IT Policies

Can you take your customers seriously and laugh about them?

Is it possible to laugh about your work and do it properly as well? Is it necessary to be totally straight faced about your end users in order to provide the correct level of service? Jeff Dray explores these questions.

Is it possible to laugh about your work and do it properly as well? Is it necessary to be totally straight faced about your end users in order to provide the correct level of service? Jeff Dray explores these questions.

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Some time ago, I wrote a piece that was intended to be lighthearted called 10+ dangerous species of help desk callers, which got quite a lot of reads and many comments.

The comments were split roughly 70/30 with the minority castigating me for not showing the correct level of respect for my end users. Nothing could be further from the truth. Each customer I help gets my full attention while I deal with the problem, but I have found that it is necessary to see the funny side of the problem too.

I was reminded recently of this feedback when I visited a fairly angry-sounding customer who demanded that I come immediately to sort out an equipment failure. He was none too complimentary about our goods and services and was ranting even before I got there. When I arrived he continued to sound off, so I decided to try to defuse the situation by cutting to the chase and asking to see the equipment.

When I saw it, it was obvious what the problem was. The office was in the process of being rewired, and I could see that the socket that the machine was plugged in to was no longer attached to any live feed; there was a bank of new sockets next to the old ones, which had still to be removed. I pulled the plug out and put it in to the new one and, would you believe it, it worked!

Inside I was sorely tempted to make some cutting comment, but I resisted the temptation, particularly as I noticed that the customer was looking pretty sheepish already. It would have been easy to be fairly scathing, and I probably will be when I relate the tale at our next team meeting, but, to my surprise, I managed to be fairly diplomatic about it to him.

He was suffering enough, particularly when I explained that, since it was a false callout, it would be chargeable and not covered by the maintenance agreement. That customer will probably be a little more diplomatic when speaking to me in the future. I have always believed that respect is a two-way street, and I hope that the message got across to him.

We have all seen the old stories that have been rattling around the Internet, like the one about the customer not being able to see if his PC was plugged in because the office was in darkness due to a power cut (outage), or the one who was told to put his PC back in to the box and return it to the shop, because he was too stupid to own a computer, and, while I suspect that most of these stories are apocryphal, they are usually based on something that the support tech would like to have said or what they actually thought but didn’t say.

Thereby hangs the art of the help desk analyst: a good analyst is someone who can hold two conversations at once -- the one that the customer can hear and the one that stays inside the analyst's head.

When a customer says something like, “You must think I am a complete idiot!”

You tell him, “Of course not, it could have happened to anyone; I’ve done it myself!”

Whereas inside you are saying, “Complete idiot? No, some bits are missing.”

You can find yourself bottling up these small frustrations. The apparent lack of respect for customers is more likely to be a symptom of those frustrations being released in the form of humor. Is it safe to bottle up your emotions? I don’t think so. However, it is not a good idea to vent in front of a customer. I often wait until I get back to my car before calling a colleague and sounding off to him. He does the same with me, between us we have enough daft customer stories to fill a book, maybe we should write them down and publish them.

15 comments
Jaqui
Jaqui

and I do poke fun at the client, to the client. :D This comes from a 10 year relationship with the client, we know each other well enough that I can poke fun at their mistakes, specially when it's their habit that I have been pushing them to change that caused the problem(s)

ladywolf9653
ladywolf9653

Tech support is an insanely stressful role, which is why it has such huge turnover. I've been in the field for nearly 20 years, and if I hadn't have had the ability to laugh about various issues with my teams over the years, I would have lost my mind. Being the "voice" or "face" of IT usually means we bear the brunt of the customers' temper, and there has to be a pressure valve to let us blow off steam. As long as the nature of the joking is humor and not spite, I see no harm in it at all, and encourage it in small ways with my teams. For example, a team I used to lead had a "weird call of the week" contest, with the winner getting lunch at a local restaurant. No customer names or identifying details were allowed, just the context of the issue. The team had fun, they got a little reward, and instead of letting the stress build up, they had a little fun with it instead.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

