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One small experience, can you learn from this?

I was talking with a friend the other day who also works in SAP. He related a story that happened to him not too long ago where a user complained that a pop-up text box was not working properly. This user was quite adamant that the program was defective. He was also quite rude to my friend saying “You better get somebody down here to fix this right away”

Being an SAP professional, my friend first thought “Well, what version of SAPGui  is he working on?” He called his user and went through the steps to identify which version of the GUI the user was on. The user was on the correct version. He then asked the user if he would attempt to execute the text box from another computer. The user was unhappy with the suggestion. “You mean I have to wait for somebody else to come in so that I can use their computer?” My friend explained that if we eliminated the possibility of an error on his system, that is if he were able to execute the text box on someone else’s computer, we would identify his computer as being the source of the problem. Somewhat mollified, the user did this. He called my friend back and reported that the problem still existed. The text box appeared that he was unable to enter any text into it.

At this point my friend really wanted to see for himself if there was an error. He zigged and zagged to the user’s office (which was all the way across the massive building)  and asked if he could see the problem as it was being executed. With great heaving of sighs, the user once again logged on to SAP, and executed the task that was giving him difficulty. When the text box popped up, the user started typing but nothing was showing up in the text box. Then my friend sat down at the user’s desk, executed the same task pointed his mouse in the text box, clicked,  and typed in some text. It was all good! When the user started to execute the task again and again started typing in text, it was clear to my friend what the problem was. The user was not moving his mouse or cursor and clicking into the text box. Luckily my friend was gracious enough to laugh with the user about the silly little issue. The user ended up being able to complete his tasks, my friend learned a little lesson.

I think the lesson was this… Sometimes in IT we can get complacent about our vast knowledge of all things technical. Or at least what we consider our in-depth knowledge. After all, we’re the ones who write who write these programs, we test them, we test and try to break them. And so we’re surprised when somebody says that our work is no good. But nothing really compares to the experience of going to somebody’s desk and sitting down next to them and seeing what it’s like for them with their hands on the mouse and the keyboard. This may give you a whole new perspective on how your programs workflows reports etc. are being used, how users are being trained, and how we can improve their experience.

Perhaps this is just a lesson in empathy.  If my friend was able to go to the user and sit down with them and see his frustration at being unable to complete this simple task, then could he put this lesson to use in other areas? Would he be able to sit in a contentious meeting, and listen not just to what people were saying, but what they really meant? Would you be able to put aside preconceived notions of what the solution was and instead use empathy to understand the problem in the first place?

Well I don’t really know the answer to these questions. My friend is going to report back to me in a few weeks. I know I hope, and he hopes to, that it this seemingly insignificant blip on the radar can help both him and his customers in developing better systems.

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  • Hi Susan,

    I'm a Basis Administrator and I have been doing 3rd/4th line support & projects for years.

    I've done my fair share of tickets and still work on the trickier tickets.

    When a ticket comes to me, one of the first things I do is call the User.

    Calling the User wins a few prizes, it makes the User feel loved, it shows the User somebody is working on their issue and cares and, more importantly for me, it is unbelievable how many long running tickets which have bounced around from resolution group to resolution have ended up on my table and a quick phone call to the User has cleared many open questions and made resolution quicker and easier. While on the call if the problem is not clear I'll do a NetMeeting or Webex with the User so that I can see the issue. If you happen to be in the same building as the User, make a house call, why not, get away from your desk for a few minutes and really make the User feel loved.

    We are here to enable end user productivity. The users makes the profits, we are a cost. Let's make them feel loved so that they do their tasks with greater interest and motivation.

    I always preach to colleagues, when a ticket comes in, pick up the phone and call the User and do a NetMeeting or Webex, it speeds up understanding and resolution of the issue by a huge factor and makes the User feel loved. It saves the tickets bouncing from team to team without any real validation of the issue.

    It's a nice story.

    All the best,


    • Hi Andy,

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply. 

      I agree with you, about calling the users to make them feel loved.  NetMeeting or Webex - I think you could have seen if the customer was not clicking in the box? 

      Long long ago, when I started at a great job, my manager had me go sit with the people whose applications I would be working on - sit with them for a week!  Learn what they had to do, and how to do it.  It was a great experience.


  • Two learnings for me

    1. Courtesy first. You can't always zig-zag your way to the user's desk, but you can avoid jumping to the wrong conclusions, too soon.
    2. When you do get the opportunity to be f2f with the user take that opportunity... this contact keeps you from drifting into a fairy-tale IT world far away from reality.

    Your story is a great reminder to us all for both business and private life 🙂

    • Thank you Alan.  Knowing my friend, he was very courteous, but who would have thought to say 'click in the box'?  I guess now we all know!

  • I had a similar experience once years ago that changed the way I approached support on some of these types of things.  We had just been through an SAP upgrade where SAP had changed the password length to the longer format.  The end user was not able to login.  The ticket made it to third level support.  It was only by going to the users desk that I was able to determine that for years, she was typing in a password longer than 8 characters, but SAP only accepted the first 8.  Once the new password format was in place the field was accepting her longer password but it was not correct.   We got a good chuckle out of that one.

    • Oh my, the things we learn by going to a user's desk! 
      That's a great story, Chris, and it's also great to see you on SCN!

    • We're going through exactly this problem now, after having upgraded to ERP6 over the last weekend. Users with long password that SAP was previously truncating, or with mixed-case passwords that SAP was previously mono-casing. Our helpdesk staff are now starting to tire of resetting passwords!

      • Hi Steve,

        how many Users do you have and how much is it costing per helpdesk call for the passwords to be reset ?

        What about to get rid of Users logging on with passwords and have single sign on to SAP Gui and therefore zero the cost of User password resets.

