Health

Listening skills apply in all walks of life

When you're expecting sympathy and help it can be a shock to be reminded that you are the end user and not the expert.

I’ve recently had some dealings with healthcare professionals in the UK. They have the same need for customer communication skills as we IT workers do. I always notice customer skills, especially when the tables are turned and I am the customer.

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I recently had surgery to correct a long-standing shoulder injury, but while I was resting at home it became apparent that the wound was infected. The first route back into the National Health Service in the UK is through the local doctor or GP, who then opens up contact with consultants and specialists. I sat in front of him and stated that my wound was infected.

His reply shocked me a little. It was along the line of “you are not qualified to give a diagnosis. What makes you think you have an infection?”

I would never dispute a customer who told me that their monitor had failed; I would investigate the reason for it. After I showed him the wound site, he instantly agreed with me and arranged for readmission to the hospital. I was in the hospital within two hours, receiving antibiotics via IV. Maybe, as a nonmedical person, I am not qualified to make diagnoses, but I do know my own body, much as a computer user knows their equipment and how it normally performs. I felt as though I had been "put down," but the doctor was very quick to backtrack as soon as he saw the evidence.

I think that what most offended me was his assumption that I wasn’t intelligent enough to state the obvious. My doctor doesn’t know me; I see him roughly once every two years, so this is not a surprise. The very fact that he doesn’t know me would indicate that he needed to evaluate me before making a decision about my abilities and, even in my fevered state, I realized that help desks often make the same mistakes.

I am always cynical when a user reports a virus; there are several reasons for this assumption. First, these reports are usually received on the day when the news media are running features on the latest attacks. Second, most of the systems I work on are either entirely standalone or on well-managed corporate networks where viruses are a rarity. There is a chance, however, that there is a problem, and an instant dismissal of the caller’s concerns is not only discourteous but quite dangerous as well.

The good news is that, one week on, things are going a lot better. I pay homage to the skill of my surgeon, Mr. Fernandez, who delayed his holiday in order to carry out three further surgical procedures on my shoulder and ensure that the infection was beaten. I’m back at home now and planning to return to work in about three weeks.

These little experiences of first impressions tend to linger in my memory, and, hopefully, I will try to remember how I felt about the doctor’s response and use that feeling in my dealings with customers.

9 comments
CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Although not the way he phrased it. Here's why. At least once a week, I get a call along the lines of, "I can't print a drawing." Sounds like a printer issue, right? I've learned it can mean any of the following: a) I clicked Print but nothing came out of the printer. b) I found the drawing in our document management system but when I clicked it the drawing didn't open. c) I couldn't find the drawing. d) I couldn't start the document management system. e) I couldn't get logged on. f) The computer won't start. All the user has told me is the part he's interested in, an inability to walk away with a printout. I'd appreciate it if users would give me the symptoms, not what they think will fix it. I've wasted too many hours trying to fix something based on an incorrect user diagnosis. I acknowledge I have the advantage of knowing most of my 300 users and their level of computer experience, and that I don't treat those with known computer skills the same as those without them.

sfeatherston
sfeatherston

I am not a help desk person and as a consultant I have the chance to call many "help desk" people who are like doctors and think that everyone on the other end of the line is an idiot. I am A+ and Net Plus certified and an MCSE with 28 years in the field. I find it altmost funny when a help desk 1 or 2 is reading from their script on the screen and cannot think outside of that set of canned questions. It is like doctors in many cases. Not only do they assume you are stupid they do not listen to what you are saying but rather have already pre determined what is wrong. This doctor had no idea if you had a medical background or not. I find it refreshing on the occasion when I speak to a help desk proffesional who will ask what my skill sets are. I had one gentleman ask if I would prefer him to use laymans terms or if I would prefer a more technical answer. Just showing respect and assuming the person you are talking to is not stupid will go a long way to a speedy solution to a problem. If you are talking over someones head they will be quick to tell you and I can tell you first hand that someone would rather you think they are smarter than they are than the other way around!!!!! Steve in NEO

KSoniat
KSoniat

Many hold the Dr. up to some pedestal and don't insist on getting questions answered or realize they are human (fallible). My kids always get their teeth early. When being questioned by a new Pediatrician I was asked how many teeth my child had. I mentioned how many including the few molars that were coming in. He jumped all over me, explained what a molar was, and stated it was not age appropriate. I just let it ride (i knew better - this was kid #2). When he actually did the examination he had the integrity to tell me he owed me an apology, and that he had never seen molars this early. I do try to treat others as I would like to be treated. I don't answer my cell phone if I am checking out somewhere. If I get superior service I go out of my way to tell that persons manager. They usually looked stunned when I ask for their manager as they don't normally get compliments, but complaints. And when I am the service provider I try to treat the customer with that same level of respect. Good article. It's a shame that Alan missed the point of the article. Rather than telling you you got what you deserved, he should think about how he is treating someone who is recommending treating all with repect.

alan
alan

I find medical doctors and computer technicians to be of the same ilk. You both assume that the person/s you are conversing with is/are completely idiotic! It?s nice to see one of you receive a little of your own medicine (no pun intended) Especially as it seems to have struck home

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

He assumed that because you are not a medical professional yourself that you have no medical knowledge whatsoever. We do the same when we assume that our customers can't know what they are talking about because they are not techs. We are most often in the wrong when we do so.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

if doctors listened. I've had enough experience with doctors who don't to last me a lifetime. There's an attitude thing in there somewhere, on the part of the patient and on the part of the doctor. As Nick noted above, the same is 'true' of tech support and end users.

SF_Pat
SF_Pat

On an old TV show dragnet, the detective sergeant Friday used to ask the witness to state "just the facts, Madam, no opinions". You gave the doctor a conclusion based on your limited medical knowledge. He could use some PR training but was following good medical practice in keeping an open mind. If I had a dollar for every time a user told me the problem and the wrong diagnostic assessment I would be rich. It would have been better to mention the symptoms (fever, swelling etc) and let doctor draw his own conclusions. I hope you will be well soon, we enjoy your stories. Keep them coming. Get lots of rest and chicken soup.

plumbsue60
plumbsue60

That is been done to me a few times. It seems that most auto mechanics assume that women do not know anything about their cars,even something as how many cylinders it has. I had a 1992 plymouth voyager that had 4 cylinders. When I took it somewhere for an oil change, the mechanic refused to believe me said that it was a 6 cylinder until he opened the hood a saw for himself. I he did not apologize for insulting my intelligence. When I purchased the vehicle, the first thing that I asked was how many cylinders that was it? I blew an 4 cylinder engine before and was reluctant to buy this one until the salesman reassured me that they were using different kind of aluminum than they did in the past.

swteach
swteach

When starting a Help Desk support call, I make it a point to paraphrase back to the caller my take on their description. This does three things. Firstly, it proves that I am listening. It shows that I respect the csller and validates the seriousness with which they take the problem. And it helps me to understand the issue. It all helps get to a solution quickly and makes the caller feel good. That makes a successful Help Desk part tech support and part P.R. And it works!