The Communications Committee recently released a comprehensive report about the Communications Survey they did. You can read it here. Their survey got a very high response rate (almost 2/3 of our 409 residents), and it produced many interesting facts about our communication channels, but most of all about our digital communications. We are a remarkably connected bunch.
On March 24 at 7:15, the committee will make a presentation (in the auditorium and via Zoom) on the survey results. There will also be an opportunity for Q&A. Watch for the details on the KRA website.
Here, I will deal with only one issue among the many raised by the report: tech support.
An “outpouring of pleas and suggestions”. On page 31 of the report, there is a summary of some of the areas where improvement is desired. The very first item concerns tech support. Here is what the committee wrote:
“There was an outpouring of pleas and suggestions for help to be available on campus to help residents more effectively use their computers and related devices. Expressions of needed help ranged from hardware issues to basic skills in using a computer, to working with different applications—search engines, Zoom, YouTube—in common use within the community. Most residents have an e-mail address but a substantial number are uncomfortable or feel inadequate in using the digital world. This may require a multi-pronged effort to respond to the variety of needs expressed by residents.”
What the report reveals above all (and what the quote above reflects) is that we are a computer-dependent population with a serious need for tech support. The vast majority of us use email, Zoom, word processing, Google, and a few web sites (especially the KRA website, www.kalresweb.org). But most of us, at one time or another, need help with the technology. Our computers are a mix of Apple and Windows, our problems cover a broad range from really simple to extremely complex, and our ability to understand and remember the solutions when we are shown them covers an even broader range. It would be hard for Kendal to provide good support for all of that variety.
I have an idea for one possible way good support could be provided using an approach that involves both staff and residents.
Escalation and tiered support. About 10 years ago (in what turned out to be an unwise career choice), I worked for 2 1/2 years for a company that provided telephone tech support. Our clients were mostly large corporations, universities, and government agencies. I didn’t like the pressure and the low pay, but I did learn a lot about tech support during my time on the phones. One key concept was the idea of “escalation”.
At some of our client companies, there was a help desk that provided very basic support for a short list of possible problems. If that help desk could not immediately solve the problem, it was “escalated” to my company for more advanced support.
The term we used for the client’s help desk was “Tier 1 support”. My company acted as “Tier 2 support”.
We could use a two-tier system here at Kendal. I think Tier 1 support could easily be handled by resident volunteers (another committee!), with a bit of training. The volunteers would know how to deal with most problems on a short list. If the problem went beyond that, it could be escalated to a Kendal employee, who would act as Tier 2 support (or the resident with the problem could call on a paid outside service, if that was their preference). The Kendal employee might also be involved in training the volunteers.
What might the Tier 1 problems be? In setting up a two-tier system, there would have to be a clear understanding about what problems the Tier1 volunteers were supposed to know about. Here is one possible list of issues suitable for Tier 1:
- My computer has stopped working
- My internet connection has stopped working
- I can’t launch my copy of Word/Chrome/Zoom
- I can’t access the KRA website
- When I’m in Zoom, I can’t unmute/show my video/raise my hand/see everyone/increase the volume /use the chat feature/see subtitles
- My printer won’t print
- My keyboard/mouse has stopped working
- A file I was working on has disappeared
- I took a picture with my phone. How do I get it into an email on my computer?
- I need everything on the screen to be bigger
Of course, this is just one possible list. Other people would have other ideas, and the Tier 1 committee could decide on the list, in conjunction with the Tier 2 staff person.
I imagine that, for each of the items, there could be a checklist of things for the Tier 1 volunteer to check. For example, if the mouse isn’t working, the checklist might be:
- Does the red light on the bottom of the mouse turn on?
- Is the window in the bottom of the mouse clean?
- If it is a wired mouse, is the USB cord plugged in?
- If it is a wireless mouse, try replacing the battery.
- Try a different mouse. [I assume each volunteer would be equipped with a spare one.]
- Try using a mouse pad. [Again, I assume the volunteer would bring one.]
If the problem is not resolved using the checklist, it’s probably time to call in the Tier 2 person.
I think it would also be natural for the volunteer committee members, if they were interested, to provide occasional training sessions on commonly-used programs.
What do others think about this approach to tech support? Please add your comments in the “Leave a reply” space below.
An interesting concept and one we should explore further as we pursue this issue.
I’m familiar with the Tiered support and support the idea but have these concerns:
1) recently I needed support for an on-line banking issue. When the first tier couldn’t solve the problem he transferred me to the second tier. I was on ‘hold’ listening to scratchy music for over 12 minutes before I gave up and hung up to try another day. Perhaps if we do tiers here the resident can be offered to be called back by Tier 2 rather than being put on hold.
