“Matthew, I need to see you in the conference room.”

Matthew was no fool. The words on his screen from the Help Desk Support Director could only mean one thing. Matthew took a few moments to gather his personal items to make his inevitable exit easier after the meeting was done. Sure enough, he was being laid off after a scant two months on the job. His supervisor praised his technical ability but said the decision ultimately came down to his ability to relate to customers. As the meeting was wrapping up, his supervisor told him, “I think you’d be excellent on a large company’s internal help desk. You are capable of so much… but this role is customer facing and we can’t have the clients feeling like you are irritated or put off with them when they ask for help.”

Matthew understood. He thanked his supervisor for the opportunity, shook his hand, and headed out.

IT support desk personnel

Listen and empathize to fix the problem.
Image courtesy of National Career Service

Some IT professionals profess to care about customers and enjoy the interaction with them. But a much larger number will admit that they are happier behind the keyboard, rather than dealing with the needs of clients. Technical work is often complicated and urgent by nature, so the idea of slowing down to demonstrate patience and empathy while in the midst of a mission critical fix is a skill foreign to many technical professionals. Object all you like, but interpersonal relationship building is a skill not often found in those who spend their day working on tasks like vulnerability testing server configurations.

Many technicians, like Matthew above, grit their teeth and do their best, but that is often a poor substitute for genuinely caring about the person on the other end of the phone or chat session. Thankfully, IT communication skills can be learned. Here are five simple tips for dealing with people in need of technical support or service.

    1. Empathize – Whether you are working with a colleague or dealing with a customer, it is paramount that you quickly let them know that you understand their problem. Not just that you understand the technical nature of the issue, but that you appreciate the inconvenience or trouble that it is causing them. The purpose of technology is to leverage human ability and amplify it into something greater. When technology fails in that regard, it can be frustrating no matter how technically savvy you are. “Wow.  I understand your frustration. Let me see if I might be able to help.”
    2. Apologize – As much as you likely didn’t cause the problem, you’d be surprised at how quickly tension is diffused when you accept responsibility or blame for the problem. Don’t let your pride get in the way; at the end of the day the other person won’t remember who was at fault, but they will remember who solved the problem. “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
    3. Personalize – Once empathy is established, find a way to be on the same “side” of the issue or problem as the other person. You don’t have to fake being their friend, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly. “You know, I think I had this problem once before myself a year or two ago. I’m sure it’s nothing you did and it should be reasonably easy for us to fix.”
    4. Don’t fix, teach! – Many technical problems are preventable and even though you’ve accepted at least some of the blame, the reality is that many issues are caused by the user. Take this opportunity to teach them what went wrong. You don’t have to explicitly call them out for creating the error, but you can nudge them in that direction. “Oh, it looks like the password on your Outlook profile was entered incorrectly. How odd.  If you will enter the correct password here at the prompt, that should fix the problem for good.”
    5. Confirm Resolution – In solving any problem, doesn’t it make sense to know the resolution has been completed? Technical issues are no exception. However, just because you know the problem has been fixed, that isn’t the end of the issue or support ticket. It is more important that the person experiencing the issue confirms to you that the issue has been fixed. This ensures their satisfaction and, more importantly, ensures that they won’t be calling to complain about the issue and about your service at a later date. “From my end it looks like the issue has been resolved. I’ll wait while you take a look and confirm that it has been resolved as well.”

      Happy customer support technician

      Make great service fun, not a burden.
      Image courtesy of Allworx.com

Providing excellent support or service doesn’t have to be hard. Whether you are working at an IT help desk or working with colleagues that have a different skill set than your own, it is important to remember that the other person has contacted you seeking assistance. There is no reason to make that person feel beneath you or minimize their intelligence or talents with flippant or dismissive behavior. More often than not, following the five steps outlined above will lead to a great resolution for you both in a shorter amount of time. Click here to see how Mosaic NetworX offers excellent service to go along with technical expertise!