Originally posted on 7/25/17.

I’ve been thinking back on some of my favorite clients and experiences we have had together. One that stands out to me was a nice older gentleman from West Texas that I worked with in the oil service industry. We had a good run, and he was calm and patient when we had a big issue. After working with him for a while, my last call was a little fun. Here’s how it went:

Me: Thank you for calling the Help Desk, how can I help you?

Customer: Yeah, this is ::redacted:: calling from Odessa, and my stuff is all messed up.

Me: Well, that doesn’t give me a lot to go on, why did you mess it up?

Customer: I tried not to, but I don’t use these dang computers much. Put me back on a rig and I won’t call you no more.

Me: Then I wouldn’t get to have these good conversations with you. Let’s try and get your IP address so I can take a look.

Customer: OK, it’s 123 Main St…

I’ll spare the rest of the call as the fix and what was wrong weren’t that interesting. What gets me is the above where I asked for his IP address outright after he told me he wasn’t that good with computers. Because I missed my chance to clarify, I got different information than I expected. Although funny at the time, it led to me having to explain what it was we were looking for.

The customer in this case didn’t give up much information to begin with, so the call was very open-ended, with little room to determine the issue up-front. As we discussed (and when I got remote access) we were able to determine the failure and I could explain it to him.  As I am a solution driven individual, my first instinct is to hear the exact issue up front and be able to provide an answer immediately. The problem with this is that if I haven’t established a common language with the users, I can’t get the information I need, and they might get an unintended issue from my proposed resolution.

Communication goes both ways, requiring both parties to listen and speak. For service and support people, our brains tell us in the terms we know and understand how to fix the issue, or what the issue could be. The same could be said for any specialty you may have or company you work for, leading to a very confusing situation. I believe a lot of the miscommunication in a help desk/service desk role is due to a level of comfort with the dialog we share with our co-workers and other technical people. But to be truly effective in these roles, we must be open-ended and attentive to our customer’s language.

Customers have a way of describing things that may not make sense in a technical standpoint, but are more descriptive than we could ever know. A lot of this has to do with the customer feeling that they must be more descriptive or use more technical terms to explain their current situation, otherwise they may feel as if they will be talked down to.

So to keep things moving more smoothly in customer communications, I’ve divided up the ideas for effective communication below in no particular order:

1. Be general – Technical terms can be frightening or confusing. Try to get the customer to describe their issue or concern in their own words. Ask for descriptions or workflows to get a better idea of what is happening and how they speak. Use their words to help define some of the basic technical terms and educate the user on what those terms are. This will increase comfort in the discussion.

2. Empathize – Feel for the customer. If the person you are helping is having a bad day, pick up on where they are and be appreciative of what they provide. Let them talk and get it out. Sometimes all it takes is just someone who is willing to listen.

3. Be happy with the customer – If your customer is in a good mood, share in it! Positive people feed on further positivity. This will be a great exercise to find gratitude in life.

4. Stay away from definitive statements, if possible – Customers don’t like going on a journey to hit a dead end. Giving a solid “No” for an answer is difficult and loses all of the previous hard work to get to this point. Try instead for “This wouldn’t work in this fashion, but we have an alternative that may help.” This provides a by-path for the customer, and increases the feeling of having a resolution even if it is somewhat different than they expected.

5. Have a vested interest – One thing that bugs me about calling most service desks is that I’m just another ticket for them to fall into some category. Take interest in the customer, even if the ticket is routine. This will sound like making small talk, but the difference is that you continue to build an interest in the conversation. Don’t just stop at “How’s your day going?” read a little more into the customer based on what they provided. Is their e-mail address Ask if they ride and where they went recently. Know a story about the city they are in? Share it with them briefly and get their take on it. People love to talk about themselves.

6. Ask questions – Customers will tell you what their main issue is, but may leave off something you may have familiarity with. Ask them if they had any questions even outside of their initial call or request. This opens the door for a more complete experience where they can say you were all about taking care of the customer.

7. Listen! – You can talk a good game, but listening is where it’s at! Pay attention to what the customer says, they may answer their own question and don’t even know it. If you have a hard time understanding what they are asking, repeat back to the customer what you think you heard, and they will either clarify or agree with your interpretation.

8. Have pride in your work – Remember when you were a kid, coloring a picture or making a Lego house and your parents telling you how nice it was? Take that sense of pride into what you do. Even if you aren’t doing it for work, take pride in it. Doing the dishes? You’re being of service to others in the house. Wash those dishes and be proud as if you won a gold medal for washing dishes. This pride will lead to confidence in your ability to help, and will be founded on actual work done. This takes time and mastery in communication, but it will come if you work for it.

9. Take care of yourself – If you aren’t feeling well or haven’t been doing what is necessary for you to feel comfortable, you can’t be of any help to anyone else. Go to the doctor, take your time in your morning routine, feel good about what you wear and how you look. When you feel good, your work is good and the effort you put into it is your best. Half-effort won’t win over a customer.

10. Do the customer’s homework – Most times, a customer will rely on you to tell them something and be honest. If you don’t know, find out. It never hurts to ask someone if you don’t know something. Better to ask and be told no, than to never ask and never know. This will also benefit you in being considered trustworthy as you are stepping outside of yourself to ensure you have the right answers for the question. For example, I worked in retail for 5 years. We sold service plans to cover repair or replacement of items. In each brochure I gave to a customer, we read through pre-highlighted areas that answered all of the most common questions they had, leaving no stone unturned.

I don’t believe this is a comprehensive list, but for now, this is a great start to building that relationship and foundation with the customer or anyone else you interact with daily.


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