After Hours

10 ways to improve your deskside manner

When you go out of the office and meet a customer to resolve a fault or issue, it's important to use soft skills to get the customer on your side. The way you deal with people can mean the difference between a satisfied customer and a delighted one. Here are a few things you can do to build customer rapport.

When you go out of the office and meet a customer to resolve a fault or issue, it's important to use soft skills to get the customer on your side. It is a given that you will have the technical skills, or you'll know where to find them. But the way you deal with people can mean the difference between a satisfied customer and a delighted one. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: Tell the truth

If you can't fix it straightaway, say so. There is no shame in saying, "I don't know." That's far better than trying to get by on a wave of false promises and BS. No matter how long you've been working in the industry, you will occasionally encounter a problem you haven't seen before. Honesty is always the best policy in these cases.

#2: Smile and make eye contact when talking to customers

If you're trying to pull the wool over someone's eyes, you will avert your own eyes -- and doing this makes you look unreliable. Greet customers with a friendly smile, then give them your full attention and look them in the eye as they describe the fault.

#3: Give customers a chance to find their own answers

Give customers a chance to fully explain what the fault is. Don't worry about the equipment until you have heard what the customer has to say. Many times, I have found that customers answer their own questions, if you only give them the chance to tell their story.

For example, a customer once remarked to me that his spell checker was not working; I had dealt with a printer fault and gained his confidence, so he felt free to mention another fault. He explained that he could access the checker by the ABC icon and from the Tools menu but not by using the keyboard shortcut. It turned out that he was pressing F6 and not F7. There was an opportunity to make the user look silly here -- it can be tricky to tell someone what's wrong without sounding condescending. But somehow I managed it. We laughed about it and I went to my next job.

#4: Explain what you're doing

Don't try to baffle users with jargon, but do tell them what's going on. A simple explanation like, "A file was missing or corrupted" or "A circuit board has failed" is sufficient. Don't treat them as though they are stupid; remember, most people run PCs at home. In fact, many of them build their own.

#5: Don't over-promise

There's an old saying about under-promising and over-delivering. It's a good thing to deliver more than you promised. It will delight the customer. Doing the opposite will annoy them, even if the result is exactly the same. It's just a bit of basic psychology.

#6: Be friendly but not overly familiar

Be careful of sharing your best jokes, unless you're sure of the customer. I've managed to overstep the mark a couple of times, but mostly my jokes go down well. If it's clear that the customer is not chatty, just do the job and go. Your customers may well have other things on their mind. I think it is important for our customers to see us a real people and not just repair droids, but you need to read the situation well first. If in doubt, stick to a polite greeting and get on with the job.

#7: Provide a realistic arrival time

Giving an unrealistic ETA can cause problems. I usually explain where I am calling from and what I am going to do on the way -- for example, "I'm just leaving Southampton and I will come straight to you. It normally takes about an hour, but there's road works on the main road, so you will know where I am if I'm a bit late."

Sometimes, I offer to call again when I am nearer. They don't often ask me to do this, but they appreciate being kept in the loop. If you encounter a problem and are going to be late, you should call the customer as soon as you can to explain. They might be waiting in for you.

#8: Have the customer demonstrate the problem

I have found that asking the customer to show me the problem can be a great diagnostic aid. If the fault sounds a bit unusual, it can often be the way they are working rather than any problem with the equipment. This also gives them a chance to close any work they might not want you to see, such as personal or confidential information. If you then need to close any applications, check with them first to give them the opportunity to save or discard. The worst thing you can do is lose their work. If they lose it, you can't be blamed.

#9: Wind up with a little cleanup

Finish the job by giving the equipment a quick visual check and clean the screen. If you're old enough to remember the days when you got your windscreen cleaned when you bought petrol, you will know that the little touches count for a lot. If you use an alcohol wipe to clean the screen use it to wipe the keys as well. If they are still using a ball mouse, give it a quick cleaning. Removing the crud from the rollers will make the mouse feel better to use and the customer will notice it. A little bit of aftercare is well worth the small effort it takes.

#10: Make sure the customer is satisfied

When you have finished the job, explain what you have done and ask customers to check it out to make sure they're happy. Ask whether there's anything else you can do for them. It may be that the customer has some additional problem you might be able to help with. Usually, there isn't anything else, but customers will appreciate the offer. Remember to say goodbye and to thank them.

