I’m going to be honest with you straight up: I’m not an IT expert. In fact, I’m pretty much the opposite – I’m a humanities graduate. I write poetry. My day job is washing dishes in a sandwich deli. So the experiences I’m writing about here are from a few years ago, when I somehow ended up working on an email helpline for students struggling with online graduation wizards, university accounts and any other computer issue related to my university.
I did this work for two years, but I was only actually needed during enrolment and registration time so it maybe added up to 4 months altogether. In this time, the main things I learned were:
People can be incredibly rude when they’re stressed.
This is the case in pretty much any customer-facing role: if the person you’re trying to help is already stressed out, they’re going to be a jerk. It doesn’t matter how helpful or cheerful you are. You could put your job at risk to try and make them happy, and they’ll still act like you’re the worst person in the world.
Working in tech support of any kind, you come up with a very specific branch of this. The person you’re trying to help will be hyperaware that the source of all of their problems is something that’s actually been designed to make someone’s life easier, and this creates a sense of outrage. It’s something I get too, when my phone is being uncooperative, but I somehow always forgot that when someone I was helping was being unreasonable.
This isn’t your fault (unless it is your fault, in which case you’d better pray you can fix this before your supervisor finds out). Just try to turn the other cheek, and remember that there are actually nice people out there. You just probably won’t get to meet them.
There’s also a second source of unpleasantness going on here, because there’s a pretty good chance whoever you’re helping has tried to solve this problem themselves and failed. They’re quite possibly contacting you while feeling slightly insecure or embarrassed, possibly concerned you’ll laugh at their errors or tell them they’re stupid for not figuring this out. (If you are actually the person contacting IT support, try not to fret because…)
Most of the issues students face when attempting to enrol are a result of their schools messing up timetables.
The student and the system are very rarely at fault.
This one is particular to support provided to students enrolling at university. Maybe even particular to students enrolling at my university. I don’t know much about online support outside of that field, but it sounds a lot like people are very often at fault there.
Anyway, if you’re completing the registration wizard for QUB and happen to come across a major stumbling block – especially if it happens while you’re signing up for classes – chances are you’ve done nothing wrong. Try again, read the instructions carefully and check you’re taking the right number of modules for the right semesters, then email Reghelp or email your school.
If it’s an enrolment issue, there’s a strong chance we’ll just end up forwarding your email to your school with the message “Please refer to student email below” because many of the issues people have happen because their school has put the wrong module information in, or hasn’t term activated the student, or something like that. Remember that the people in charge of timetabling are just that – people – and people mess up, especially at one of the busiest times in the academic year.
That said, it’s still generally best to email Reghelp or your university’s equivalent before or at-the-same-time-as your school, because there might be another issue that we can deal with rather than heaping an unnecessary load of work onto someone else.
If in doubt, forward everything to the finance department.
The finance department pretty much hated my team. But people care about money, so a lot of the questions we got really were more relevant to the finance team. Honest!
A lot of people really aren’t any good at keeping private things private.
Waaaaaaay too many people emailing the helpline had clearly just had enough of the online wizard etc and wanted someone else to just fix it for them. And that’s perfectly understandable! Enrolling at university for the first time feels like a really, really big deal, and having part of that not go smoothly can feel like the end of the world. I felt that way when I was enrolling too.
But no matter how stressed out you are, you must never, ever email your login details to a complete stranger. So many people emailed reghelp in a complete panic and included their student number and password. I totally understand the reasoning here, but it’s not a good idea. We can’t log into your account for you. The minute your password pops up in an email, we need to make sure we can’t see it. If we forward your email, we block it out for you so nobody else can see it.
Realistically, nobody who would use that login information to get up to mischief would be working for Reghelp. But you can’t be 100% certain of that, and you don’t want to end up in that tiny teeny percentage that end up in difficulty because someone else got their login details.
Anything we need to do in order to help, we can do from our staff accounts – we just need your student number to find your account. If it’s something we can’t do with our accounts, it means we don’t have clearance. But that just means we forward it to someone higher up who does have access.
So what would I like you to take away from this ramble?
It’s okay to get stressed out by your computer. Everyone gets stressed out by technology. Just try to be polite when you ask for help, because the responses you get to your emails come from people, not robots.
Never send your password or other sensitive information to someone you don’t know. If they’re willing to use it to log in to your account, they shouldn’t have access in the first place.
And please, stay calm. Grab a cup of tea. Listen to your favourite song. I promise, your issue will be resolved. Use your waiting time to do a bit of self-care!
This post was written as a response to the Daily Prompt on 23/11/17: Gremlins.