As a child, I was taught the importance of a positive attitude, and that lesson carried through my early high school jobs and into my IT career. It can help defuse a tense tech support situation, build trust in advance of future problems cropping up, and make a positive impact to the business as a whole.
Along the way, I've also heard the term "customer service" tossed around in meetings, but no one takes it seriously. It's more than a buzzword. It should be put into action all the time in combination with an upbeat outlook.
Put people first
We all probably have our own way of dealing with people who are upset over a tech problem. Here's mine.
Before I investigate the problem, I let the person vent. About 80 percent of the time, they have legitimate tech issues, but they can't clearly express what's causing them. Showing concern for them first, then delving into the nuts and bolts of the problem changes the interaction right from the beginning.
Next, I have them demonstrate the problem while I'm there. For issues that seem too strange to explain or believe, this helps in more ways than one: I can see what they're experiencing firsthand and reassure them that they indeed have a legitimate complaint.
Finally, I have the person demonstrate that the problem is resolved before I leave. This gives me a chance to make sure everything's working right and the person understands what to do. It also gives the person the reassurance that the problem is truly fixed.
Years ago when I worked in the tech department at a major chip manufacturer, the business area I was responsible for had seven vice presidents, each with an executive assistant. Over time, they started to proactively warn us of potential problems before they would escalate, and we established a good rapport between our departments.
However, one IT employee had difficulty interacting in these situations. He was inexperienced, which didn't help, but more often than not, he spoke before thinking it through.
One day, I learned that this IT employee had gone to help an executive assistant about a problematic hard drive. Through the course of troubleshooting, he accidentally lost some of the data.
However, his choice of words made the situation sound much more dire than it was: He told her bluntly that her data was gone, and that was that. She took it to mean all of her data -- 10 years of work -- was gone. She was understandably very upset.
When I went back to her desk with the IT employee, I explained to her that we could recover almost all of her data from backups and only that day's data was gone. She was greatly relieved.
After enough of these experiences and despite attempts to help this IT employee adjust his interactions with the users, it was clear that he wasn't cut out for tech support. A few months later, he was transferred to a manufacturing environment and not only flourished, but enjoyed the work. It was a better fit.
You never know who you'll meet
My first job after getting my degree was for a small, but rapidly growing computer shop. I was one of three computer technicians, and our jobs included setup, configuration, installation, and repair of computers, peripherals, and networks for businesses of all sizes.
One day, I was in the business service center by myself when a customer came in. He was a small man, bearded, bespectacled, and in his late 50s. He looked very disheveled, with a grimy face and torn and shabby clothes that were filthy from dirt and sweat.
The customer explained to me that he was expecting an important business transaction through his fax/modem, but his PC wouldn't boot. I surveyed the work I had waiting for me, and I told him it would be at least 30 minutes before I could look at it for him. He said that would be all right, and I moved his PC to an open slot on our workbench.
He said he'd like to wait, so I showed him to the air-conditioned and comfortable customer lounge and returned to the job.
I was able to get to his PC sooner than expected, and it came up to an error message about "missing system files." This was a very common and easy problem to fix.
I gave the customer the update, and after he'd paid for it, I carried the PC to his car. While I thought it was a little odd that he had a well-maintained Mercedes-Benz, I soon forgot about it and went on with my day.
A few hours later, my boss came to me with a puzzled expression on his face. He asked me about the customer that I had worked with and why I'd treated him so well. I told him, "I make every effort to treat every customer the same, no matter what." He explained to me that the dirty-looking older gentleman was one of the largest real estate developers in the local metro area, and he'd been working in his garden right before trying to close an important business deal and didn't want to take the time to clean up before bringing his computer in to be repaired. He'd called to thank the shop for how he'd been treated.
Too many times it seems "customers" or users are considered an inconvenience and not the focus (internally and externally) of business and IT in particular. This attitude is detrimental to all in work and in life.