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Now that Microsoft Vista has officially been released, let's talk about... Windows 3.0.
Yes, Windows 3.0. We can learn much from that product, even though it came out more than 15 years ago. Its main competitor was Operating System/2, or OS/2 for short. Similarly, in the world of videotaping, the main competitor of VHS was Betamax. Now, take a look at your keyboard. Chances are the top row of letters starts with QWERTY. At one time, the main competitor of the QWERTY keyboard was the Dvorak keyboard.
OS/2, Betamax, the Dvorak keyboard: What do they all have in common? Although technically superior to their competing products, they failed to gain market acceptance--a reality that IT pros can apply to their own careers.
Success = More than tech skills
Do you think your technical skills alone will ensure your career success? Do you view customers as idiots who get in the way of your work? If so, stop and take stock. With that attitude, you run the risk of becoming a human OS/2, Betamax, or Dvorak keyboard.
Communications skills and the ability to work well with people are as important as technical skills, if not more so. Recently, CIO magazine ran a survey of its readership, asking them what three skills they believed their staff needed most. Seventy percent of the respondents named "communications" as one of those skills. When you think about it, doesn't this response make sense? Technology evolves--witness the changes just with respect to Windows. Do you remember the first PCs? Some of them didn't even come with hard drives, but merely 180K drives that took the old 5 1/4-inch floppy disks.
However, even though technology changes, the importance of communicating effectively with others (particularly customers) remains constant. Users still have their system requirements, as clear as the Mississippi and as ever-changing as New Mexico weather. They still have that printer that won't print, which they need you to fix right now. They still don't understand why they have to call the help desk instead of just pulling you aside when you drop by to fix their co-worker's system.
I know that working with customers can be challenging. You can't live with them, you can't live without them. But think about it: What would you rather be doing? Would you rather be setting up a router, testing that application, resolving that help desk ticket? Or would you rather be sitting in your boss's office explaining why Pat in Accounting is all upset? In this column, I'm going to offer some advice aimed at helping you maximize the former and minimize the latter. I'm going to be writing about customer service issues and sharing tips and advice based on my experience and mistakes, as well as what I've learned from others. My goal is to help you reduce the chances of a bad situation or at least mitigate an already-bad situation. I will tell you things that require little effort but that could greatly benefit your relationship with your customers--and hence your career.
I'll be writing about many topics and many experiences, but if you look closely, you'll find that they generally involve three general themes:
- The importance of listening
- The importance of setting and managing expectations
- The importance of understanding the customer's point of view
Am I minimizing the importance of technical skills? Of course not. What I am saying, though, is that relying entirely on technical skills for career success is dangerous and ill-founded. I'm also saying that if you do a good job communicating with customers, they'll often cut you more slack when you're trying to resolve a problem for them.
Do you have a particular customer service challenge or question? Drop me a note describing the situation (feel free to disguise the identities of those involved), and I'll see if I can offer any advice.
Calvin Sun works with organizations in the areas of customer service, communications, and leadership. He can be reached at email@example.com.