Tech handles sexist user with team approach

When an end user refuses to talk with a female tech she turns to her fellow TechRepublic members for advice. This What Would You Do? column outlines your suggestions and tells how the tech actually resolved the problem.

Our previous installment of "What Would You Do?" presented the story of Rachel, a support tech who was asked by a caller to transfer the call to a male tech. Although Rachel complied with the user's request, she was left feeling that there was perhaps another way she could have handled the situation without indulging the customer's sexism. So she turned to her fellow TechRepublic members for help.

As always, members rose to the occasion by offering an array of creative suggestions. The following are just a few of your ideas:
  • Inform the customer that no males are currently available.
  • Tell the customer that you will be happy to when one is available, and put him on hold—after 20 minutes, ask if he would like to continue to hold or could you perhaps help him.
  • Offer to pass the customer on to the only male tech available, who you finished training just yesterday.
  • Ask the customer questions about his problem under the pretext of gathering more information for the tech, and then simply tell him the solution.
  • Offer to transfer him to your manager, let the customer know that she will be happy to assist him.
  • Offer the caller a choice: Either he can let you answer his question or he can hang up and call back and hope that his call is answered by the only male tech.
  • Ask the caller to pick a tech from the following list and then offer only female names.

In Rachel's scenario, she indicated that this was not an isolated incident. This opens up the possibility of using a team approach for dealing with such callers; for instance, member Jim Phelps proposed that, "If I were the male tech that Rachel passed the call to, I would try to find a way to emphasize that Rachel is competent to solve technical issues, even going so far as to tell the customer that we are required to let the first tech try to solve the problem before taking the call from them."

Member Kpeoples took this idea one step further "How I handled it was to immediately transfer it to a male tech friend, who politely listened to the problem and then informed the caller that he didn't have the answer and needed to refer the caller to an 'expert senior tech'...My friend then transferred the call back to me and I was able to resolve the problem." Member Dpetrak adds that, "Management has to help out here. Should they refuse to at the very least give guidelines as to what they might find to be a reasonable tactic, you probably don't want to work there anyway!"

A few members expressed the opinion that the tech should simply comply with the customer's wishes and pass on his call with no comment. For example, member ComputerBabe felt that trying to address the caller's sexism would simply be a waste of the tech's time: "Even if you convince him/her that you are qualified, he/she will still think that he/she's getting 'second-rate' help. Forget it. Pass the call to the male tech. Some minds can't be changed." Other members believed that any attempt to counter the explicit sexism would be stepping over the tech's bounds; member Mcgannb asserts, "Tech Support is not there to change the customer's attitude."

Catch up on previous columns
If you have missed any of the previous "What Would You Do?" columns or read a scenario but never found out what happened, check out this article, which chronicles the first six months worth of these columns.

What really happened?
Since the publication of the original scenario, Rachel received another call from the same customer who once again demanded to be connected with a male tech. Again, Rachel complied with his request, but this time she told the male tech the whole story before making the transfer.

"The male tech listened to the man's problem," wrote Rachel, "and replied that he needed to speak to a specialist on the subject in question. 'Well, put me through to him,' said the customer. Mark pointed out to the caller that he had been talking to her earlier. 'Rachel is her name, and she is a senior tech and a specialist in the area of your inquiry.' The man asked if there was anyone else who could help, but Mark said no."

Rachel took the call back and proceeded to resolve the customer's issue in a professional manner. The man was so impressed that, when he called back, he asked for Rachel by name. "The support request was very basic and could have been answered by anyone on the help desk," wrote Rachel, "Mark showed that with some lateral thinking, but at all times maintaining a high level of customer service, he was able to meet this customer's needs as well as support a fellow workmate who had been put down because of her sex."

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox