Today’s IT professional must master two skill families in order to be successful. The first is technical skills and knowledge. That part of IT education is obvious. Without a solid technical understanding, you simply can’t do the job. The second is gaining skills for customer service in IT: An ability to understand, get along with, and influence people. Even though our jobs are indeed technical in nature, the human component is always present and it’s often the most challenging part of our jobs. We may have the technical knowledge to help an end-user, but if they’re angry, frustrated, or otherwise upset, it’s our people skills that allow us first to manage the situation successfully. Then we use our technical skills to solve the technical problem.
I recently flew from Houston to Seattle on Alaska Airlines. I experienced three examples of good customer service from, gasp, an airline. Yes, I know it may seem hard to believe. There are lessons here for those of us who support end-users. Two examples were with Alaska Airlines and one was with Delta. Here they are.
How’s your empathy quotient? Your ability to empathize may be your most important ability as a member of the I.T. support staff. Empathy means providing caring and personal service. Dictionary.com defines empathy as “the intellectual identification with … the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of another.” Empathy is your ability to truly put yourself in your user’s position so you can understand his/her frustration. Once we truly understand our user’s frustration, fears, and aggravations, we can start the process of delivering a meaningful solution for them. Sometimes it only takes a moment to really understand where our user is coming from. Sometimes it takes several minutes of listening combined with empathetic statements such as “I understand why you feel that way.” or “I’d feel that way, too, if I were in your situation.” Regardless, until you can empathize with your user, you’re not ready to start the technical aspects of the support session. Remember, it may be your technical expertise that solves the problem, but it’s your skill in dealing with people that produces satisfied end-users.
One of the biggest challenges in training is moving the new ideas and concepts from sensory memory into short-term memory and, ultimately, into long-term memory. This process is also known as keeping it “evergreen”.
It’s not easy, but it can be done with effective followup techniques. Here are some ideas you can implement to get the most value from your training dollars and reinforce the ideas I’ve shared with your staff. Even if I haven’t been fortunate enough to work directly with your staff, you can still make use of these tools to help develop yourself and your IT staff.
In my customer service workshops and speeches, I often talk about the importance of being authentic, of being real. Here’s a real-life story about Nick Sarillo, a Chicago-area pizza restauranteur who saved his business with a very humble and equally authentic email to his customers. http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20120315/BLOGS06/120319853/suburban-chicago-restaurateurs-unusual-plea-to-customers-pays-dividends Even if you’re not particularly interested in business, it’s a short read with a simple message about being authentic in our dealings with our fellow humans. It’s refreshing, especially considering that his bank and his PR team discouraged him from doing what, in his gut, he knew was the right thing to do.
My wife and I recently had a glass of wine with a woman who is a sys admin for a small company here in Seattle. I asked her what systems she supported and her reply was refreshing. She said, “Whatever my users need to do their jobs. For some, it’s a Mac, for others it’s Windows.” Contrast that with my friend Jim who told me last night how his company’s IT department dictates what tools will be used without understanding the business needs of the individual worker. I realize, of course, that in the enterprise, it can be difficult to support multiple platforms and practical considerations sometimes dictate a single platform for all (or most) users. After all, that’s why both Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines standardize on the Boeing 737. Makes it easier to train cockpit crew and mechanics and you only need to stock parts for a single platform. Still, if our jobs in IT are about helping our users work more creatively, productively, and efficiently, doesn’t it make sense to choose the right tool for the job instead of applying a universal solution to everyone?