Education

Why soft skills may not be the whole solution but a big help

When other functions fail, soft skills will help to build bridges and get customer relationships back on track. Where user support is concerned, a great deal of what you do is look after the people, with minimal technical knowledge and maximum hand-holding.

Sometimes we go on a bit too much about soft skills, to the point where people’s eyes glaze over and they start to find great interest in their fingernails. Where user support is concerned a great deal of what you do is look after the people, with minimal technical knowledge and maximum hand-holding.

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So what do we mean by soft skills? I see them defined as the skills you use to calm people down, to get them to explain what the problem is, and to give answers in a tone that matches the user’s needs. The term "soft skills" can sound a little wishy-washy, a bit patronizing even, but good use of them will help more than any number of technical certifications when you are trying to get to the bottom of a user’s problem.

Being a good listener is the key to the whole business. I have lost count of the number of times where the user, having been given the opportunity to put his or her issues into words, has answered their own question. Being a sounding board is one help desk skill that is fairly easy to master and pays dividends. The trick is to make empathetic noises but mainly to keep quiet and listen, dropping in an occasional relevant question to keep the conversation going.

Very often the user has a need to vent anger. This can be harder to keep in track, and I will definitely never put up with any verbal attack. If a call turns offensive or abusive, I end it. If, however, I can see that the user is annoyed and there is a reason for that annoyance, I will do all I can to make sure that the situation is put right. This methodology has stood me in good stead for many years. As soon as the customer or user realizes that I am sincerely trying to help them, the whole situation turns around, and they come on my side and do everything they can to make sure that I can get the information I need to deal with the situation. You have to make them believe that you are working toward the same goal as they are.

This Christmas I went to see a customer I had been avoiding for a while. They had some serious issues with the company I work for over some billing matters. I had tried to get answers, but I felt that we had parted in bad humor. I dropped by as a courtesy to see how things were and was very surprised when I was greeted as a friend, was given refreshments, and left with a Christmas gift of a bottle of good French wine. They are still at odds with the company over the billing, but they are now at least talking to me and we have a dialogue that wasn’t there a year ago. We have some way to go before they are happy, but they aren’t the lost cause I believed them to be. I am planning a few bits of pro bono work for them soon to restore their faith and maybe get a more fruitful business relationship going.

8 comments
boxfiddler
boxfiddler

at least in America, called common courtesy.

sujathasureshkumar
sujathasureshkumar

Hi Jeff, The forum is Tech based and I am a Soft skills Facilitator first and Trainer next. Firstly the article is written very well and good to see this posting in Tech republic. Honestly. //So what do we mean by soft skills? I see them defined as the skills you use to calm people down, to get them to explain what the problem is, and to give answers in a tone that matches the user???s needs.// Boss, soft skills is not calming people down though it is well a by-product of what an Individual acquires upgrading their soft skills. Seriously, certain people will get mad if one tries to calm them down.... I find many subscribe to soft skills as being wooly talk and take this opportunity to put in my 2 cents of opinions, if that is ok. Thinking skills, problem solving skills, decision making skills, taking required action asap and Integrity are certain skills when an Individual masters people automatically trust this Individual more. Have a Great Day Jeff and all you Techies out there! Sujatha Suresh Head- Online Assessments and Training Division Pravarra

barbarag
barbarag

I agree wholeheartedly that people and listening skills are very important. There have been many times when the best solution to a problem has been to ask the user to re-create the circumstances while you patiently stand by and watch them. It always seems to amaze them when everything works out fine.

catfish182
catfish182

the biggest lesson i learned was while i worked for a pizza shop. I was supposed to handle all phone calls including complaints. I could never understand why people would get upset over pizza but thats another discussion. I was told that when a person is upset let them get the first salvo out and then repeat back to them their problem but reword it so you are not directly repeating them. This should help 95% of your upset customers. That not only works but the fact that when my helpdesk client call they know that i will listen to their problems and maybe help the day go a little better. At my last review i had one negative comment from a client and 12 positives. you can not make everyone happy but taking the time to try goes far.

madtechnologist
madtechnologist

I agree with your assessment putting soft skills as more worthy that tech skills. At our company, we definitely put more weight on this oftentimes overlooked quality. We've found that the "softer" techs do considerably better in measurable terms such as customer satisfaction surveys.

soates_cyberlink
soates_cyberlink

..... and it is the customer you must keep happy, they are responsible for your paycheck but not your ego.

cmaritz
cmaritz

Especially when staffing the helpdesk. If you have a choice between a technically good person, but with poor people skills, and a good people-person, but with poor tech skills, it is often easier to train up the second person to be semi-good in tech, than it is to train up the first person to be semi-good at dealing with people. I don't have hard numbers on this, but I seem to hear it more and more often.