But my favorite one was a heavily infected NB where it's owner complained that all the Work Pop ups where preventing him surfing his porn. When what he wanted was the Porn Pop ups removed so he could get on with his work. That particular place now doesn't say nasty things to me when they have a problem they ask me to come out and have a look see before they park a Excavator on top of a problem computer. As that is exactly what happened the first day that I attended this place I'm much more inclined to get out there fast to save me the problems of trying to work out what was installed on the crushed equipment. But it's now a standing joke as I had to leave that place on the first occasion I was there because I couldn't stop laughing about the salesman parking a very big Excavator on the "Steam Powered" computer which was his way of implying that it was old obsolete and shouldn't have been in the place. He's quite happy with his Turbo Charged Diesel Computer these days so it may be safe for the time being. Col

skOtn
skOtn

It just has to be that way. You may spend all day talking to customers that you know couldn't get out of an igloo with a flamethrower, but realize that this is exactly the reason why they called you for help. I never outright disrespect them, I may toss in a good natured "It's happened to me" story and end with a bit of "preventative maintenance" but I always remember they are putting food on your plate, selling your stuff, etc. They are good at other things that I might know nothing about. It's just part of the process. Then you go home and laugh till you pass out.

reisen55
reisen55

I support a few medical offices and there is no way I could do "their jobs" such as scanning for retina images, patient work, insurance claims. So I always remember where my expertise and their expertise is and whenever I can pick up some of their job responsibilities - a very good education indeed.

felix1761
felix1761

Sometimes you get the ones that think they know a lot but don't. Then you get the ones that know they don't know a lot. God bless them all, because without them I'd probably be doing something else, like building super colliders or hydrogen engines or forbid - trouble shooting Linux!

Roc Riz
Roc Riz

Along the vein that both users and admins can be funny, and oblivious, check out www.thewebsiteisdown.com This is not suitable for work, but you are going to crack up, for sure.

reisen55
reisen55

While IT professionals have our share of tales regarding users, it is important to remember that WE TOO CAN BE PRETTY STUPID OURSELVES. From time to time. I find it far better to share my experiences when something goes wrong with users, usually in a " you think this is bad, you should see it when I..." and fill in the tale. I walked up to a 42U server rack one day, and opened the door. Bad move. Somebody just leaned the door on the rack - no hinge. Down it came onto me and I almost went with it. We are ALL human and in every department in every company there is a share of the humor tales and the truly brain dead. I find it wise to laugh in stairwells or with my colleagues in a secure environment. To laugh at a customer is BAD. You can, however, LAUGH WITH THEM.

Somewhat anonymous
Somewhat anonymous

I have a pretty general job, but I support software more than hardware so I still make dumb hardware mistakes sometimes. The best one was recently when I called the cable company because I thought there was an outage and it turned out the cable had come loose at my house. I didn't even check. I apologized profusely. Luckily it was Sunday morning and they weren't busy.

RayJeff
RayJeff

A couple of weeks ago, I called Lowe's because one of the stove elements and the lower oven element weren't working correctly. The oven element would not heat and the oven element would overheat and not shutdown. The repairman came 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. Ok, I told the repairman the stove issue first and then the oven issue. So, he went to the stove issue first. He lifts up the stove top and looks at the element and then just goes to connect something. It stunned me for a moment, until I realized what the problem was. The electrical connector to the element was disconnected...a big DUH moment! You know, I've troubleshooted countless PCs, but the thought didn't even occur to me to lift the stovetop to see if the connector was in place. And I clean under the stove top one a month or so, so I would've seen it. So, all I could do was laugh at myself for that and was greatly pleased and happy. Because if the oven element wasn't the main issue, I know the repairman would've been very PO'd at me for having to come out at 8:30 in the morning and it was cold as well. The problem with the oven was the thermostat, which was replaced Wednesday before Thanksgiving. So, yes, even we I folks have that "duh" moment any an everywhere :-)

reisen55
reisen55

Squirrel ate through powerline, blew out the entire office and most of the squirrel too. About 50 Xerox printers all standing on battery power blinking red - TURN ME ON, TURN ME ON, TURN ME ON...............

reisen55
reisen55

The sheer volume of power that went through that cable into the squirrel reduced the critter to dust.

.Martin.
.Martin.

did you have squirrel for lunch? :D

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Everybody laughs about their customers. I think it's impossible not to. I have the greatest respect for my customers. They are doing a job-retail-that I could not possibly do and stay sane. Some of the stories I hear about [i]their[/i] customers...

dogknees
dogknees

If you can't laugh about it, and about your own behaviour, you've got a problem. You can be entirely serious about things while you're doing them, but we all need to be able to step away and see the humour. Even when you're working, a little humour does much to ease tension, both within yourself and between you and others. The important word being "little". As regards showing our "clients" appropriate respect, what you think to yourself, or share with your workmates when you are not actually working with or for the client is irrelevant. Don't take yourself so seriously. It goes a long way to reducing your stress if you can laugh at your own mistakes and the sometimes ridiculous actions of your clients and management. Regards

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