12 comments
catfish182
catfish182

I think you are spot on for everything BUT this- "Don???t treat them as though they are stupid; remember, most people run PCs at home. In fact, many of them build their own." Sorry but i disagree. Hardly anyone builds their machines and most dont know much at all. I do try to not make them feel bad about when i am repairing something and i am asked "whats wrong" i give them two answers- my geek answer which explains the issue and then i give the english translation of what i said. Most of the time i try to use comparisons of things that they understand and know so they can relate. To do this i have to have a understanding of their job and when i learn some of the things they do it builds up some trust. If i feel that i may have offended them i say two things most of the time. First i apologize and remind them that i never want to offend someone and its not the intent. I then bring up the fact that i dont know a thing about cars. Where i live it seems to be assumed if you are male you should know a ton about cars and i dont. When i state that fact it calms them down and shows them that i go into places and feel out of place and unsure. a really bad joke that works on anyone that i use. 'A three legged dog walks into a bar and goes to the bartender and says "i am looking for the guy that shot my paw".' aweful joke but it works on many people.

adanowotar
adanowotar

That's often a suicide question. You have a queue of jobs to do with different customers and that's what you're supposed to focus on. Can't afford to spend 2 more hours helping 1 of them to do houskeeping on a network share when the ticket was to synchronize a Blackberry.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I find it very difficult to make eye contact while listening to a customer describe his problem. The person's face distracts me from paying full attention to the his error description. I find myself looking to one side or the other in an attempt to pay more attention to what he's saying and not to his (often distressed) face while he's saying it. I'm not able to concentrate while looking at the person.

Magic Alex
Magic Alex

Very well said, It's all too often i find myself in a situation where the solution is so simple it's almost laughable but it's very important to maintain their confidence. I often throw in a "I get this one all the time.." "or the same thing happened to me my 1st time.." just to make sure the user doesn't feel like an idiot, while these things may be second nature to us we really have to be considerate of others feelings when addressing issues like that. Another practice i really like and is briefly touched on in this article is to allow the user to make the fix themselves if it's something simple like adding a network printer or changing a minor default application setting. Once the task is completed i'll then have them run through the steps again to see if they can remember what they did. It's a win win situation really, the user gains a little bit of knowledge on the subject and hopefully will retain it so in the future they can handle it without coming to you, freeing up a little of your time and also increasing their technical confidence as well.

dawgit
dawgit

How am I supposed to hear them if I can't read their lips? The persons eyes aren't were the noise is comming from. Besides that, I agree with you two, 'visualizing' the the whole sceinario if half the process. People get scared when I look into their lying eyes anyway. They get very uncomfortable, as they think that I'm seeing into their brains. (ok, so what if I do that, is that my fault?) -d

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

I need some "blank" space so that I can visualize some of what they are saying. Also I tend to look up when I'm trying to "see" the flow of what they've done to make the mess in the first place. On that note though, does it drive anyone else crazy when a user will carefully omit EXACTLY what it was that caused the error? Why do they do this?

robo_dev
robo_dev

Use lots of empathy-laden statements like: That's really frustrating! No he did-unt! I feel your pain! Can I get you a cold drink or something? How does that make you feel? Scenario: User has lost document she spent three hours preparing. Wrong Approach: umm, let's look at the temp files and run an integrity check since your registry scan might find us...... Right Approach: Oh I am soooo sorry (pause). It can be sooo frustrating when computers don't work right. Now you seem pretty upset (_____insert client name here________). Just relax a bit and let the computer doctor heal your pain. You say those are photos of your GRAND-children? No way, you are not old enough to have kids, much less Grand-children. Those are some mighty cute kids...I can see where they get their good looks (wink).

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

It lets the user know it was PEBKAC, but at the same time is all Fluffy Bunnies (tm). They don't feel stupid, but they know it was a silly mistake and will be mocked greatly if they do it again ;-)

Canuckster
Canuckster

In addition to the above points I might add, "Use humour". I will sometimes throw in a line like, "Looks like you broke the internet" or "Your email has postage due". It lightens up the atmosphere and allows a frustrated user the opportunity to lose some of the raw nerves as well as establishes an open rapport. A word of caution, avoid the off-colour jokes and don't launch into a monologue. Go ahead and fix the issue and smile when they pay you. They may not remember the fix you told them but they might remember how good a tech you are by your sense of humour and how down to earth you were.

catfish182
catfish182

90% of the time if i repeat back what i heard from them the client calms down enough and then that is when i start to learn how the problem happened.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

This is usually the case when the user did something he or she knows he should not have done, and doesn't want to get in trouble by admitting it. I'd rather they tell me so I know what to fix instead of spending time trying to figure out the source of the problem.