DIY optimize

Reinventing "no"

Tech support is about providing solutions to computing problems, but there are limits to what is reasonable. Still, if you can avoid making 'no' the final word, your customers will think better of you for it.

Tech support is about providing solutions to computing problems, but there are limits to what is reasonable. Still, if you can avoid making "no" the final word, your customers will think better of you for it.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I've tried to build my tech support career on my people skills. I don't ever want to give credence to the stereotype that some people have of IT pros: elitist know-it-alls who are gratified by lording their knowledge over others. While there are certainly some support techs who enjoy rejecting their users, I'm not one of them. My nature makes me pretty agreeable, and sadly, that is sometimes a counter-productive quality. I wasn't long into my career when I realized that I'd have to learn to say "no" sometimes, or I'd never be successful at my job. Instead of shutting people down, though, I've found that providing a constructive "no" can actually leave a customer satisfied. The key is making sure that your clients have some hope of solving their problems. For your consideration, three ways you can say "no"...without actually having to say "no."

Separate the customer's needs from his desires.

Every tech has had this happen: you answer a service call only to find the client has a laundry list of problems that he has been collecting for the last several months. It is important to remain focused in situations like these. I like to involve the client in deciding his or her own fate:

"It looks like you've got plenty of things to keep me busy, but I do have some other service calls that require my attention. Let's try and decide what issue is most pressing. If you had to pick one problem for me to focus on for this visit, what would it be?"

Sometimes the fact that the customer has more than one thing on his wish list only becomes apparent after you've solved a couple of other problems. Many users fall victim to what I call "Since You're Here Syndrome," and it can be addressed with this next axiom.

Put the problem in context.

Time management is one of the first skills I had to learn as a support tech. It's easy for me to lose myself in a problem, and I found that in my first few service calls I was spending way too much time treating trivialities. Let's face facts: some service calls are not emergencies. In some others, you can invest 30 minutes and restore 90% of a system's functions. Time is a limited resource, and I often find I have to move on to a customer with a more pressing problem. Framed properly, there's no reason this has to feel like a brush-off to the person I've been working with:

"At this point, it appears that this system can perform its critical tasks. I realize that you're still interested in discussing those software upgrades, but right now I have to attend to another call that involves a work stoppage. I'll get in touch with you so we can schedule a time to discuss your remaining concerns."

Putting the customer's problem in context can be appropriate at other times, too. A good example is when you think a machine is so expensive to repair that it's not in the client's best interest to do so.

Focus on what you can do.

Rather than saying no, can't, or won't, try using more positive language. Talk with your client about the services you can deliver. Even if the only thing you can offer is a referral to another service provider, make sure that a consultation with you puts the customer a step or two closer to a solution:

"I'm sorry, but in-home service visits are beyond what I can offer right now. I'd be happy to provide you with a referral to a colleague of mine who does on-site support, though."

Next time you are considering saying "no" to a customer request, I hope this article comes to mind. Instead of leaving a rejection ringing in the client's ears, maybe there's some way you can help them get closer to a solution. It might keep that client from looking elsewhere entirely for support.

11 comments
KNOWLEDGE464
KNOWLEDGE464

I think that with out our clients we're out of a Job. I take it like this I am paid for Supporting my clients and to know the current technology many older techs fell off the planet because the got comfortable and safe with the old ways and now their networks are behind/old/and slow and more costly to upgrade. Now my point is IT is always changing and its up to us to keep up or quit. When a client asks me to do their job I say no because that's not my function I can make your computer do the task your job requires you to do your job but I will never know how too use Dynamics or Max because I dont care about the functions just how to get it to work is what i am paid to do. No, is not an option just a means to get a workaround for my clients if they are happy, I have a job and if it takes precious time then so be it what else it there to do if you love this job then make it your life or you will hate it then you just don't belong. Happy users even when there is NO involved they are happy to know that I am going to stay on top of the case. If you don't consider that we are heading our clients into the future of technology then you are not doing your job as a Tech your just an employee out for money but my client feel safe with me behinde the wheel of their Network and Computer systems future.

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

NO is one of those words you have to know how to use. You do all the dancing and when none of that works, then you bring out NO. You don't do it in a surly combative way, just with a sigh and a verbal smile of commiseration, if possible to blunt the frustrating of the client's desires when all else fails. There are situations where NO means NO.

maclovin
maclovin

IMO: These ARE the same people that you're talking about that don't like IT telling them things with technical terms/complexities that they don't understand....so that doesn't apply here?? So, here we're supposed to say 'no' in a "different way"....huh....I don't think you can really have your cake and eat it too (cliche), some will like it, MANY will not. Here's the simple fact...until new people/management that are somewhat...REMOTELY familiar with technology are in charge, NOTHING, in the grand scheme of things, will change in the relationship or USER vs IT. You do have to ask yourself, why is it so one-sided....why is it that IT are the only people that are supposed to change???

wbranch
wbranch

Because, we're viewed as a cost center, not a revenue center. Until that perception changes, we have to satisfy other portions of the business that are viewed as the 'money makers'. We might not like it, but until we convince management otherwise, that's the way it is.

AV .
AV .

I agree that just saying no is not an option in tech support. I work in tech support at a company, but every one of those users is a "client" to me. I always find a way to say yes, even if it means a 2nd trip at another time. Most people do save up their computer problems for a visit from tech support. Sometimes, I get to work on their home computers too. Virus-laden, spyware infested and in serious need of some TLC. No patches either. Ugh. I think the bottom line is that your role in tech support is to help the client accomplish first, whats critical and then offer possible solutions to resolving other problems. Then you go from there, but "no" is never involved. AV

JeffWainright
JeffWainright

I'm also a support professional for a software company, and there are times when a customer wants to do something in our program that is so far out in left field that we would have to rewrite a substantial portion of the program to give them what they want. While we do our best to show our customers as many possible alternatives to their impossible requests as we can, sometimes it boils down to "No" - even then we suggest they submit a feature request to our development team.

brent.russell
brent.russell

Sometimes 'No' is required. Not often hopefully but when some people ask for impossible answers to unreasonable requests then 'No' is it. Pirate software, cracking legit apps, or just impossible tasks from cheap hardware/software. It all happens. No way will I put my own reputation in jeopardy to make a few dollars.

mytmous
mytmous

First, let me say that I agree with the core value of your article: Saying "no" is sometimes necessary - but how it's messaged will make a world of difference. Second, I believe it's critical in those situations to clearly inform the customer WHEN the next task (critical or not) will be addressed. This helps the customer feel that you "own" the issue. And in some situations, that carries more weight than actually fixing those "niggling" issues.

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

is that i should stop my "not just no, but hell no" responses? But I was having fun. watching their face drop is priceless (of course, if they push, I just set my price above geek squad's highest ($200) and see what happens) My free time is worth more to me than a few extra dollars on the side.

jck
jck

But...$200? Is that per hour? If so, I wanna work there for 4 months, then go on vacation. :^0

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

no i think that is per case. they techs get paid very little in comparison and the CEO gets a swimming pool of money. Love capitalism. As for me, I charge 200$ "per hour" but usually only count one hour if it wasn't hard to do, even it takes me a weekend or a few days. Now virus's? that's 200$ an hour and you get a time sheet from me. I don't cut corners, so neither do they. Needless to say, I do no get too many people taking the high costs. Of course I have a few docs that will usually pay any price i name.