you can be, and rephrase/get more specific as the customer fails to understand.

     

    I generally refer to my CPU as the processor...

    The Tower means my computer case, the Box is the computer as a whole. The CPU is part of the Box, as is the Tower.

    Drak



    Agreed.

    CPU is the chip. The case is the box that contains the actual computer.


  • @KenW said:

    @dhromed said:
    So then they have a little piece of software installed that grants Anyone All access at Any time?




    Nope. It's a run-once type app that deletes itself from the machine when your session ends. You should really check it out.


    Hmmm. : )



  • @dhromed said:

    @Drak said:

    @HAK said:

    This is a
    catch-22, really.  i.e., the user claims to be computer literate
    and claims that you are talking down when you call the monitor 'the TV
    part' but then thinks the terms 'tower' or 'box' for the CPU is too
    technical.
    Just be as explicit as you can be, and rephrase/get more specific as the customer fails to understand.

     

    I generally refer to my CPU as the processor...

    The Tower means my computer case, the Box is the computer as a whole. The CPU is part of the Box, as is the Tower.

    Drak



    Agreed.

    CPU is the chip. The case is the box that contains the actual computer.


    Technically, the CPU is only part of the processor.  If my textbooks lie, please inform me otherwise.  I call the computer (case, other hardware inside, etc) the CPU because that's what my father, Mr. I think I've had a Virus for the Past Week and am only Just Now Telling You Or Doing Anything About It, called it when he first brought home the first family computer.  Minds are so impressionable when they're 10. ;-)

    But bad example, though.  My orginal point was that no matter what, you're stuck: If you use to low a term, you're talking down to the user, and if you use a term only slightly more technical you confuse them.



  • Most people i know call those CPUs.



  • @HAK said:

    @dhromed said:
    @Drak said:

    @HAK said:

    This is a
    catch-22, really.  i.e., the user claims to be computer literate
    and claims that you are talking down when you call the monitor 'the TV
    part' but then thinks the terms 'tower' or 'box' for the CPU is too
    technical.
    Just be as explicit as you can be, and rephrase/get more specific as the customer fails to understand.

     

    I generally refer to my CPU as the processor...

    The Tower means my computer case, the Box is the computer as a whole. The CPU is part of the Box, as is the Tower.

    Drak



    Agreed.

    CPU is the chip. The case is the box that contains the actual computer.


    Technically, the CPU is only part of the processor.  If my textbooks lie, please inform me otherwise.  I call the computer (case, other hardware inside, etc) the CPU because that's what my father, Mr. I think I've had a Virus for the Past Week and am only Just Now Telling You Or Doing Anything About It, called it when he first brought home the first family computer.  Minds are so impressionable when they're 10. ;-)

    But bad example, though.  My orginal point was that no matter what, you're stuck: If you use to low a term, you're talking down to the user, and if you use a term only slightly more technical you confuse them.

    The solution is to call everything 'That thingie'. You know, that thingie in the big thing. Where you put the other thingie, you know.

    This has the side benefit that people will stop asking you for advise and help. =D


  • @Rodyland said:


    Me: Look at the mouse.  There are two buttons on it.  Which one did you press.
    lUser: The left one.

    I had this problem once with someone who couldn't grasp the idea of a 'right-click'...

    Me:  Ok sir, if a 'right' click is the left mouse button, what would a right-button click be?

    Customer:  A wrong-click?

    Me: Good enough.  Wrong-click the icon and choose 'properties'...

    As soon as he associated a 'wrong-click' he got it.  But this guy also took two reboots (and a lot of swearing) that he had windows 95, but didn't have a 'my computer' on his desktop.  So I asked him the second time when he rebooted what the splash screen said...<sarcastic southern drawl> Windows three point won won. </sarcastic southern drawl>  [^o)]

     



  • @masklinn said:

    Anyone who has to do helpdesk work (and that
    DOES include helping your mom/gf/whatever) should setup an account to
    this thing, the only things you get to ask the client being: go to page
    XXX, download the file, launch the file and you take control of the
    computer.



    Don't forget to to tell the IT/Admins on both sides what you are about
    to do or they will come screaming at you and your client with vengnce
    in their eyes.






  • @paranoidgeek said:

    http://tinyurl.com/73aeb

    Most people i know call those CPUs.





    Oh, oh, u are SOOOOO just showing off now....

    bloddy 64bit chips....



