Let's look at a fairly common problem, that the users I support at work often ring in with.

Support Staff - "Help Desk, how can I help you?"

User - "Hi there. Um, I can't print. I was printing ok earlier on, but it's stopped working."

Support Staff - "Ok, first thing I'll get you to do, is go to the start menu, up to settings, and select printers."

User - "Huh?"

Support Staff - "The button on the bottom left of your screen, that says start. Click on that. Then click on the folder that says settings. When another menu opens to the right, click on the folder called printers. That's going to open a new window, called printers."

User - "Ok, I've done that."

Support Staff - "Alright, now from the list of printers you can see there, right click on the printer you normally use, and select properties."

User - "Huh..?"

Ok, so perhaps the support person in that example should have twigged to the fact that they were going to have to talk this user through everything, and give detailed instructions on how to carry out basic tasks - the problem remains the same however. When someone who is not too confident using computers goes to get some help, chances are their first conversation is going to be filled with technical jargon, that may as well be in a different language. And let's face it, if you were a brand new computer user, you'd probably be confused as well.

Ever been trying to get someone to open Windows Explorer over the phone? I don't know about you, but I tend to just call it 'explorer'. The user's main exposure to explorer at work? Internet Explorer. How can this not be confusing to someone? Ok, now when you're the type of user who knows how to turn the computer on, enter your password, and open up the applications that you use daily, there aren't really too many different things you use the computer for every day. There are things that machine can do, that you didn't have any idea about. Every day, you boot it up, and double-click on the icons that take you to where you need to be. Then someone asks you to right-click on an icon. Huh? So you learn about right-clicking on an icon, and another menu comes up. Someone asks you to click on a menu option, and you click on it with the right hand mouse button again - nothing happens. Well, you had to use the right hand mouse button to get the menu up, you must use the right mouse button in the menu too right?

And these are just the most basic of issues that normal people run into when using their computers. They're all real life examples - I've run into them more than once before. The thing that you look at on the screen is the desktop - it's always just been the screen to you. People are talking about task bars, and start menus, status bars - and I don't have any idea what happened, but all of a sudden that bar's down the right hand side of the screen! WFT?!

The thing is, that people start to use their own terms for different parts of the computer, and they're comfortable with their terminology. When Judge told me today that she'd saved an important document onto 'the brain', I was perfectly happy. I managed to figure out, by talking to her, that her document was safe and sound in her home drive on the main file server. The network drives, that people could share, that was available no matter where she travelled to, that everyone was constantly told to save all their work onto - that was the brain. Another one I constantly get, when telling a user (normally after a crash) that they were going to have to switch their computer off at the power switch, is something like "you mean the blue button on the hard drive?" So now the black box is the hard drive, to their way of thinking. Well, they're hearing all these foreign terms, and they're gonna get mashed together somewhere along the way. They press the button - nothing happens. The computer must be really broken... Nope - although you just press the button to turn it on in the morning, if you're turning it off at the switch, you have to hold it in for five or six seconds. How many on/off switches do you come across in your everyday lives that behave like this?

The thing is, if as a tech support person you can get past the ingrained need to refer to the parts of the computer, and the associated operating system term, by their correct names, you can make life so much easier. For both yourself and the user you're helping. So the network drives the user has access to isn't actually called 'the brain' - so what? As long as you know that you're both talking about the same thing, you've suddenly created a situation where you're both speaking the same language. Rather than a barrage of words and phrases that mean nothing to them, the user is hearing words that they understand, and they've got an understanding of what you're talking about, and what you need them to do.

I've found that this is a situation that feeds upon itself. Maybe this is the only time they've ever spoken to a tech support person that seemed to understand them, and spoke in words that meant something to them. So they go away, more confident than before, because they can follow the instructions they've been given. The same problem occurs, some time in the future. And they remember what it was you said last time, because they're not grasping for words and terms that they didn't really understand at the time, and sure as hell don't remember now.

Once you are able to talk to your users in a language they understand, and the computer on the desk in front of them is no longer something they don't understand in the slightest, it's incredible what people can achieve. I've helped a certain Judge in the past, when his printer wouldn't work. Turned out it was set to offline mode, but he was most impressed that I managed to fix it so easily. That same Judge impressed the hell out of all of us a little while later. It's a couple of weeks after we've rolled out brand new computers, along with an upgrade of OS from Windows 95, to Windows 2000. Part of the new build is Sametime Connect:

Ben - Gets a new Sametime message on his system, it's from the Judge, asking for some help.

Ben - Starts to help the Judge through the chat window, and apologises if he's being a bit slow replying - he's also helping someone over the phone at the same time.

Judge - Replies to this message - he understands his difficulty. Understands it quite well - because he's sending the message from in the Court room, and he's hearing a case at the same time...

Blew us all away, let me tell you.