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Quality Service = Communication + Resolution

When you think of good customer service, what is it about the experience that you remember the most? What makes an experience positive? Over the years, I’ve managed a number of service departments and the one thing that we’ve consistently got right is the experience. I can’t say the same for many of the companies I deal with on a daily basis. So where are they going wrong?

One of the most common mistakes that I see in the IT industry is when technical staff are put in customer facing roles. This is a recipe for disaster without the right training. It’s not the fault of the tech, he’s usually a geek with limited capacity to interact with humans and even less desire to do so. Don’t get me wrong. He’s damn good at what he does (usually) but what he does shouldn’t involve talking to customers. I know this is going to be controversial. There are exceptions to every rule but in my experience, the techs just want to get on with the job of keeping things running and playing with their toys. They generally don’t rely on other techs so they have little capacity for empathy when it comes to dealing with customers who “don’t quite get how it works”.

So what does a good service department need? It needs the interface between the techs and the customers. The person with enough technical nouse to understand what the techs are saying and REAL communication skills with the ability to show empathy for the customer’s plight. Notice I said empathy, not sympathy. Sympathy leads to staff agreeing with the customer that your service is poor. This isn’t good for anyone. Empathy is what you want. It’s how you communicate to the customer that you understand their frustration and you’re working to resolve the situation. Customers generally respond really well to this.

The trap is to not let the “interfacing” staff member get into a technical conversation with a customer (who may be more knowledgable) as this can lead to the customer thinking that he/she is being condescending and have no real concept of what the problem might actually be. The job of the interface is to appease the customer and ensure that they are updated with information from the tech and that that information is accurate and timely.

The key message in that last paragraph is timely. Arguably, the most important part of the service desk is to ensure that the customer is informed. You must let the customer know what’s being done to resolve their problem even if they’re not going to like what they hear. In all the years I’ve managed service desks, the surveys all came back the same… overwhelmingly, people cared more about being informed than having their problem fixed immediately. Responsiveness is all well and good, but if the customer doesn’t know that you’ve resolved their problem, you might as well not have done anything.

The flip side to this is when you can’t resolve a problem. Did you know it is possible to not deliver what the customer wants and still have a positive outcome? Communication is key here. If you ensure that the customer is fully aware of why you can’t meet their demands and that those reasons are (or at least sound) legitimate, chances are, your customer will be understanding. Regular and constant feedback about issues is absolutely necessary, even if that update is simply to say, “We’re still looking at it and the new ETA is…”

Of course it’s very difficult to provide top notch support to your customers when your suppliers are dropping the ball. I have had my fair share of this problem. This is a major problem for many IT departments that outsource their front-line support and it’s also a major problem for small businesses of all types. When you rely on a product or service for your business, the quality of support has to be a major factor in the decision when choosing your products and services. Sometimes, having a slightly lower performing platform that has exceptional support can be better than having the best platform with terrible support. You need to consider – What happens when it all goes pear shaped? If your outage is going to be huge because the support is so bad, that could have a detrimental effect on your business.

Think about your customer service and how you deliver it. What do you need to change? Do it regularly and be passionate about providing great service. If you do that, you’re on the right track. This aspect of customer service is the first step. Once you have that sorted, you need to get the right tools… but that’s another story.

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