SMBs

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.

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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.

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