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Wait -- you can have happy users?!

Are you tired of users yelling at you all the time? Here’s how to make friends out of haters.

Conflicts between IT and business users may seem inevitable. Technology breaks. Nerves fray. Users yell. And IT folks bristle. The two sides come to see each other as incompetent, rude, and an unwelcome intrusion in their day.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In his presentation at SpiceWorld 2018, “Wait! You can have happy users?!” Jesse Lewis, IT director at the Association for Manufacturing Technology, asserted, “Yes, you can. And the only thing you have to change is what you are doing.” AMT represents and promotes U.S.-based manufacturing technology members.

Summon your inner bartender

That may be easier said than done when emotions are high.

“Sometimes not engaging is the best reaction,” Lewis said. However, there are ways to turn around most conflicts. For example, don’t be defensive, wait until emotions cool before you respond, and empathize with the user’s frustration.

“Be like a bartender,” advises Brian McNamara, an IT consultant. “Always be positive and supportive; do not belittle, embarrass, or talk down to users. They are there for a reason and to perform a function of the company.” In other words, value their place as you want them to value yours.

That means you also need to be as accessible as a bartender.

Start by eliminating any seemingly obvious but often overlooked problems in communication. “You can’t email if you don’t have Internet,” said Lewis. That means users have to have multiple ways to reach the tech staff.

When you meet with or serve users, do your best to come across as more friend than foe. “Be approachable at all times,” Lewis added. That extends to physical interactions: “It’s important to watch your body posture, your eye and eyebrow movements, your tone of voice, and the movement of your hands and arms."

Treat your user’s time as the most valuable commodity in the business. “Respond quickly, resolve issues quickly, and show them you value their time,” says Carl Mazzanti, owner of IT consultancy eMazzanti Technologies.

That means you need to improve your own soft skills. Deflate harsh emotions by acknowledging them. Then you and the user are free to move forward in finding a fix.

“Let them get it all out before you respond,” says Mazzanti. “Angry users need to vent. Acknowledge their pain with phrases like ‘Ouch,’ ‘That’s awful,’ and ‘I understand why you’re so concerned.’ Once they have said their piece, you can begin to solve the problem.”

Making friends out of haters

It’s best to avoid conflict by establishing healthy team relationships before technical problems occur. However, while everyone in business is quick to talk “team,” the reality is often a little less “we” and a little more “me and mine.”

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“Historically, there has been friction between IT organizations and its users,” says Alan Zucker, founding principal of consultancy Project Management Essentials. Among the causes of the friction is tribal perceptions and misconceptions in the two communities. “Users see IT as being nonresponsive. IT sees users as being not understanding and demanding.”

Changing those perceptions means changing processes and dynamics. You might want to start by doing the Gemba Walk.

“The Gemba Walk comes from Toyota lean manufacturing and is Japanese for ‘in the place,’” says Zucker. “It has come to mean that managers, IT, or support people spend time on the front lines seeing how their applications or processes are actually used. There is nothing more powerful than seeing a user struggle with a process that was supposed to be straightforward.”

When you observe firsthand how users actually experience your “solution” and how technology is performing in their hands, you can serve them better. You can rectify problems as they happen, or at least design real solutions early in design and deployment—possibly even before furious users come knocking on your door.

That’s especially true if you let users know you’re serious about being proactive in problem-solving.

“So much of what happens in the IT world is perceived as being behind the curtain,” says Doug West, assistant vice president of information services at the University of Richmond. “Come out from behind the curtain. Be transparent with your decision-making processes." That’s not to say that IT and the user community need to make every single decision by a committee. However, West advises, “Be open and honest about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Engage the user or customer community and allow feedback.” If you get feedback, pay attention. It may be raw and rough, but it is still information you must respond to.

Empathizing with user frustration moves you from opponent to friend in their mind, which is to say, creates the team dynamic you seek.

To cement relationships further, look for more opportunities to interact on a personal level in situations that don’t center on tech problems. “We throw an annual party for our users at a fun, memorable location. Everyone has a good time, and we get to know them better in an informal setting,” says Mazzanti.

Your side is my side

Walking the Gemba Walk, colocating with users for more in-person interactions, and the occasional party go far in building trust and team relationships. However, ultimately, users have to know that you are always on their side.

One way to do that is to ensure that the help desk actually helps. “Train your front-line people to provide real service to the user or customer that needs help. If 50 percent of your traffic involves resetting passwords, then make sure that the front-line person can reset passwords,” adds West.

Identify problems quickly—with compassion to the users’ frustration—and escalate them when necessary. “See it through,” West says. “Follow up with the escalation team, follow up with the user, own it until the problem is successfully resolved.”

Then, fix the reoccurring issues rather than allowing both sides to continue fuming over them.

How to make your users happy: Lessons for leaders

  • Be like a bartender: Listen to users like a confidant instead of a combatant.
  • Observe technology as they encounter it, and proactively address the issues.
  • Pull back the IT curtain, which means being transparent about tech decisions and your efforts to solve problems.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.