        I've seen this done at a few customers and it really has a business case and fast return on investment !

        All the best,


        • Single sign-on would be complicated in our case, but we are looking at implementing self-service password reset. Too late for this week, obviously, and once the upgrade fall-out has passed this will go back to being a not particularly common problem. Soon, I hope!

  • There is nothing quite like seeing the world from the end-user point of view. That's very true. And it is true for more than just end-user support people. The real problem in this example is that clicking on a button to pop up a text box didn't leave that text box with the focus. Why should the user _have_ to click in the box before typing? Developers and especially UI designers also need to see the world from the end-users' point of view sometimes.

    • As a former developer, this is one of my major soap-box issues.  It doesn't matter whether you have the latest gee-whiz gadgets or a slick interface.  If it's not intuitive and doesn't help the users perform their jobs, it's wrong!

  • I use to say SAP isn't the working end for users. It's just a working medium. Its focus is the business not the system.

    Then sometimes we must use professional attributes that are not in the manuals to get succeed!

    Well reminded. Thank you.

  • Nice one Sue! Maybe I lack empathy, but I think the user was at fault here.

    We have to make assumptions to get us through the working day, and one of them is that SAP users are computer-literate...

    Surely this user wouldn't be able to operate ANY modern computing device (tablets, smartphones, Windows PCs, etc) if they don't know to 'click' into a window before they start typing.

    So what are they doing using SAP...?

    Having said that, I have been to sites where some SAP users were not only computer-illiterate, but language illiterate as well (ie they couldn't read - it was an exotic location).

    What can you do, except give up and go to the pub? 🙂


    Paul B

    • Thanks Paul - I did wonder about this user, but it's not my job to question why.

      I definitely hear what you are saying - I have to wonder if this person had a smart phone or any other device.  Not knowing the person, I can't say.

      As for what can you do but go to the pub, my friend would definitely agree (particularly after the user had been so rude - which may explain... perhaps the user also lacks some social 'graces'?) but we would agree - let's head to the pub.

      But you just never know who you are dealing with, or what their particular skills are.  Perhaps its best to wander down to their desk if you can.  Of course there are tools that can also let you see the user's screens, so for those of you who have these deployed, you can skip that little walk.

      Thanks for adding your valuable POV!

      • Actually, in my opinion, it is a "technical" issue. It is imperative that the cursor focus should always be on the topmost window. Looks like that didn't happen. Within in a window between a text box and button, text box should take precedence.

        OK, that was the geeky side, but I get the point. Good app development is not just about functionality but ease of use as well.

  • An experience with the User is extremely important, however much we may find useless, the user's view has to be considered. I very relevant subject, congratulations!

    • Thanks, Gustavo. 

      Maybe the user's experience is not so irritating if we can remember when we were baffled by something that turned out to be equally 'trivial'?

      Perhaps you would like to share a similar experience? 

  • Hi Sue,

    Very thought provoking as always.  It can be frustrating to deal with these types of issues but even experienced users or technical people getting it wrong from time to time and so we need to remember that and be a little patient.

    I'm not ashamed to admit (though perhaps I should be!) that I wasted half an hour trying to work out why my PI scenario wasn't delivering messages, only to discover that it was working fine but because the time had ticked over past midnight and I hadn't closed the transaction, my selection criteria was no longer valid!

    A little empathy with users does go a long way, after all as developers these should be the people that we are writing the software for.  While the little things such as focus on a text box do matter, at the end of the day it comes down to time and money.  Do I really want to spend days investigating and hacking the FPM framework just so my form UIBB with only one text input has focus on it when its entered?  Not too many are willing to spend the $$ on this type of issue.  And this is where users need to have a little bit of empathy with us poor developers!



    • Hi Alex,

      I love that you tested for half an hour - with invalid selection criteria!  Attaboy.  Who hasn't done something like that!

      It's also interesting that you comment 'where users need to have a little bit of empathy with us poor developers!'

      Have you ever been the beneficiary of empathy in such a case?


      • Maybe once or twice but it's pretty rare that I actually deserve it!

        But seriously the way to make it happen is to open up the two way street.  Rather than assuming the user is being difficult, accept that there is some kind of problem and if they have an issue then they are probably not the only one. 

        If you involve the user to help resolve the issue it makes them feel like they have some say over what is happening, even if the final solution is not exactly what they had in mind in the first place (and demanded that it absolutely had to be that way!).

        As Andy said - it makes the user feel loved!  And that can break down any technical shortcomings the software might have 🙂



  • Hello Susan,

    I have seen similar scenario alot in my experience of supporting SAP/IT both. The business user usually go crazy when they need to call helpdesk, just because they had some bad experience or some helpdesk really take lot of time asking lot of silly question, so which end of developing frustration for them, as they cannot afford to spend half of their day speaking to IT helpdesk. As I have lead many SAP support and IT helpdesk in past experience, so I would use to recommend my team to take a remote control session immediately if they hear user is sounding frustrated or high pitch or rather go to their office if it nearby, which will bring a peace of their mind in explaining the scenario.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Nishan Dev

  • Obviously, we have an opportunity for improvement here: If a pop-up is necessary at all, the first input field should automatically get the focus. Even if we can assume that the average user knows how to set the focus on a field, it is still an unnecessary interaction (actually two or three, because the user has to switch between keyboard and mouse).

    • Horst,

      I totally agree with you. If in this specific case this "pop-up" text is an "Out of the Box" SAP application feature ... then the described behavior is a SAP BUG and it should be fixed.

      It is a simple as that .... 

      You do not need to involve end user to discover such wrong UX design ('basic ergonomic principles)