Education

Fixing the fault, fixing the customer

Jeff Dray finds that it's easy to get caught up in the fix for a problem and forget to focus on the user's other concerns. What should you do when you fix a problem but still have an unhappy customer?

Let's face it, we all deal with the fault on a PC or network as a matter of routine, but how often do we consider that we also need to fix the customer? It may be that their confidence in the equipment/service/company has been strained and maybe even broken, and it may be that some work may be needed to restore the customer's faith in your work.

Is it enough to mend a fault and leave? It may be that the customer has concerns that a few words and a minute or two of listening might make the difference between leaving a happy customer and leaving somebody considering a move to another support service. A few nods and an "I see" or two and some other empathetic noises can make all the difference. One of my worst failings is to listen to the customer, right up to the point where I think I know what the problem is, then I switch off as I start the fix. There may be more to the problem than I've heard from the user, and I have often had to backtrack and hear the rest of the story.

In my keenness to get on and fix the fault, I often forget about the customer and get too involved in the technicalities. I recall an incident when the customer had been reporting some minor fault or other on an almost daily basis. After a couple of "no fault found" callouts, I began to wonder if the problem was with the equipment or with the user, so I decided to get them to show me the fault instead of just describing it. It very soon became obvious that the problem lay with a lack of training, and I was able to sort out the problems quite quickly.

I seem to spend a lot of my time banging on about people skills or soft skills, as they are often referred to. Sometimes you can win with soft skills where you fail on the technical fix. Sometimes we have to give bad news, or maybe we can’t fix the fault straightaway; we may have to wait for parts or get a problem fixed on a remote service. It is the way we communicate this kind of information to the customer that determines whether we leave them happy or anxious that we haven’t appreciated the seriousness of the situation.

How do we give bad news without annoying the customer? First, we have to understand that no matter how well you communicate a problem, you can’t always leave the customer happy. It is foolish to think otherwise and could lead to your suffering a lot of stress in the process. Give the news straight and tell the customer what you are going to do about it. If that isn’t good enough, ask what they would like you to do. If you have an idea that might provide a workaround to the problem, run it past them. You will nearly always be able to come to an agreement that will mollify both parties, but it is important to remember that, provided that you have done all you can, you can leave with a clear conscience. Above all else, don’t take the problem home with you.

4 comments
mjd420nova
mjd420nova

My first step in making any service call is to take ownership of the customer, get to know them and then their machine. I have a rather extensive client list with a very diverse list of equipment. Each user has a list of equipment and peripherals that is unique to them and their locations. I have established a rapport with each user and not their equipment but are not exclusive of each other. Just like each user has a personality, so does the equipment they use and the way each user has programmed their systems. Understanding the user and their approach to their work is as important as understanding how their equipment interacts with each peripheral. I do take some problems home with me, especially if it is a strange or perplexing fault but it usually resolves itself with a little off-site thinking and sometimes a little time away from the problem leads to a resolution in quick order. Some faults will need a little investigation from a specialist, just like a doctor who needs a second opinion. Often a look from a slightly different angle will lead to an overlooked fault that resulted from actually being too close to the problem.

Michael Jay
Michael Jay

Check the customer out, if you do not know who they are you will lose them. Don't just dive into the problem. Ask them how they are, engage them, then move on to the problem. At least that seems to work for me..

karen
karen

I think this is one of the hardest things to learn in IT in general. I know I have a terrible problem of making my user's problems my own to the point where I have a hard time leaving work at work and where I take something not working as my own personal failure whether it really is or not. It's difficult to be both customer-service oriented and also keep some distance between how the customer is feeling and your own feelings, but it's something that's essential to learn if you want to avoid burnout or a heart attack.

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

is taking "ownership" of the customer so much as treating them as a partner in resolving the problem, though perhaps I'm misunderstanding what you mean by ownership. Understanding the gestalt of each unique User and Installation and taking their work style and work philosophy into consideration as part of your troubleshooting routine sounds like a winning approach. Do you find that, in general, you end up spending less time overall resolving the user's problem because of your attitude? I would expect your approach to result in fewer return calls to address the same problem; have you found this to be the case?