You may have heard me talk about how I like model railroading. There’s an electric train store in Seattle where the staff is knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful. I buy things from them even when I can get them cheaper online because they’re so helpful and I like them. (That’s a whole other lesson!) There is, however, one thing they do that is a little annoying and it’s something that we, in IT, do as well. We fail to assess customer knowledge.

Have you ever called tech support and had to listen as the support rep explained concepts to you that you already knew? We’ve all had that happen and it is annoying. Of course, the support rep is trying to be helpful, but he’s wasting your time and his with superfluous explanations. The guy at the train shop does the same thing. He’s trying to be helpful, but he’s often telling me things I already know.

Work on knowing your customer.

How to Gauge Customer Knowledge

When you’re about to offer a technical explanation to a customer, first say, “Are you familiar with…?” That way, you don’t risk wasting time (yours and theirs) by explaining something they already know.

Similarly, some people don’t want an explanation at all. They simply want to know what they need to do and then move on. Sure, some of us in IT feel like we can head off future problems by offering an explanation now and, for some people, that’s true. Others, however, have so many things on their mind that they simply want a quick fix and then need to get back to work. For situations like that, you can ask, “How technical do you want me to get?” Often, the response will be that they don’t really want an explanation. In fact, they’re often just making sure that the problem wasn’t caused by something they did.

Before giving technical explanations, gauge your customer’s level of knowledge with the question, “Are you familiar with…” and make sure they really want a technical explanation with the question, “How technical would you like me to get?” By asking those questions, you are respecting your customer’s knowledge and time.

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