  • I have to work with users “afraid of their computers” everyday. I think that is the basic problem with every programmer/user conversation: we forget how it feels to be in front of a machine we don’t understand. It’s intimidating. Most of the time, the users will do little tasks that they are used to do and no more. When it bugs, they tend to panic, they get afraid that if they try to do anything else, they might make things worse. They want to make sure that we don’t consider them stupid for getting the bug in the first place (“what did I do wrong?!!”) . In a state of mind like that, they will be on the defensive, demanding and irritated. You have to talk to them to convince them that you know that they are not moron and that sometimes computers can be intimidating for somebody who don’t really know how it works. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p></o:p>

     <o:p></o:p>

    Also, when you asks questions, give examples of answer so they will we able to understand more what you are asking.<o:p></o:p>

     <o:p></o:p>

    For example:

    <o:p></o:p> 

    “<o:p></o:p>

    Thank you for your answer. I tried to reproduce the problem that you are facing in order to fix it but I will need more information, if you could be so kind. The occurrence of a problem can depend on a lot of factors (your type of computer, if you are using Internet Explorer or another program to go in the internet, etc.) and it is possible that that is the reason why I was not able to reproduce the problem yet.  I would need you to answer a few questions for me so I can quickly fix the problem. If you don’t know the answer to one or more of these questions, please do not hesitate to contact me so I can help you find it. <o:p></o:p>

     <o:p></o:p>

    -          What program are you using to go on the internet ? (Ex. Internet Explorer, Netscape, Opera, FireFox, etc. )<o:p></o:p>

    -          What were you trying to buy, in what quantity ?<o:p></o:p>

    -          What was the last page you were able to see that seemed correct to you? (What buttons were there on it, or can you give me some text that was on the page?)<o:p></o:p>

    -          Can you describe in the best way possible all the steps you followed to get to the error page? (Ex. Enter the payment information. Click on the button “send”. Get the message “The order was successfully sent.”. Click on “check-out”. The page appears.)<o:p></o:p>

    -          Can you give me the exact message you get on the error page? (If possible, select all the text with your mouse, click on Edit in the menu at the top of the screen, select “Copy”, go in the email you will send me, click where you want to paste the text with the right button of you mouse, select “Paste”. )<o:p></o:p>

     <o:p></o:p>

    Thank you for your time and if you have questions, please do not hesitate.<o:p></o:p>

     <o:p></o:p>

    “<o:p></o:p>

     <o:p></o:p>

    I hope this can help! <o:p></o:p>



  • Have you ever seen...

     

    I wonder how fast it should be...

    Dreams ... dreams... :)

     

    @sao said:

    @paranoidgeek said:
    http://tinyurl.com/73aeb

    Most people i know call those CPUs.



    Oh, oh, u are SOOOOO just showing off now....
    bloddy 64bit chips....



  • @Rodyland said:

    ...either haven't had to deal with users, or are lucky enough to have users of above dimwit intelligence.

    Yep.  I'm not helpdesk, I'm a developer, but our healthcare organization had a huge, sprawling website with hundreds of interlinked web applications on it (now converted a portal, thank goodness).  The page headers all had a link to let the user email the company to report problems.  The email address was the generic webmaster@mycompany.com and it was distributed to a number of people including me.

    One day we received a classic that got printed and pinned up on the Wall or Shame.  It said, in its entirety:

    "APP IS NOT WORKING."

    > select * from Users where Clue > 0
    > 0 rows returned



  • @XoK said:

    Have you ever seen...

     

    I wonder how fast it should be...

    Dreams ... dreams... :)

     


    Man. I only have 1 gig RAM.

    Imagine these in the mainstream market at, say, $3000 apiece, and packaged like mac mini's: without any peripherals.

    3D Games would not have to rely on tricks anymore, but could raytrace and do GI in real-time.

    hee hee hee



    Now imagine a package such a this, but with quantum chips.

    Which brings me to this important pondering:
    If you have a quantum computer, would an accidental infinite loop bring it down, or would it be able to finish it?


  • @dhromed said:


    Which brings me to this important pondering:
    If you have a quantum computer, would an accidental infinite loop bring it down, or would it be able to finish it?

    Nahhh.. it's so fast it would jump conditions and make range check errors :)

    Altough, raytrace and do GI in real-time seems fun! :)

     

    Have a small render farm at work with 12 pcs @ 3Ghz, power consumption is about 3.500 Watts, that machine would be cheaper in long term on a 24x7 enviroment!

    Today we have have to reply more on power consumption than on speed...

     

     



  • @dhromed said:


    Which brings me to this important pondering:
    If you have a quantum computer, would an accidental infinite loop bring it down, or would it be able to finish it?


    or can it infinite loop, while continuing processing other calls in a parrallel dimension,
    thereby never finishing the infinite loop, but continuing normal function as well....



  • @dhromed said:

    @KenW said:
    @dhromed said:
    So then they have a little piece of software installed that grants Anyone All access at Any time?


    Nope. It's a run-once type app that deletes itself from the machine when your session ends. You should really check it out.


    Hmmm. : )

     

    We use a program called 'Netviewer' here. It works through port 80 and for each session our side has to manually give their side a session number. Without this number you cannot connect to a session, and the other side must manually run the client software. The client software is just an EXE though, so they download the file (zipped perhaps), run it, call us, we start a session, give them the number and all is well (or should be..).

     

    Drak


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