I have a big problem which frequently loops me. I am in the field of IT support, and when a customer comes to me and is short tempered, I really don’t know how to convince them that their request is not my part of job and someone else should attend to it.
This happens to me at least 4 – 6 times a week. Can you please tell me how I can answer nicely about the job, and give me some suggestions about handling customers over the mail, phone and face to face in tough times?
I don’t know of a tougher job than technical support and IT, actually, because it’s one of a class of what I call negative feedback jobs, jobs where you only hear from your customers when things are broken or going wrong. You can test this: when was the last time someone called and said “Hey, my printer’s working today. Thanks!”?
This is a tremendous challenge for IT management in particular because while some IT and admin managers are savvy enough to realize this aspect of the job and offer praise and perks to compensate for the high frustration level of the job, many that I’ve seen, particularly in larger companies, have an extraordinarily tough time managing their troops as they get complaint after complaint from customers. Of course people complain, though, because IT is only relevant when things are going wrong.
From your perspective in the proverbial trenches you have a tough task working with stressed customers who need things fixed “yesterday” and who probably don’t have the patience for methodical trouble-shooting questions. I can just hear the dialog in my head:
you: Now, let’s start at the beginning. Did you install any new software in the last week?
they: I don’t have time for this! I need my presentation printed for a meeting in 15 minutes!
you: We can’t figure out why the printer isn’t working until we can figure out what changed since it was working.
they: I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS! FIX MY $#@$#&&*@ PRINTER!
you: There’s no reason to get upset, Mr. Smith.
they: Where’s your $#@$# supervisor?
you: Ever heard of “going postal”, Mr. Smith?
Alright, just kidding on the last line, but I think it’s important that you start by recognizing that your job comes with an inherent level of stress and challenge as you work with people who are most likely upset and under pressure themselves.
That said, there are some ways that you can work effectively with others even if they’re upset. The best strategy is to start by acknowledging their upset. Say “Man, I hate when my printer’s busted, so let’s get this fixed FAST!” for example. It reaffirms that you understand why they’re upset and can see the desired end point.
Then be straight with them on prioritization. If you’re busy working on a problem for the VP of Sales, then say so. “I’m busy with Ms. Jones’s computer this morning, but the minute I’m done, I’ll be in your office.” is much better than “I’ve got a bunch of people ahead of you, so hang in there.” (though that’s better than “I’ve logged your call. I’ll get back to you when you’re #1”)
If they ask you to help with something that isn’t in your realm of responsibility, don’t just push it away, but help them find the right person and connect them together. Say “Printer problems aren’t part of what I work on, that’s Maria’s area. Let’s go over and see if she’s in her office so I can make sure you get priority help from her.” That’ll go a long way towards you being viewed as the go-to man in your department (with the promotions and recognition that deserves) and gaining an excellent reputation in your company.
Finally, remind your boss that it’s a negative feedback job and that at LEAST once a week your entire team should sneak out for an hour of venting. Closed room, nothing goes any further, give everyone a chance to just holler and whine about how even the nicest people can become raving jerks when there’s a problem you have to deal with. It’s kind of like primal scream therapy for geeks.
Anyway, good luck to you!