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Roses and Oil Changes: Perception vs. Reality in IT

Aug 22, 2013

Roses and Oil Changes: Perception vs. Reality in IT

There’s a scene in the movie Annie Hall where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s characters are seeing their therapists, who each ask them how often they have sex. Woody Allen’s character says, “Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week.” Diane Keaton’s character says, “Constantly! I'd say three times a week!”

This is an important insight on how you do your job as an IT professional.

It all has to do with perception and reality.

Let’s say you want to gauge how well your department is providing IT support to users. Well, you say, I have so many tech support people, and the average response time is such and such, so that demonstrates the department is doing pretty well. But all you need are a couple of people who had a bad experience -- even if it wasn’t your fault or something you were responsible for -- and you can end up tagged with a bad reputation. Miss a phone call, and “They’re never around.” Take too long to solve a problem and “They’re slow.” Tell them they can’t host their cat blog on a company server and “They’re not responsive to user needs.”

Unfortunately, perception usually wins. Why is that? Perhaps perception is emotional, and reality is intellectual. And the emotional mind usually trumps the intellectual one. As author Maya Angelou says, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” So if you made your users feel angry or disappointed or stupid, they’re going to remember that, regardless of how many graphs and statistics you show them about how well your department is actually doing.

Moreover, people in general are more likely to share bad experiences than good ones. According to research from Dimensional Research earlier this year, 95% of respondents who have had a bad experience said they told someone about it, compared to 87% who shared a good experience. So because the unhappy people are sharing their experiences more than the happy ones, it can create the perception that more people are unhappy about your department than there really are. (Also known as “Squeaky Wheel.”)

Part of the problem is undefined terms of engagement.  It’s helpful, for example, to determine what your users actually find important. Do they just want the problem fixed as quickly as possible, or do they want someone to vent to about the stupidity of the software? That can affect your decision about whether to use an automated phone system or a live operator who can commiserate with them before opening up a trouble ticket.  Do they want you to fix it, or are they protective of their computers and just want to know how to handle it themselves? This can affect how your tech support people respond to problems -- do you dispatch an agent, or point the user to a FAQ?

It’s like the wife who says she wants romance in her marriage, but to her, “romance” means getting a dozen roses, while to the husband, “romance” means he changes her oil without her having to ask him. Neither definition is wrong by itself, but if you get a mismatch, then you’ve got a perception and reality problem. Do your users want roses, or do they want their oil changed? You need to find out.

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