2) when transferred to Tier 2 I need to start all over to explain the problem. There is no transfer of information about the problem, nor of what has already been tried to solve the problem. When I get assertive I ask the Tier 1 person to be the one to speak to Tier 2 to explain the problem in succinct tech lingo, as well as what has been tried and does not work to solve it. Sometimes this can be done, and sometimes not. If we are building a system here this could be part of routine practices (for Tier 1 to do the explaining to Tier 2).
Excellent comments, Arlene. In my vision for the best implementation of this, all Tier 1 support would be in person, and the Tier 1 volunteer would be the person who puts in the call to the Tier 2 person (making it more likely that the problem is properly explained).
Tier 2 support could also be in person in many cases.
Your ideas sound sensible to me.
One of our problems is that of communication between our Apple users and our PC users. This messes up the transfer of documents and of instruction/training. Any ideas on how to solve this one?
I have seen two main issues due to Apple/Windows differences, and both could be handled in the framework I’m suggesting.
One is the difference in interfaces and operating systems: a person who knows how to do something (e.g. locating a file) on a Mac may not be able to help someone with the same problem on a PC. The other is with file formats: if you save something in the Mac’s “page” format, for example, chances are a PC user won’t be able to open it.
To solve the first problem, it will be important to either train volunteers on both platforms, or separate them into Mac specialists and PC specialists. To solve the second problem, it will be important to train users to save files in a fairly universal format (Word or PDF, for example) if they want the file to be shared.
Thanks George and others. I think of George’s blog as NPR for KCC residents. George brings us accurate, thoughtfully considered information, reliable analysis, and insight that helps us understand implications and relevant issues. And there are no fund raisers! Regarding the timely concept of “tiered support,” a few questions:
1. Should or shouldn’t KCC be spreading the cost of technology support across the entire community? Before demanding that KCC provide the expertise and labor that’s needed, let’s remember that KCC has no resources for adding such an employee other than what KCC receives from residents’ monthly fees. My guess is that wealthier residents (on average) own more tech devices than residents without much discretionary income. And thus might need more help (on average) than others. Is spreading the cost of tech help (via KCC monthly fees for ALL residents a values-appropriate response to solving the tech problems of only some residents?
2. If KCC seems headed toward deciding the question (above), should we ask the KRA Board to consider the matter first, before any recommendation is given to KCC?
3. Might re-imagining KRA’s existing tech service (tech-savvy residents helping tech-troubled residents) — perhaps through adapting George’s tiered service concept– be a good way forward? That approach would not load higher monthly fees onto small-unit residents (and all others).
4. KRA’s successful ZOOM initiative (which was key in preserving community here through the COVID years) leads me to feel that there’s sufficient tech-talent residents at Kendal to help the rest of us. But is there the will to organize it in such a way that both helping and providing the help will be satisfying and sustainable?
5. And how might George’s blog (or a blog of some sort) be an additional platform for serving residents with tech snafus? I think I’m not not the only resident who finds George’s blog posts easy to read, reply to, and revisit. unlike the exchange-of-ideas feature that Kalresweb offers.
Good thoughts, Harry, and thanks for the kind words about the blog.
To your specific suggestions:
1. I think we’d need to consider carefully how to distribute the cost of support, if it is not part of the basic monthly fee. You are suggesting that those with the most technology might need the most support, but I have observed that it is often those with the least technology that have the greatest need for tech support when they have problems with their (few) devices. Those with more (and more sophisticated) devices may also tend to know more about them and may actually need less tech support; so It could be that those with the least ability to pay need the most support.
2. KRA board consideration would be a good idea. Members of our web and Zoom teams should also be consulted: they are among the most tech-savvy people here.
3. A two-tier system with residents involved in both tiers makes sense (assuming we can find the volunteers for tier 2). But before asking them to address every problem, it would be worth discussing whether there are problems that we would rather not have any resident dealing with, even if they are “tier 2” problem solvers. Now and then, the solution to a problem can involve tasks I would prefer to leave to the pros, either on staff or outside. (For some examples, try Googling “is it dangerous to edit the registry?”.)
4. You raise a key question: “is there the will to organize it in such a way that both helping and providing the help will be satisfying and sustainable?” This needs to be explored. I would just say that (in my opinion) providing general tech support is a far harder task than acting as a Zoom host or editing a web site. Recruiting the volunteers and training them will probably be harder. I’d be interested in hearing other opinions on this.
I do think that holding training sessions for different software products (email, Word, Zoom, Excel, PowerPoint, …) would be both practical and popular. Those sessions could also provide an opportunity for troubleshooting problems with those particular products only.
5. My blog or a similar forum would be one venue for dealing with technical problems. The difficulty I foresee is that it would be pretty rare for two residents to have the exact same problem, so the answers posted there would not necessarily help anyone other than the person asking the question. Just to answer the question “how do I know if I can receive Channel 9 on my TV?” would require a fairly long blog post. Computer and phone problems tend to be much more complicated and device-specific, of course. So the danger would be lots of long posts that help hardly anyone.