I love technology, and I love it when I can help people use technology to save time and get their work done. I get excited over the little things—like macros that work, printers that behave, and computers that don’t crash. Most of the time, my enthusiasm is contagious. Users like to know their support people are genuinely interested in making things work.

The challenge for computer support pros is to stay calm when things aren’t going well—when programs are crashing and printers won’t print. In those situations, users are already stressed themselves because they can’t get their work done. They’re on the defensive. “I don’t know what happened. All I did was try to print the report.” (Translation: “It’s not my fault the thing crashed.”)

If users sense any frustration, anxiety, or anger coming from you—even though those feelings arise because the technology’s not working right—they’ll assume you’re blaming them. “Never let ‘em see you sweat” is a rule support pros have to live by.

Over the years, I’ve been accused on more than a few occasions of being impatient or brusque with my users. I’ve had to apologize to some of them, explaining my behavior by saying, “I just wanted to help and was frustrated because the darn computer wouldn’t behave.” Although I’ve been called on the carpet a few times, I’ve been lucky—my job has never been in danger. My users have always forgiven me because they know I’m a little hyper, and they know that I try my best to keep their computers up and running smoothly.

What you say can and will be used against you
Here’s a story to remind us all about the importance of controlling your emotions and minding your tongue when you’re providing telephone support. When you’re on the phone, users can’t see your face and can’t read your body language. All they know is what you say and how you say it. Even if you’re acquainted with a user by telephone, if you’ve never met face to face, you’re still basically an unknown.

Recently, one of my wife’s best friends asked me, “You’re into computers. What do you think of this?” And she told me about a telephone support nightmare.

She’d been trying to get an unruly printer to work for quite a while. She finally called her company’s Help Desk—located in an office a thousand miles or so from her location. After several unsuccessful attempts to get the printer working, the Help Desk person got frustrated and blurted out, “What do you expect us to do—fly down there and fix it for you?!”

Obviously, that’s not providing support—that’s losing your cool. And the Help Desk person got fired. You don’t get sarcastic and condescending with any user, no matter what the circumstances, especially if the user is a regional manager who’s been with the company for 10 years.

But we’ve all been there. The technology doesn’t work, communication between you and the user breaks down, and everybody gets frustrated. But the support pro can’t afford to lose his or her temper. Wouldn’t be prudent—not at any juncture.

Moral of the story: If you feel like you’re going to lose your temper, be condescending, or scream at an end user, take a break. Call time out. Tell the user you “need to do some research” and you’ll call back in 10 minutes. In the support business, the user is the customer—and, like it or not, the customer is always right.