There's a "but" coming, though. I knew you could sense that.
First, a bit of a level-set: The vast majority of folks are nice as can be. They say please and thank you, and I know they genuinely appreciate whatever I can do. I'd spend every spare minute working with these people, because it makes me feel great to know I can get them going again. They represent 99.9% of the folks I deal with. So, no, chances are you're just fine.
Unfortunately, some folks - let's call them the other 0.1% - aren't fine. Sometimes, they're not as nice about the whole process as they probably could be. Sometimes, they can be annoying, selfish, or a little bit of both. And because I'm Canadian, I'm going to assume they have no awareness of their oafish conduct (or read this blog, or subscribe to my Twitter feed, or...) So please indulge me for a bit as I run down a few common-sense rules to keep in mind when approaching your friendly personal help desk person:
- Be polite to me. Say please, thank you, and any other word of kindness you can come up with. I don't need you to fawn all over me, but I could also do without outright rudeness, too. I'm also not averse to the occasional smile when we speak. Show that you care. And even if you don't, please pretend to. Because I have a lot more fun working with friendly folks than unfriendly ones. Oh, and don't ever - and I do mean ever - treat me like the hired help. Please.
- Be polite to my family. I'm usually not the first person to reach the phone when it rings (shoot me, I'm slow.) If my wife answers, for example, and you rudely brush her off in your panicked quest to get to me, I can guarantee you she won't be pleased. Neither will I. Believe me when I say I completely understand your frustration. We've all been there, after all. But don't take it out on anyone around me. Oh, and don't treat my wife like the help, either.
- Respect my time. If you call me all breathless because your kid flushed your BlackBerry for the third time this week, please listen to my initial response. If I tell you I'm preparing for a conference call in three minutes, kindly recognize that my need to earn a livelihood for my wife and kids trumps your smartphone emergency. Similarly, if I tell you the flu-like symptoms I've been experiencing preclude my talking on the phone right now, please let me get off the phone before I lose my lunch in the middle of the living room. Allow me to set a time and method that'll let me ponder your issue and get back to you in an appropriate manner. If you make me miss that call - or that interview, or that tuck-in - we're going to have a problem.
- Respect my sleep. Kindly limit your calls to the usual times when my family would likely be awake. 7:05 a.m. on Sunday or after midnight during the week? Unless someone died, my phone really shouldn't be ringing then. I'm pretty sure your frozen iPad can wait till morning. Much later in the morning.
- Get back to me. Please have the courtesy of letting me know at some future point in time how everything worked out. Did my suggestions solve your problem? I can't tell you how many times I've carefully crafted detailed answers in email only to have the recipient never respond in kind. See Rule #1: I don't do this for anything in return, but even a quick "thank-you" or "got it" would be enough. I have negative free time as it is. If you can't take the time to close the loop, I can guarantee you I won't make the same mistake twice.
- Listen to me. If I ask you to try something, try it. Time and again, I'll make suggestion after suggestion, only to have my advice ignored. Inevitably, the phone rings a few minutes, hours or even weeks later because It's Still Not Working. I'm trying to help you. If you have no intention of listening to me, please let me know in advance so I can reallocate my time accordingly.
- Don't monopolize me. If you bump into me when I'm out and about, please try to avoid peppering me with one question after another, or buttonholing me with stories of your latest tech disaster. When you steal me for the 20 minutes when I'd rather just be chatting with my wife or watching my kids do whatever it is that they do, you're stealing 20 minutes I'm not going to get back. I don't want to sound rude, but this is my only free time. And I don't really care how many hours you've put into the latest Call of Duty episode, or that you're still mulling over that laptop purchase you've been nagging me about for the last six months. I'll nod my head politely because, well, I'm being polite. But secretly, you're really ticking me off.
- Don't one-up me. I occasionally get questions from folks who want to prove how tech-savvy they are, and more nastily want to knock the vaunted geek guy down a peg. Go ahead and have your fun, but recognize that I do this because I really want to help, not because I need to get into a pissing match with anyone. If you're going to violate the spirit of the thing - namely that I just want to help good folks who want and need it - then find someone else's time to waste.
- Don't try to grow my market. I often get calls and emails from people I don't know. Or from someone who lived three doors down from me when I was a toddler and heard from a friend of of a friend that I know a thing or two about computers. If you're a well-meaning friend, please don't give out my contact information to anyone because "Carmi will help anyone." Feel free to let me know who these near-strangers are, and allow me to decide how to proceed.
- No proxies. Don't leave detailed messages with my wife, my kids, or my mother. If you have a question for me, then ask me directly. Please don't rope anyone else into it and please don't force any of them to take down detailed messages outlining the recent changes to your registry and their potential impact on system performance.
- No guilt. If you leave me a message and I don't get back to you Right Now, resist the urge to leave a second, nastier message. And when you get me live, do not berate me for not being immediately available. I work long hours. My schedule is often rather unpredictable. I'm usually fighting one deadline after another. I'm not always successful in doing so. Sometimes I get home long after the kids are in bed and wonder what the hell happened that day. I'm likely not ignoring you. Rather, I'm simply doing what I need to do to get by. Kinda like you. Don't guilt me for not dropping everything to rocket your request to the top of my priority list.
- Don't slag me if it doesn't work out. I'm not omniscient. Sometimes, I can't fix it. Sometimes I'll recommend that your 13-year-old first-generation Pentium machine running Windows 98 really should be put out of its misery because, no, it just can't handle the latest version of PhotoShop. Respect my judgment when I tell you your only viable option is a trip to the Best Buy for some new hardware.
- If you know someone better, please feel free to call him. Or her. Everyone's got a brilliant-but-socially-challenged teenaged nephew who "just knows everything about computers." If you're going to ask me for help out of one side of your mouth, and brag about how he'd solve your little problem "in two seconds flat", then please feel free to redirect your request his way*. If he's a wiz with Windows 98-running Pentium machines, he's your guy. And no worries, I promise I won't be offended.
- Pay it forward. As you've likely guessed, I'd never charge friends or family for any of this, as it's just not my thing to think of this as anything but a freebie. That said, I hope my taking the time to help makes enough of an impression that those I help are inspired to assist others as well. Say yes when others ask your for help, any help, and step forward to offer whenever the opportunity presents itself. It's a pretty good feeling, and the world needs more sharing.
Your turn: Thoughts?
* This, and all scenarios touched on here, actually happened to me. Names and other identifiable specifics have been deleted to protect the oafish.