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a blog by Don R. Crawley

Keynote Speaker on
IT Customer Service and Compassion

Bringing humanity into the world of technology

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Sometimes, when we’re working on customer service support or even helping a colleague, things seem to go off track unexpectedly. Of course, when you’re dealing with other people, you will occasionally get a surprise reaction! Here are some common reasons why things go wrong, along with some tips for what to do when that happens:

1. Customer service support fails when we seem like we don’t care

Support situations can fail when we don’t sound or act as if we care, are concerned or appreciate the customer’s or end-user’s situation. Maybe we actually do care, but in order to convey our caring, we’ve got to choose compassionate and empathetic words and phrases that show we care. No one can read another’s mind. Try saying things like “I know this is very frustrating.” “I’m sure I would feel the same way if I were you.” “I am so very sorry.” “If there was anything at all that I could do, believe me, I would.” Try an honest expression of sympathy, saying something like, “I’m so sorry that happened to you.” It’s amazing how much of a calming effect that can have.

2. We don’t listen

Too often we try to jump in with solutions, and don’t allow our end-users and customers to vent their feelings. We need to show the customer or end-user that we’re listening by what we say, and how we say it. Understand that obnoxious users and customers are often embarrassed because they made a mistake and want to blame it on someone, perhaps you. Showing that we’re interested in what they have to say often helps us establish rapport with the other person. Active listening techniques, including asking to make sure you understand what they have said can go a long way toward fostering a good situation. By saying, “Let me make sure I understand what you said.” you are reaching out to the user and showing you care.

3. We let the user upset us

It is easy to allow the customer’s or user’s attitude to irritate or annoy us. The user picks up on this through our tone of voice and use of language, or our silence, and this fans the fire. Make it a game or challenge to see how many upset users and customers you can turn around. Don’t take upset users’ and customers’ ranting and raving personally. (Admittedly, that can be easier said than done, but it’s critical for success in emotionally-charged customer service support situations.) Don’t get emotionally hooked. When we let users and customers “push our buttons”, we lose. When we respond emotionally-with anger, sarcasm, or blame, we can’t respond rationally. When things heat up, cool off by saying that you need to research the situation and possible solutions, and ask if you may get back to your user or customer at a later time.

4. We use the wrong words

Some trigger words cause users and customers to become more difficult. Some of these are “can’t”, “you’ll have to”, or a flippant “sorry about that”. Be sure to offer users and customers an alternative. Choices provide users and customers some say in how they want to proceed. Instead of saying “I don’t know,” try “Let me get you an answer,” or “Let me find out for you.”

5. We focus on ourselves instead of seeing it from the customer’s or user’s point of view

Maybe you think the customer or end-user is making too much out of a small issue (and maybe, by your standards, they are). The point is that if the issue, whatever it is, seems like a big deal to the customer or end-user, it is a big deal, regardless of how we might feel about it. We must always look at customer or end-user issues from their perspective, just the same as we would want a customer service support rep who’s helping us to try to see our problem from our perspective. No matter what, it IS a big deal for our users or customers, and they want us to acknowledge that. Seeing a situation from the customer’s point-of-view is the best way to keep a situation from getting out of control.

Human relationships are not always predictable. Our ability to carefully and successfully navigate the unpredictable and sometimes turbulent seas of working with people is one of the most important non-technical skills in building a successful IT career or an IT business. Remember that other people need to believe we care, listen carefully to what others are saying to ensure you understand them, don’t let other people get under your skin (don’t take things personally), choose your words carefully, and always consider the position of the other person.

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