Customer care training and training for physicians share a common goal. You may have heard the Latin phrase, Primum non nocere, which means “first, do no harm.” Although it’s often associated with the physician’s Hippocratic Oath, the original oath does not include the precise phrase. It is, however, taught in medical schools as part of medical ethics classes and it has an important connotation for those of us who serve end-users and other customers, especially in IT.

As you evaluate possible solutions to end-user or customer problems, as you consider updating software or implementing new technologies, and as you consider retiring old software or equipment, the very first question to ask yourself is, “Will the benefits of this solution or upgrade outweigh the pain of the transition?”

Sometimes, the answer is a very clear “yes”, such as a migration from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 and Active Directory, from typewriters to computers, from the telegraph to the telephone (although there was resistance to the adoption of the telephone by people who thought the telegraph was perfectly adequate for communication!), from steam to diesel locomotives, or from oil lamps to electric lighting. Other times, the answer is not nearly as clear such as when a software upgrade requires hours of re-training for only modest improvements in productivity or when a poorly tested upgrade causes massive system failures.

Even when you’re not responsible for such large strategic decisions as company-wide software upgrades, you must still remember Primum non nocere as you work with our customers and coworkers to solve issues with software, equipment, and other products. It may be something as simple as instructing an end-user in performing a backup prior to applying a software upgrade or it may require that you test solutions in a lab environment before recommending them to a customer.

Primum no nocere also means that you must thoroughly understand the user’s or customer’s problem, environment, and business needs as you evaluate solutions. That means you must be a good listener and not jump to conclusions without gaining a complete understanding of the particular issue or problem.

It’s even more than technical considerations. You must also evaluate how your interaction with an end-user or customer might affect your future relationship and your department or company’s future relationship with that end-user or customer. If your behavior with an individual is off-putting or offensive, you run the risk of losing the confidence of that customer or end-user, thus losing their future business or discouraging them from seeking our assistance on future problems.

On a personal level, might a casual rant on Facebook or an offhand comment that you make unintentionally harm someone or harm a relationship with a friend. Primum non nocere even applies to personal relationships!

As with many pieces of advice about working with end-users, customers, and other people, it’s easy to remember Primum no nocere when everything is going well. It’s more difficult and more important to remember during times of conflict or stress!

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